2012 reading challenges

I decided to take part in two challenges in 2012 so here is a report of what worked, and what didn’t go quite up to expectations.

Goodreads 2012 reading challenge 
I originally thought I would read 100 books this year, but changed this goal to a somewhat more realistic 70. I doubt if I am going to make that either – I think I may end up between 65 and 67 at the rate things are going. Not sure what all the reasons are; I suspect the major one is the distraction of the web – and all the various lists I subscribe to. Plus a few more excuses I could mention, but won’t!

Kinna Reads Africa Reading Challenge 
I set myself a specific reading list of six books, of which I have read four.  The remaining two, Chicago (Alaa al Aswani) and Broken glass (Alain Mabanckou) are definitely going to be carried over to 2013.

However I did read a pretty good number of books which I would consider either Ghanaian or African. Just to clarify though, my definition of a Ghana author is either a Ghanaian or a diasporan Ghanaian or a resident of Ghana. Then there are also books on Ghana by someone who falls in none of the above categories. Definitions of an African author more or less follow the same model, as do books on Africa.

Ghana fiction read in 2012

  1. Tales from different tails, by Nana Awere Damoah [part of my Africa reading challenge]
  2. Diplomatic pounds and other stories, by Ama Ata Aidoo [bought at the launch]
  3. The mystery of the haunted house, by Ruby Yayra Goka [teen story, from another Burt award winner]
  4. Half blood blues, by Esi Edugyan [part of my Africa reading challenge; also read for Accra Book Club
  5. The kaya-girl, by Mamle Wolo [bought at the Burt ceremony at the Ghana International Book Fair in September 2012; for teens]
  6. It happened in Ghana – a historical romance, by Noel Smith
  7. Brave music of a distant drum, by Manu Herbstein [a sort of sequel to author’s Ama; for teens/young adults]

Ghana non-fiction read in 2012 (including books on Ghana)

  1. Tabom – the Afro-Brazilian community in Ghana, by Marco Schaumloeffel [very illuminating description of a specific area of Accra]
  2. A sense of savannah … Tales of a friendly walk through Northern Ghana, by Kofi Akpabli
  3. Three cheers for Ghana! by Robert Peprah-Gyamfi [autobiographical]
  4. The black body, edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah  [several different essays/stories]
  5. Abina and the important men, by Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke  [one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year]
  6. Foods and food related practics of cultural groups in southern Ghana, by Faustina Yaa Amoako-Kwakye
  7. Tickling the ghanaian – Encounters with contemporary culture, by Kofi Akpabli
  8. The Prof – a man remembered – the life, vision and legacy of Dr K A Busia, by Abena P A Busia
  9. King Peggy – An American secretary, her royal destiny and the inspiring story of how she changed an African village, by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
  10. Death and pain – Rawlings’ Ghana – the inside story, by Mike Adjei
  11. In pursuit of my destiny – Memoirs of a parliamentarian, by Kosi Kedem [his library career was also of interest to me]
  12. My first coup d’etat: Memories from the lost decades of Africa, by John Dramani Mahama [author is now the President of Ghana, though the book was written when he was Vice-President.  Also read for Accra Book Club
  13. The seduction of food, by Barbara E Sai
  14. Stones tell stories at Osu – Memories of a host community of the Danish trans-Atlantic slave trade, by H Nii-Adziri Wellington [another book about Accra; again very illuminating for  its description of the origins of many famous Ghanaian families]

Africa fiction read in 2012

  1. Ways of dying, by Zakes Mda [first book I’ve read by this well-known South African author]
  2. 10 years of the Caine Prize for African writing [for Accra Book Club; I had read many of the stories already, as they are often available when the Caine Prize shortlists are announced]
  3. As the crow flies, by Veronique Tadjo
  4. Patchwork, by Ellen Banda-Aaku [personally I preferred the part written from the child’s point of view]
  5. Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes
  6. Mixed blood, by Roger Smith
  7. Ancestor stones, by Aminatta Forna
  8. The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives, by Lola Shoneyin [had several very unexpected twists in it]
  9. The cry of Winnie Mandela, by Njabulo Ndebele [part of my Africa reading challenge]
  10. An elegy for Easterly, by Petina Gappah [part of my Africa reading challenge]

Africa non-fiction read in 2012

  1. You’re not a country, Africa, by Pius Adesanmi [entertaining set of essays]
  2. Indigo – in search of the colour that seduced the world, by Catherine McKinley [read for Accra Book Club.  Actually mentioned some people I know!]
  3. African wax print – a textile journey, by Magie Relph and Robert Irwin [bought at a NAWA meeting, with beautiful illustrations]

NB: Many of the above are available through Amazon (and other international suppliers), but some which were published in Ghana have yet to hit the international market!

