Two weeks of non-stop bookish activities

It’s been a fairly busy two weeks, and for those of us interested in books and information, there have been
lots of events going on – in addition to work related stuff!

2013 Burt prize winners - coversFirst there was the Burt Award for African Literature. This covered the winning Ghanaian books for 2013.  I admit I arrived late – but I didn’t miss too much of the programme, which had, it seemed, more or less started on time [which is great]. The speeches were OK, with William Burt, the Canadian who funded the Burt awards, talking about the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series of books! That really brought back some of my early reading.

Naturally I bought copies of the prize winning books:

  1. Perfectly imperfect, by Ruby Yayra Goka (1st prize)
  2. Ossie’s dream, by Nanayaa Amankwah (2nd prize)
  3. The boy who spat in Sargrenti’s eye, by Manu Herbstein (3rd prize)

The first and third prize winners have been prize winners before.  The occasion was covered by the press, though not in its entirety as usual.

Then the day after, actually in the same venue – British Council – there was the launch and showing of the documentary The art of Ama Ata Aidoo. The film, by Yaba Badoe, was pretty interesting, though perhaps a little bit long. But illuminating especially if one has read or wants to read some of Ama Ata Aidoo’s work. I did not too surprisingly buy one of Aidoo’s books, No sweetness here - coverwhich has recently been republished here in Ghana.  There’s a great account of the launch here.

Another event was the yearly GAWBOFEST (Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival). Not exactly my favourite event, but maybe that is because I always tend to go to buy books, and get slightly disappointed at the range available. I also find that the long speeches in the morning session must be pretty boring for the children who attend, but then I admit that I don’t stay that long to see what happens during the rest of the day. Yet it is an event that I would wish to continue, just simply because there need to be more opportunities to see books, to buy them, and to talk about reading and writing.

I also went to the September Ghana Voices reading, organized by the Writers Project of Ghana. This month it was Benjamin Kwakye, who it turns out I have met before – though I am ashamed to say that I didn’t remember this. I was also annoyed with myself because I forgot to take copies of his books with me to be autographed!  [Too many things to remember on this day]

The September gathering of the Accra Book Club also took place during these two weeks – our read was the somewhat confusing, well-reviewed thriller, The shining girls, by Lauren Beukes.  Although I enjoyed reading it, it was a little confusing, and talking about it certainly clarified my understanding of this novel about a time-travelling serial killer, and the plucky victim who chased him.

All these activities included a fair bit of book buying – nine books in total – mainly because it is still difficult to buy certain titles as book shops with the kind of stock I like remain very few and far between here in Accra. I even managed to buy one of Ghanaian/American author Kwei Quartey’s books which has been on my wish list for several months.  Murder at Cape Three Points  - cover

As well as these events, I was also away from my usual work location, attending a couple of meetings and a workshop, all connected with the consortium of libraries my workplace belongs to.

On the work side, I was away from campus, attending a couple of meetings and a workshop, all related to CARLIGH (Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Ghana).

Now I have to write up two sets of minutes, plus an evaluation of the workshop.  Plus of course get back into the work swing of things!  Definitely no rest for some of us!

 

wife-of-the-godsIt is interesting that American/Ghanaian mystery writer Kwei Quartey is presently visiting Ghana – obviously doing research on his next book?  I heard him speak, and do a reading on CitiFM’s Writers Project programme two Sundays ago, which was at least better than nothing, but part of me wished that he could have given a public reading here in Accra.  I guess that is being a bit selfish, but I guess that is what comes of being in this location.

I do remember Quartey being asked about the availability of his books here in Ghana.  And of course the usual issues of where publishers chose to promote books came up.

Unfortunately there is also a major issue of what local booksellers chose to sell.  I think I read Quartey’s first novel, Wife of the Gods, as a borrowed copy which a fellow Accra Book Club member had bought on a trip  outside Ghana.  His second book, Children of the street, I did buy from a local bookshop [though I haven’t read it yet], and the third , Death at the Voyager Hotel, I managed to download on my e-reader [actually this happened because Quartey mentioned it on the Writers Project radio programme!]   I am not sure however whether any of them are currently available here in Accra, which is very sad, in my opinion.

Thanks to fellow blogger and reader, Chris Scott, for reminding me, via his website that I had actually considered writing about this.

