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!

 

Bookish activities for December 2013

On the reading front, I read quite a lot – mainly because of the holidays and being off work from 20 December (well the evening thereof) – 12 books, with thee having a Ghana focus, and four an Africa one.

  1. The year of the flood, by Margaret Atwood [part 2 of her trilogy of a post-apocalyptic world. Pretty good, though I have to admit to not remembering much about part 1 – Oryx and Crake]
  2. The night gardener, by George Pelecanos [another crime story/mystery set in the totally non-glamorous part of Washington, DC. With many flawed characters; in fact all of them are, including the geographical location itself]
  3. Among others, by Jo Walton [somewhat disappointing in my view; I had thought there would be more SF/fantasy than there was]
  4. Defeating dictators: Fighting tyranny in Africa and around the world, by George B N Ayittey [passionate advocacy for citizen involvement in government]
  5. Waiting for the barbarians, by J M Coetzee [chosen as “speculative fiction” for  Goodreads “Great African Reads” group; I suspect it might grow on me. But I still wonder at how “African” it is – maybe because the author is South African? ]
  6. One day I will write about this place, by Binyavanga Wainaina [memoir of the Kenyan author. In parts not very chronological, which can be a bit confusing]
  7. The hangman’s daughter, by Oliver Potzsch [entertaining, historical mystery taking place in 17th century Bavaria]
  8. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [a love story, but also stories of being in the African diaspora in the US and UK]
  9. The deliverer, by Kwabena Ankomah-Kwakye [fictionalized account of the founder of the Asante nation]
  10. The library tree, by Deborah Cowley [inspirational story of the Kathy Knowles libraries and books]
  11. Hurt machine, by Reed Farrel Coleman [crime/mystery – fairly light stuff, set in New York]
  12. I speak of Ghana, by Nana Awere Damoah [commentaries on contemporary Ghanaian society]

Physical book-buying was minimal – I only bought one, but then I did somewhat overcompensate in stocking up on my Kindle [12 titles – mostly fairly lightweight, but well, who cares?]

Book related events – again fairly light on the ground:

I attended the book launch of Nana Awere Damoah’s book, I speak of Ghana. And there was an Accra Book Club gathering which didn’t work out. See my previous post .

So it wasn’t a bad month to round up the year.

Looking forward: well, I think a little more reading is definitely on the cards, and I do need to visit some of our local bookshops – maybe this weekend!

October and November bookish activities

At the beginning of the last few months, I have felt rather guilty about not writing about my reading, and now
I have no excuse whatsoever for getting my act together, as I am off work for almost two weeks for the
holidays! So plenty of time to read (yeah!) and write (a bit of discipline and focus needed), as well as just
generally relaxing at home.

Over the two months I completed twelve books – which seems about average for me – though once again I admit that I am often reading more than one book at a time. For example I find that when I am going to sleep, I need something interesting, but not too exciting, so that often means non-fiction. Ditto bathroom reading, often in small chunks!

So a few stats on the books read:

  • eight male authors, and four women – a little unusual I admit, as I think I read quite a few women authors
  • seven fiction, and five non-fiction – though in October, I read mostly non-fiction
  • three with a Ghana focus (either authors or location), two with an Africa focus, and seven non-African books

And these are the titles:

  1. Every day is for the thief, by Teju Cole – a diary like account of a Nigerian expat’s visit to Lagos. I did like this
  2. No worries, 5th ed, by NAWA – a great guide to Accra. I have all five editions!
  3. Memoirs of an imaginary friend, by Matthew Dicks – an Accra Book Club read, which I enjoyed. Gives an insight to a young boy who is on the autistic spectrum
  4. High on the hog, by Jessica Harris – on African American food
  5. The complete Maus, by Art Spiegelman – moving graphic story of the author’s parents in Poland – using figures of mice. Moving.
  6. Burnt shadows, by Kamila Shamsie – a family saga that ranges from Japan to India, Pakistan and the US.
  7. The beautiful tree, by James Tooley – illuminating story of private education at the so-called bottom of the pyramid – with Indian, Ghanaian, Nigerian, Kenyan and Chinese examples. Was recommended by a colleague at work, and I finally got around to reading it.
  8. Ender’s game, by Orson Scott Card – an Accra Book Club read. I definitely used to have a physical copy, but it seems to have developed wings, so I had to re-read this on my Kindle. I enjoyed it, and actually look forward to seeing the movie.
  9. Consider the fork, by Bee Wilson – on selected kitchen appliances and implements over the years. I love this kind of book.
  10. The night gardener, by George Pelecanos – a couple of mysteries are solved, and crimes investigated, but none of the characters in this book are perfect. I liked the Washington DC area setting, so different from what one sees on the news or TV.
  11. Among others, by Jo Walton – I am not really sure what I expected when I bought this book; I think more fantasy/SF. Instead it was basically a teen growing up story, with lots of SF titles mentioned. A little disappointing.
  12. Defeating dictators: Fighting tyranny in Africa and around the world, by George B N Ayittey – not really academic, but fun to read. I do love the author’s passion, and belief in the possibilities of change in Africa.
  13. Waiting for the barbarians, by J M Coetzee – I suspect that this is a book which might grow on me as I reflect on it.