I look forward to hearing how others have done on their challenges


Accra Book Club readings in 2012

It has occurred to me that though I have talked quite a bit about the Accra Book Club, I haven’t been very consistent in listing what we have read, and what we are going to read.

So here I am trying to make amends.

These are the first three books we shall be reading and discussing in 2013:

  • Open city, by Teju Cole
  • On Africa, by Wole Soyinka
  • Dune, by Frank Herbert

And during 2012 we read the following – in reverse order

  • A farewell to arms, by Ernest Hemingway
    • a classic war story.  Several of us hadn’t finished reading/re-reading this. [All right, that included yours truly! but I will finish it over the holidays]
  • My first coup d’etat:  Memories from lost decades of Africa, by John Dramani Mahama
    • autobiographical stories from the current President of Ghana.  Interesting for both long-term residents and newcomers.  All who read it thought the book raised many unanswered questions about the author himself, the reason for writing the book and the process of writing it.
  • A free man of color, by Barbara Hambly
    • the first of a series of mysteries, set in New Orleans in the early 19th century, with a free black hero, who is both a musician and a trained surgeon.  Very enjoyable, with a background that seemed very real.
  • Half-blood blues, by Esi Edugyan
    • Winner of several major prizes, including the Canadian Scotiabank Giller prize in 2011.  African-American jazz players in Hitler’s Germany, with love and betrayal – and redemption.
  • The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
    • Wonderful story of the family of Henrietta Lacks, whose tissue samples survived her for many years! Fascinating in its exploration of medical research and changing ethics towards it.
  • Little hands clapping, by Dan Rhodes
    • Rather weird story about a suicide museum, with some distinctly gross characters.  But then book clubs should introduce one to works one wouldn’t normally read, so I am not complaining!
  • Indigo, by Catherine McKinley
    • Chosen in honour of one of the Accra Book Club’s long-standing members who was interested in cloth.  Intriguing for its portrayal of the author, rather than what she reported about indigo dye and cloth.
  • Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman
    • This was one of the books shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2011 – and mainly because it has a Ghanaian connection in the young narrator, who is a recent immigrant from Ghana to a London high-rise housing estate.  We all wondered whether the author had actually spent time in Ghana, as some elements of the descriptions of Harry’s “home” didn’t seem to ring true.
  • Super sad true love story, by Gary Shteyngart
    • A rather weird story about a post-today New York with far too familiar elements carried to their scary conclusions.  Most of us didn’t like it.
  • The uncommon reader, by Alan Bennett
    • Unfortunately the member who recommended this entertaining little satire wasn’t around to enjoy our discussion, which was almost uniformly favourable.  I guess we are all a bunch of Anglophobes at heart!
  • Ten years of the Caine Prize for African fiction
    • Lots of good short stories, though it is often hard to discuss these individually.

By the way, if someone reading this is in Accra, and wants to join our group, do leave a comment, and I will get back to you.

Manu Herbstein describes Accra’s literary scene

This is just a quick post to alert readers of Ghanaian/South African Manu Herbstein’s article on Accra’s literary scene, currently posted on the South African BooksLive website.

I have to admit to admit that Herbstein captures events which I certainly attended – and may even have mentioned in this blog. He also describes many I had  heard about but didn’t manage to go to, in addition to several others I didn’t know about at all.

Definitely a worthwhile summary of the last year here in Accra.

The Bookshop – EPP’s new branch at Legon

After being at home for the whole of Ghana’s Election Day – on Friday 7 December 2012 – I thought it was time to go out on Saturday…  And given that there wasn’t much traffic it was time to check out a landmark I’ve been seeing several times when I pass the Legon road.

