Ghana and Africa reads for 2014

Usually at the end of a year, or the very beginning of one, I look back and mention books which I categorize as my Ghana and Africa reads. These are either books written by Ghanaians or Africans, wherever they live and write. They can also be written by non-Ghanaians/non-Africans if the topics are either Ghanaian or African.

Ghana reads of 2014

Fiction
1. Death at the Voyager Hotel, by Kwei Quartey – an ebook, but not featuring Inspector Darko Dawson. Fun. I believe it has now been published here in Ghana?
2. Between sisters, by Adwoa Badoe – a girl who wasn’t that interested in school learns lessons while working for a family in Kumasi
3. Perfectly imperfect, by Ruby Yayra Goka – the 2013 Burt prize 1st place winner. Pretty good.
4. Ossie’s dream, by Nanayaa Amankwah – another Burt prize winner, 2nd place. A bit over the top, in my view.
5. The boy who spat in Sargrenti’s eye, by Manu Herbstein – the 3rd place Burt prize winner. Enjoyable, with wonderful illustrations.
6. No sweetness here and other stories, by Ama Ata Aidoo – a new edition, locally published. The stories still have punch, even after 40 years!

Non-fiction
1. Ethnicity and the making of history in Northern Ghana, by Carola Lentz – fascinating account of the Upper West Region especially.
2. Java Hill, by T P Manu Ulzen – a family account of a coastal family. I wish there were more of these.
3. History of West Africa and the Ga (Osu) people, by Narh Omaboe – rather poorly written and published, unfortunately!

I bought eight of my nine Ghana reads here in Ghana – either at book launches, or at local bookshops. The one exception was the lone e-book.   Interestingly four of the six  Ghanaian works of fiction are written for young adults.

 

Africa reads of 2014

Fiction
1. Afro SF – Science fiction by African writers, edited by Ivor W Hartmann – I love SF, so these were great.
2. The ghost of Sani Abacha, by Chuma Nwokolo – short stories of contemporary Nigeria.
3. Short stories [supporting Worldreader], by Chika Unigwe – many about diasporan Nigerians.
4. Arrows of rain, by Okey Ndibe – first novel, by now acclaimed author based in the US.
5. Akata witch, by Nnedi Okorafor – young adult novel, with a plucky albino heroine
6. The grass is singing, by Doris Lessing – classic, which I had never read before
7. The spider king’s daughter, by Chibundu Onuzo – a good debut. It doesn’t turn out quite as expected.
8. Distant view of a minaret, by Alifa Rifaat – poignant stories from a North African writers
9. We need new names, by NoViolet Bulawayo – prize winner novel of Zimbabwe and African diasporans in the US
10. Opening spaces – Contemporary African women’s writing, edited by Yvonne Vera – a wide ranging of short stories by African women.
11. Diaries of a dead African, by Chuma Nwokolo – three linked stories, tragic, but comic at the same time.
12. Secret son, by Laila Lalami – what makes a potential terrorist.
13. The shining girls, by Lauren Beukes – the setting is not African, though the author is. About a time-travelling serial killer

Non-fiction
1. Women leading Africa, edited Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah – illuminating collection.
2. Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff – biography, yet fairly easy to read. Wish I remembered my “ancient” history better
3. The fastest billion: the story behind Africa’s economic revolution, by Charles Robertson and others – not sure I agree with his prognosis, but it is good to read a more optimistic view of Africa’s future

Out of the sixteen Africa reads, most were bought as physical books from local bookshops here in Accra. I did however buy six e-books (nos 1, 3, 6, 9, 12 and 13 of the Africa fiction list).

I still tend to read most of my books in physical format – about 64% overall for 2014 – though I think the percentage of e-books is probably increasing.

I ended the year having started, but not yet finished, the following:

  • Flight behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. This is the Accra Book Club read for January 2015. [the only one in e-book format]
  • Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. The final part of the Hunger Games trilogy. I want to finish this before watching the movie!
  • Exodus, by Paul Collier. On migration.
  • Living in the shadow of the large dams: Long term responses of downstream and lakeside communities of Ghana’s Volta River Project, by Dzodzi Tsikata. Fairly heavily academic, so I dip into this.
  • Human mules, by Carol Larratt. On the kayayei [young female porters] in Accra.

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!

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.

Recent books, libraries and information events

The last couple of weeks have been full of events related to books, reading, libraries and information, so
maybe I should take a bit of time to mention some of them.

The first two were what I would call “regulars”:

Ghana Voices, which part of the Writers Project of Ghana , featured prize-winning author Elizabeth-Irene Baitie reading from her latest novel for teens, The twelfth heart,  a boarding school based story. This was the evening that Accra suffered floods, so the audience wasn’t as large as expected, but Baitie is not only a good reader, but enthusiastic about both her writing, and her professional work. I already had a copy of the book, so at least I managed to get the author’s autograph, plus it has moved from a TBR shelf to my desk, which is definitely up on my priority list.

Accra Book Club had its monthly gathering, and this time the book was Ann Patchett’s widely acclaimed book,
State of wonder, which interesting enough I think we all read on Kindles! Although we were all somewhat critical of certain aspects of the book, that didn’t detract from its being a good choice for a book discussion. Our next discussion will be Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, so I’ve started that – again on my Kindle.

The last three are more work and professionally oriented:

One of the Africa representatives of Elsevier,  a large
publisher of STM (science, technology and medicine) books, journals and other materials, did a presentation
of several of their database products, including ScienceDirect and Scopus . It was obviously a sales pitch, but still interesting
nonetheless. And a good opportunity to meet three colleagues whom I hadn’t seen for a while. The only thing
which upset me was the fact that twenty-seven people had signed up to attend, but only ten actually came!