May and June 2013 reading

It is more than slightly belated, for a variety of reasons – including holidays 🙂 – but here are my bookish activities for the months of May and June 2013.

I completed eight books during these two months – with six male authors and two female (that’s a bit unusual for me).  All except one were fiction, two with an African focus, the rest from all over the world.  I did read half of the books on my Kindle – mainly because I was on holiday.

So here is a list of completed works:

  1. Chocolate nations – Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa, by Orla Ryan.  [Fascinating story behind Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire’s main agricultural crop]
  2. A whispered name, by William Brodrick.  [A fictional investigation of a historical incident in World War I]
  3. Broken glass, by Alain Mabanckou. [set in Congo Brazzaville; not the easiest of reads. Lack of full stops/periods meant this reader really had to concentrate!]
  4. Clea’s moon, by Edward Wright.  [Thriller set in post World War II Los Angeles]
  5. The magicians, by Lev Grossman.  [Fantasy, partly set in a magical college!]
  6. Canada, by Richard Ford.  [Story of a family broken up when the parents rob a bank; an Accra Book Club read]
  7. Haiti noir, edited by Edwidge Danticat.  [Crime/thriller short stories set mostly in Haiti; some of them were very spooky]
  8. Osama, by Lavie Tidhar.  [Fantasy/alternative reality which has eerie echoes of the last fifteen years]

I did buy a lot of books during these two months.  May was very busy – with visits to EPP (opposite Legon), Vidya’s, Wild Gecko (I couldn’t resist a Ghanaian cookbook on display in this gift shop), and University of Ghana, Legon, bookshop.  I also bought one book from someone who went to Nigeria, and others at Yari Yari Ntoaso.  June I bought books in several Barnes & Noble bookstores and also from a couple of independent bookstores.  Plus I did buy a couple of novels for Accra Book Club on my Kindle.

I attended only two events during the period – the inaugural  address by the new Ghana Library Association president, and the four day conference on literature by women of African descent, Yari Yari Ntoaso.  The last was especially exciting, even though regrettably I couldn’t attend all the sessions.

July is already looking to be another busy month, which I will report on at another time.

Kofi Annan’s “Interventions” book launch in Accra

Along with many people – the hall at ISSER (Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research), University of Ghana, Legon was full – I attended the Ghana launch of Kofi Annan’s autobiography, Interventions, on 4 January 2013.

For the most part the event went well, starting only 15 minutes after the stated time [pretty good], and the MC kept things moving. There were a few glitches with the microphone, which meant that it was often hard to hear the relatively soft spoken Kofi Annan when he was delivering his author’s comments, which were very illuminating and of course confidently delivered as usual.

And typically there was one extra person to add to the programme, but on the whole, it flowed fairly well. The refreshments were good – with fresh coconuts and palm wine, in addition to the usual soft drinks, beer and wine.  See more details from my colleague, Kajsa Adu, who blogged almost immediately about the launch

My major issue with this event was and is with the book suppliers – in this case EPP – who had a table with some books on it at the beginning of the event, but obviously not enough to cover all those who wished to buy a copy.  Disappointment no 1:  many of us would have liked to buy a copy to get it autographed and we couldn’t.  But OK, there was an announcement to this effect, and we were reassured that if we went to EPP Bookshop at Legon we could get copies.

My immediate reaction, and no doubt that of others:  Surely by now publishers and booksellers know that book launches in Ghana are  events where attendees buy books, and that many of these same individuals will not go looking for these same books elsewhere after the events?

Disappointment no 2:  I went to the EPP Bookshop at Legon – which I have described before – the day after the event, and then I was told “It is finished.”   When asked when, the shop attendants replied “this morning”.  So needless to say I was not very happy, and indeed another customer who had hoped to buy four copies expressed her dissatisfaction and annoyance in no uncertain terms.  We dutifully wrote our names and contact details, and now we hope for the best.

Moral of the story:  if you see some books for sale at an event, ask if you can buy some before it starts.

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.

 

Sytris’ new branch in Osu

Sytris  Bookservice [NB:  the website has not been updated for a while] is one of the local companies which we use at work to supply tertiary level textbooks, so most of my contact with them is virtually all by email or phone – and related to the needs of students and faculty of Ashesi University College, where I work.  I knew there were also physical bookshops – at Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), on the Spintex Road (one of the major roads linking the eastern suburbs of Accra with the main road from Accra to Legon) and also at Radford University College.  I had actually been to the bookshop on the Spintex Road a couple of times, but the traffic and stock generally tended to be a constraint.