To the east of the Legon – Adenta road (which is still under construction) are a bunch of storey buildings which were until relatively recently accessible if one was travelling on the eastern side of the road – that is going northward.  But then construction reduced the access to a side road, so I would see signs – including a large one to “THE BOOKSHOP” but feel rather frustrated that I couldn’t reach there easily.

So in the spirit of exploration I ended up in a parking lot that looked a bit like a construction site, with hardly any cars in it.  Not many people around either, but as usual we climbed up a flight of stairs and asked, and climbed up another to find a large space, just full of books!

My initial reaction was WOW! and the second one – I forgot my camera!  So I’m afraid no photos this time, but maybe another time?

I think this is probably the largest bookshop I have been to in Ghana – all on one floor, so admittedly that may help contribute to the feeling of size.

Lots of textbooks for tertiary level study – in medicine, the sciences, management, marketing, accounting – and the prices were pretty reasonable, even by Ghanaian standards.  I wandered around – looking mostly to see if there was anything which might be relevant to Ashesi students and faculty.  Not surprisingly there were definitely a few.

Having done my homage to student needs, I took a look at the rest of the displays – non-fiction first (sort of) then fiction and children’s books.  Naturally I was very, very sorely tempted.  Quite a lot of thrillers and mysteries (yes, yes), a few romances (not my thing), but not much literary or even African fiction (a bit of a disappointment).  There were some African writers books, but not many others, and I would certainly wish that books on Ghana/by Ghanaian writers would be a bit more prominently displayed.  After all, why shouldn’t we show off our own intellectual products?  Or material about us? It is a perfectly acceptable practice in many of the bookshops I have visited.

In the end I bought two books for members of my family, one on Osu for myself, two cookbooks (one of my weaknesses – and I am running out of cookbook shelf space!), and five for the Ashesi library!   I was sorely tempted to buy more, but managed to resist.

Definitely recommended!

For anyone wanting more information:  the only number I have is +233-28-971-1147, but no email yet.


November – librarians’ meeting and readings

When I initially started thinking about this post I thought November hadn’t been a particular busy month, but on reflection, maybe that was not quite the case.

I completed five books during the period:

  1. The kaya-girl, by Mamle Wolo [First prize Winner of the 2011 Burt Award]. A fun read for teens/young adults.
  2. Florida heatwave, edited by Michael Lister. [A collection of thriller short stories set in Florida; some definitely better than others]
  3. My first coup d’etat: Memories from the lost decades of Africa, by John Dramani Mahama [Written when the now President of Ghana was Vice-President; some interesting anecdotes from a contemporary politician.  We felt we had to read and discuss this book before Ghana’s Election Day on 7 December 2012]
  4. It happened in Ghana – A historical romance 1824-1971, by Noel Smith [not sure how to describe this book, which mentioned various events in Ghana’s history; I didn’t think it was that great]
  5. A discovery of witches, by Deborah Harkness [all right, I haven’t read the whole Twilight series, but this vampire/witch/daemon story has its entertaining bits!]

There was a preponderance of books on Ghana, with more fiction (as usual), but more male authors than female.  And I did read two of the books on my Kindle, definitely a bit more than usual!

I bought four books during the period – all from Vidya Bookstore  so as usual my TBR shelves continue to grow

  1. Joseph Anton, by Salman Rushdie
  2. The casual vacancy, by J K Rowling
  3. American dervish, by Ayad Akhtar [actually on one of my wish lists for a while]
  4. Amateur spy, by Dan Fespermann

My bookish/library activities during the month of November were three:

  • Ghana Library Association‘s biennial congress & AGM – took place in the first week in November.  Alternately interesting and a bit irritating.  Great to see professional colleagues.  Election results were pretty interesting – a much younger group elected!
  • Accra Book Club’s discussion of My first coup d’etat, by John Dramani Mahama.  We all agreed that it was great that a Ghanaian politician should put pen to paper, and wished that more would do so.  Reactions from those of us who had spent some time in Ghana did differ a bit from those who hadn’t.  But generally we liked it.
  • Readings by Chuma Nwokolo, author of The ghost of Sani Abacha and Diaries of a dead African, at his visit to Ashesi.   Very entertaining and amusing.  I think all the students and others present enjoyed it.

Maybe readers should be the judge as to whether November was a busy or quiet month?