The book-buying front was relatively quiet – I bought four physical books, including three with a Ghanaian focus, plus four on my Kindle (including more freebies).

There wasn’t much happening in October – only a small gathering of the Accra Book Club, but November was pretty busy, as I mentioned in a previous post .

December is of course more than half done, but there are still quite a few reading days left!

August and September book-related activities

I haven’t talked about my reading, book buying, or bookish events for a while, so rather than wait till the end of this month, I will look back on August and September, which weren’t horribly busy.

During these two months, I completed nine books – two fiction (only!) and seven non-fiction – the proportions being quite unusual for me, as I tend usually to read more fiction than non-fiction. Three books had a Ghana focus, four were on Africa/by African writers, and two were by non-Africans and neither on Ghana or Africa.

I bought eight physical books – including two cookbooks – plus four e-books.

So, to the books I completed:

  • Snowdrops, by A D Miller (a thriller set in a wintry Moscow; nothing is really what it seems)
  • Gulp, by Mary Roach (an entertaining non-fiction book on the gut)
  • The boy who harnessed the wind, by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer (very inspiring book book about a young Malawian inventor)
  • Bright lights, no city, by Max Alexander (story of Burro, a social enterprise in Ghana)
  • Interventions: a life in war and peace, by Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh (entertaining and illuminating autobiography by the former UN Secretary-General)
  • Birds of our land, by Virginia W Dike (children’s guide to bird of southern Nigeria)
  • Lose your mother, by Saidiya Hartman (aspects of the slave trade and its heritage, with emphasis in Ghana)
  • There was a country – A personal history of Biafra, by Chinua Achebe (a very personal view of some of the events of the Biafran war)
  • No time like the present, by Nadine Gordimer (read for Accra Book Club; on contemporary South Africa)

As for bookish events, I missed a couple of the August events – a reading by Nii Ayikwei Parkes and the launch of Boakyewaa Glover’s latest book – due to car issues.  Needless to say, I was not pleased.

There was a gathering of the Accra Book Club, the first for a while, due to the “summer”/vacation period. Those of us who had read The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared (by Jonas Jonasson) found it very entertaining, and a good read. Only a couple of us had read Canada, by Richard Ford, so there wasn’t much of a discussion on that novel.

I also attended Nigerian writer Sefi Atta’s reading at the Goethe Institut at the end of September, part of the Ghana Voices series organized by the Writers Project of Ghana.

And also at the end of September, I took part in the launch of the 5th edition of NAWA (North American Women’s Association)’s guide to living in Accra, No Worries. Interestingly I actually have all five editions! 5 editions of No Worries

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.

Cassava Republic books in Ghana! at Yari Yari Ntoaso

ImageI won’t talk about Yari Yari Ntoaso (an international conference on literature by women of African ancestry) in this post, but if you want to know more see http://kinnareads.wordpress.com/ who is posting the schedule, and photos, or follow the #YariYari hashtag on Twitter.

What I wanted to comment about was the fact that the well known Nigerian publisher, Cassava Republic, had a stand among the tables of vendors!  How pleased I was to see them, and of course I couldn’t resist buying something on Day 1 – and who knows what will happen on Days 2-4?

The comment I made to their representative was to ask why they didn’t sell any of their Imagebooks here in Ghana?  I would much rather support either a Ghanaian or other West African business if this is possible.  I know the market might not be huge, but still I do believe there is a market for Nigerian literature here.  Certainly I saw at least six other books that I would have bought from them if I hadn’t either read or bought them already!

I wonder what other readers think?

March bookish activities

March bookish activities

I did a fair bit of reading in March, but not much buying. Yet there were a lot of books and information related activities I was involved in.

I finished reading the following novels – no non-fiction during this month!

  • The particular sadness of lemon cake, by Aimee Bender [great title, but I have to admit I didn’t feel the content quite lived up to it]
  • The night circus, by Erin Morgenstern [really enjoyable, even though there were lots of questions unanswered at the end]
  • Skellig, by David Almond [classic teen story; a bit of a tearjerker perhaps]
  • The library of shadows, by Mikkel Birkegaard [another mystery/thriller which started off better than it ended]
  • Nairobi heat, by Mukoma wa Ngugi [detective story set in both the US and East Africa; not sure the ending was the right one, but well…]
  • Dune, by Frank Herbert [classic science fiction story, read for Accra Book Club. Remarkably prescient? I think I first read this more than 40 years ago!]