Recently I heard that the shop on Spintex had closed, and another branch had opened in Osu – on the major road locally known as “Oxford Street” , though I think the real name is Cantonments Road, despite the fact that both appear on Google Maps.

So time to take a look…  what I didn’t do though is take my camera, so no photos unfortunately!

Although Marc Cofie House has been around for a while, there is construction going on, so every retailer occupying the building is responsible for their own signage.  I hope that changes, because even access from the street is somewhat limited to those with cars, as there is a security bar before entering the parking lot – not very customer friendly in my opinion.  Sytris is on the second floor – so up we went…

The shop is quite large, open, and light, with large windows overlooking the street.  I am guessing that in the future there will be some displays in the windows in order to attract customers though at the moment there is a large banner with the name of the company.  The shelves on the walls are filled with mostly textbooks, with lighter fiction – aka story books – on tables, and in some magazines in racks.  Lots of graphic novels – otherwise known as comic books – too, so altogether a pretty good selection, though tending to lighter fiction and chick lit I would say.

Naturally I bought something (I am not sure that I can enter a bookshop without doing so):   a couple of job and motivational books for those with me, plus a Tintin book and a mystery.

I hope the good start will continue, and I will be a regular visitor!

New bookshop coming in Ghana?

I do buy one Ghanaian newspaper every day – the Daily Graphic – but I skim through at least one or two others – in a work context. And once in a while I will look at some of those that have websites which are regularly updated.

I have to admit that I don’t really read the Daily Graphic. I skim through the news, reading one or two stories or articles, and then settle in to take a look at the daily crop of adverts which usually take up a large portion of this newspaper.

During the last week I’ve seen two full page ads for a new bookshop with branches which is recruiting staff and due to open in September 2011. As usual there is no indication of the name of the company or the specific physical locations.  All applications are to be sent via email, but again the email is a webmail address.

I have to admit that this is one of my “beefs” about recruitment here.  Why is it so difficult to indicate the name of the company looking for staff?  I have been told that it has to do with preventing applicants from personally lobbying, or coming in huge numbers to make enquiries or submit applications.  But this happens even when a recruitment agency is being used!  I would have thought companies would rather want potential employees to know that they are looking for staff, to encourage applications that are targetted and relevant, rather than those which are generic, and probably not at all suitable.   I also think there is a lack of transparency which may reflect on the institutions themselves.

Apologies for this slight digression into the realm of human resources recruitment.

Back to the subject of new bookshops, I am curious about this new enterprise, as the advert indicates there will be branches in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale, Obuasi and Cape Coast. First question:  is it really a new shop? or just an old one re-inventing itself?  Where is its physical location in Accra?

And there is a full complement of staff required – at least for the front facing aspects of the business: bookshop managers, customer service managers, academic sales reps, commission sales executives and sales attendants – though no mention of back office support personnel such as those involved in finance, warehousing, etc…  But surely there must be a contact for the company?  But again, nothing.

Naturally as a book buyer I am intrigued. I buy quite a few books for my personal use – as I have testified to on occasion, and should do a bit more. Plus I am always on the lookout for new sources for work as we do a fair bit of procurement of texts and other supplementary readings for tertiary level students.

So I am still wondering:  what will be the orientation of this new bookshop?  Will it be concentrating on an academic market – or more at the basic and secondary level?  Will there be children’s books?  What about fiction?  What about books on Ghana and/or by Ghanaians?  What about other African books?

Many questions, and not many answers… I guess I have to be patient.

Book buying in July 2011

My book buying in July was relatively mild – compared to some months…

Mainly because they were available, and pretty cheap, I bought four Tintin books, all by Herge:
1. Tintin in America
2. The broken ear
3. The secret of the Unicorn
4. Red Rackham’s treasure

I’ve read them all before – several times – but I know others will enjoy them!

As mentioned previously there were a couple of book launches during the month, one I did not attend, and the
other one I did. Two more books then

5. A place of beautiful nonsense, by Alba Sumprim [non fiction, satire about Ghana] (I bought my copy at Silverbird  bookstore though one could contact the author
6. The chicken thief, by Fiona Leonard [mild mannered thriller set in Southern Africa]
I am actually reading both of these as I write, and enjoying them, in totally different ways.