I also did a quick visit to the 10th Ghana International Book Fair, which took place at the Ghana
International Trade Fair. As I went in the afternoon, there were large numbers of schoolchildren in uniform
around – some looking at books, the odd ones reading some, and others just rejoycing in being at the Fair on
an officially sanctioned outing. I didn’t buy much – as most of the books available are either textbooks,
supporting material for basic education, or books for children. I did want some dictionaries but couldn’t
find the variety I was looking for. I wasn’t happy.

The last event was the Ghana Library Association Seminar and AGM – a one day event which alternates every
year with a two day Congress and AGM at which elections are held. This year’s event was held a bit earlier
than usual – to coincide with the GIBF – whose theme did include libraries, after all – and was held at the
Ghana International Trade Fair. Close to a hundred librarians from all over Ghana gathered to discuss the
future of libraries, and how our own association will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012. There was lots
of interaction between friends and colleagues, though as usual there were many issues left unresolved.

Now I have to catch up with work!

E-readers in Accra Book Club

I belong to Accra Book Club [we don’t have a website, but if you are interested, leave a comment below], which is a group of mostly women who meet once a month over a meal to discuss a book or books. I do mention it fairly frequently in this blog.  We’ve been in existence for about seven years or so, and usually we’ve made our book selections for six months or so in advance.  The main reasons for doing this – at least when we started – were:

– this allowed members some time to source the books to be discussed
– members might often share one copy of a book
– chosing locally available titles
– allowed individuals to plan reading

We often chose books which were not available in the limited local bookshops here in Accra.  Alternatives were:  borrowing from a friend/colleague/fellow reader, buying books when travelling or relying on someone who could actually buy books outside and have them shipped to Ghana.  I know that I have used all these alternatives in the past, but for some of us, regular travel of say more than twice a year, was not part of our lives.  Nor did some of us have regular access to regular, straightforward shipments from outside Ghana.  But on the whole we did manage.

At least one bookshop I know – Vidya Bookstore – has ordered books which the Accra Book Club recommended – but delivery times were not as speedy as some would wish, plus prices were not “cheap”.  Buying books personally from a site such as Amazon is not difficult, but the freight for delivery to Ghana, even from the UK, is huge, almost doubling the price of whatever you try and buy.  And woe betide you if you tried ordering books from Amazon.com and having them shipped here; at least one order took ten weeks, despite there being regular transatlantic flights and daily flights to Ghana from Europe!  Needless to say I was not pleased.

Borrowing a book after someone had read it was always a possibility, especially if a member had read a title early.  On occasion we chose African writers that were published in the African Writers Series, mainly because it was very easy to get a copy of the books in Accra

But how things have changed, even here in Ghana!   

At the last gathering of Accra Book Club, every one present either had an e-reader with them, or at home.  One had been a very early adopter, and even mentioned that she had ordered a Kindle Fire! But others had probably bought them, or been given them, during the last few months. And most probably because it is an international group, all had Kindles – as opposed to Nooks, or iPads or other tablets.  I suspect also that many were just the ordinary wifi versions, even though most of us did not download books in Ghana through wifi, but rather through laptops or pcs.  For those used to simply clicking on a book and having it download automatically to one’s device, having to ad the transfer from laptop may seem to be a burden.  But I am sure that for many of us who have “suffered” because we couldn’t find enough books to read here, having a Kindle and being able to download more or less whatever one wants to buy with a few clicks – and admittedly an internet connection – is absolutely wonderful.  It is true that the environment does have an impact:  you do have to have a credit card to buy from Amazon (which is probably a big issue for most Ghanaians), you do have to have an internet connection (becoming less of an issue with the proliferation of mobile internet access) but with these even those of us based here could access what Amazon has to offer.

And that is a big change.  Now when we make selections, usually the problem is with items that are not on Kindles.  Otherwise we just go ahead.

Bookish activities in September 2011

When I started writing this, I thought September hadn’t been a particular active month for me on the books side.  But then upon reviewing it I realized it wasn’t as quiet as I had originally thought!

I bought nine books at local bookshops here in Accra:

  • 2 cookery books – I just can’t resist buying these, though I don’t always cook from them!
  • 1 novel – one of Boris Akunin’s books, The winter queen, which I had heard of on BBC World Book Club podcast
  • 2 art books
  • 2 pamphlets for visitors/tourists:  one on Twi and the other on Old Accra
  • 2 copies of Ama Ataa Aidoo’s The days, to be given to children as gifts

And then there were two freebies downloaded to my Kindle.

I only completed two books – which for me is unusual:

  • Flat earth news, by Nick Davies:  non-fiction on the media andvery relevant in the days of scandals from the Murdoch empire
  • The historian, by Elizabeth Kostova:   probably the main reason why I didn’t finish many books, as this is over 700 pages long!  An entertaining vampire story

The last couple of weeks of the month was busy.

I went to GAWBOFEST – briefly, as I mentioned in an earlier post.  Like others, I look forward to more of such events, though I know there is a lot of effort involved in organizing them.

Next was one of the Writers Project of Ghana events at the Goethe Institut with Camynta Baezie reading from his novel The African agenda.  I had bought the book a couple of years ago, and quite enjoyed it – an international thriller with African characters!  A pity though that there weren’t more people attending.  I know Goethe Institut puts information onto its website, and sends out emails, and Writers Project also sends out information via Twitter, but maybe these means are still not enough to bring people in?  I guess it also depends on how much publicity the authors themselves do.

And there was a gathering for Accra Book Club, after a gap of couple of months, to discuss Diane Setterfield’s The thirteenth tale. .  The book is a contemporary “gothic” with tales within tales, but with lots of references to reading, writing and books. That was fun.  And we planned our readings for the next six months or so, which was good.

So that was my September on the personal literary side.

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?