I didn’t buy much: two books at literary events, plus one visit to Vidya Bookstore which netted three books for me, and two Accra Book Club reads on my Kindle!

As for events related to themes dear to my heart, there were quite a few:,

  • A book slam, organized by AWDF (African Women’s Development Fund) and Alliance Francaise, with several well known African and Ghanaian writers reading excerpts from either their prose works or poetry. A great way to spend the evening of International Women’s Day!
  • Ghanaian author, Alex Agyei-Agyiri, read excerpts from one of his novels at the March Writers Project of Ghana event at Goethe Institut. I did buy one of his books, but I have to admit that I was not impressed by his actual reading – rather sad, as many authors are pretty good at reading their own work.
  • Earlier in the last week I gave a talk/presentation on “Literacy and me” for the Rotary Club of Ring Road Central. Basically I talked about reading, bookish events, and some of my work in information.  There was also a brief discussion  of Rotimi Babatunde’s Caine Prize winning short story “Bombay’s Republic”.
  • And last but not least, there was a work related meeting of CARLIGH –  a consortium of libraries here in Ghana, to which Ashesi belongs, followed at the end of the month with a gathering of academic librarians from all over Africa, brought together by the AAU to discuss progress on institutional and digital repositories.

I am not sure what April will be like… I rather tend to go with the flow…

February 2013 book/information related activities and reads

A very belated report on my February book/information related activities and reads

I only finished reading four books during February – interestingly all written by males, an even split between
fiction and non-fiction, with three having an African/ African diasporan/ Ghanaian focus.

  • Chicago, by Alaa al Aswamy [this was on my list for the 2012 Africa Reading Challenge!  Stories of the Egyptian diaspora, mostly. Not as good as The Yacoubian building, in my opinion]
  • Pilgrims of the night – Development challenges and opportunities in Africa, edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah [essays on Africa, loosely connected with an environmental focus]
  • Yes, Chef , by Marcus Samuelsson [memoir by the famous Ethiopian/Swedish chef. Being a enthusiast of books about food, I enjoyed this!  So how can I actually visit his restaurant?]
  • A life apart, by Neel Mukherjee [prize-winning book which has been on my TBR shelf for a long time. A story split between India and the UK, the present and the beginning of the 20th century]

Fastest billion at AshesiBook buying, which of course followed physical visits to bookshops, as opposed to visits to online book sites,
was OK. I bought four non-fiction books (three with an African focus), two novels, two Tintin books (to add to the family collection)  and one collection of Calvin & Hobbes comic strips.

As for book events/activities I could count probably four – though the last one doesn’t strictly have to do with books, though it did involve librarians.

  1. The author of The fastest billion, Charles Robertson, came to Ashesi for a presentation (essentially taken from the book), and of course there were copies of the book for sale, so how could I resist? Plus sales from the book are benefiting Ashesi, so how could I resist?
  2. There was also the monthly gathering of the Accra Book Club – rather sparse in attendance this month, I do admit – with a discussion of Of Africa, by Wole Soyinka. Not the easiest of reads, controversial (naturally), and I have to admit that I have yet to finish this book, though I am not giving up.
  3. No Worries 4th editionThe other bookish activity is a little different. I am a member of NAWA  which raises money for projects through sale of its guide to Accra, No Worries. The first edition came out in 1997, and the most recent edition – the 4th – in 2010. As this is beginning to be out of date, despite several changes on the companion website, it is time to put out a new edition, especially as there are an increasing number of non-Ghanaians coming to live in Accra, who want to know what’s available in this city.  At the moment there are a group of NAWA members working on the new edition, checking and updating entries, adding new ones, selling ads, and so on. I am just a little cog, working with colleagues on a few sections, but it is pretty satisfying. And then there is a role in updating the website…
  4. Bookish matters have blended more into information and electronic ones, and the last activity I wanted to mention pertained to CARLIGH – Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Ghana. Periodically CARLIGH organizes workshops for those working in member institutions (of which there are now nearly 30), and at the end of February there was a two-day event on “Searching e-resources”, which I helped to co-facilitate with a colleague from the University of Ghana, Legon.  Fun, because one always learns something new, and it is very relevant to what many librarians do nowadays.

February 2013 light-off at LapazAgain, my month was busier than I thought, though I still wish I could finish reading more books than I did.  But then there is the ever-present “light-off” phenomenon which has meant that we have only six days in February when the electricity stayed on for a full day! [the red writing indicates light-off]

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?