And just before the end of the month:
7. Heartstone, by C J Sansom (one of the Shardlake Tudor mysteries)
8. Crocodile bread, by Kathy Knowles (a picture book) [available in Ghana at various local bookshops – I bought my copy at Vidyas –  and through Osu Childrens Library Fund

And lest I forget – because it still isn’t my primary means of reading – I “bought” five books to be read on
my Kindle, though I must honestly say that four of them did not cost anything 🙂 Bargains are not to be
missed, even in the electronic world!

9. Les miserables, by Victor Hugo [classic, which I have never read]
10. Fairy tales every child should know, by Hamilton Wright Mabie [time to revisit childhood?]
11. A cold day for murder, by Dana Stabenow [easy reading]
12. Back on murder, by J Mark bertrand [easy reading]
13. State of wonder, by Ann Patchett [literary, with good reviews]

So 60+% on physical books, and a little less than 40% on e-books.  I bought the physical books at Kingdom, Silverbird, Goethe Institut (book launch) and Vidya’s – all in Accra; the e-books were downloaded from Amazon.

I wonder how this compares to others?

Two book launches at Goethe Institut, Accra

Maybe it is just that I am more able to attend events, but I definitely feel that there has been quite a bit going on in the books scene here in Accra over the last month or so.

I meant to attend Alba Sumprim‘s launch of her book, A place of beautiful nonsense, at the beginning of July at the Goethe Institut but unfortunately couldn’t due to having visitors.  But I enjoyed her first book, The imported Ghanaian, as well as her columns from the Daily Despatch, one of the local newspapers here in Accra.  So of course, I looked forward to seeing what she would say and draw for her new book.  I did find a copy – not autographed though – in Silverbird bookshop, and it is now sitting on my TBR shelf.  Looks good for dipping into.

This past week I was again at the Goethe Institut, for another programme organized by the Writers Project of Ghana, this time with friend and fellow blogger, Fiona Leonard.  As those who follow her blog know, Fiona finally published her novel, The chicken thief, which has been available on Amazon in Kindle format for a while.  But for those of us here in Ghana, the launch reading finally came off with lots of physical copies of the book available for sale.  And naturally I did buy one, and of course, did get it autographed!  Readings definitely do serve to wet one’s desire to read, I have noticed!

Another addition to the TBR shelves.  I just wish I could make more time to read, read, and do more reading!

Reading resolutions for 2011

I am not really into making New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I tend to find that I tend to neither remember them, nor bother to do anything about them!

But maybe that is because I didn’t chose an area over which I really had some kind of control, and my reading is certainly one of those areas.

I am not in school, nor am I studying anything, so I can more or less chose what I want to read – within some constraints, naturally.

To Be Read (TBR) pile/shelves:  I have more than a hundred unread books on my shelves, and I feel I really should apply myself to lessening this number.  They are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with a mixture of non-African and African authors and locales.

There are a good number of crime/mysteries/thrillers as that is a fiction genre which I have always enjoyed – including the award winning Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith, and Malla Nunn’s Let the dead die, which takes place in apartheid South Africa.

Great African Reads:  I do need to read some more African writing, and will try to keep up to date with the books chosen by the Great African Reads group at Goodreads.  Supply is definitely a challenge here, though I suspect it will be less so for some countries.  I already have Uwen Akpan’s collection, Say you’re one of them, and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s The book of not (the sequel to Dangerous conditions), waiting for me.

Book purchases:  I suppose I should try to restrain my buying of books, but again the environment seems to work against this.  I feel if I see something I would like to read – at some point – I should buy it, as it won’t necessarily be available the next time I look.   As I have mentioned before, there aren’t that many bookshops here in Accra, nor are there as many libraries as there once were.

Kindle:  I do have a Kindle, and I am very much still at the experimental stage with this new “toy”.  So this is definitely something I need to work on, especially if I can really get my downloading done effectively.  So far, I’ve had some success, but not via Wifi, but rather via my laptop, though one book just doesn’t come, no matter when I try to download it.

More consistent posting:  And last but not least, I am going to try and post a bit more regularly, and not succumb to a whole host of excuses!