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!

Ghanaian literature week extended

Kinna of Kinna Reads just announced that the Ghanaian literature week would be extended!

Yeah!

I was actually reading a book set in Ghana during the actual week – Children of the street, by Kwei Quartey –  but didn’t get around to saying anything about it, so maybe now I will have that chance!

OK, I do admit that I probably read at least one Ghana or Africa based or authored book every month, and there are some months when I will read many more than that.  It all depends on what I feel like reading.

April 2013 bookish activities

Looking back on April 2013 books, information and library activities

To begin with as usual, a small review of my April completed reads: I read six books (listed below), ironically more non-fiction than fiction, and also more male writers than female. There was one Ghanaian author, two non-Ghanaian African authors, and three non-Africans.

  1. This child will be great, by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf [I found the first part much more interesting than the second, which was more political]
  2. The library at night, by Alberto Manguel [And of course, I dipped in and out of this book just before going to sleep!]
  3. Cod, by Mark Kurlansky [interesting, but not as fascinating as some of his other books]
  4. The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson [one of the books suggested for Accra Book Club. Very funny. And one keeps wondering what the main character will get up to next!]
  5. Mr Happy and the hammer of God and other stories, by Martin Egblewogbe [some very intriguing stories in this collection, which is focussed more on the thoughts of the characters, rather than the external African/Ghanaian environments]
  6. Of Africa, by Wole Soyinka [one of the recommendations for Accra Book Club, which I did not finish before the discussion. Very, very dense.]

Book buying was definitely on the meager side (which means I definitely have to make up in subsequent months): I only bought two books – one at a local bookshop (Sytris) and the other from a colleague who got it from the author.

Activities were as usual fairly varied:

  • Accra Book Club had one of its gatherings – with a discussion of Dune, by Frank Herbert (see post). As I may have mentioned, I really enjoyed re-reading this classic science fiction novel.
  • I joined a group of colleagues for a presentation on eLibraryUSA at the US Embassy Information Resource Center. I enjoyed it, and appreciated using some of the new resources later in the month.
  • Writers Project of Ghana held its March Ghana Voices programme, with Martin Egblewogbe reading some of his poetry, and excerpts from his book, Mr Happy and the hammer of God and other stories, mentioned above.
  • And finally, just before listening to various cultural gurus hosted by Adventurers in the Diaspora , I spoke to a visiting Danish postgraduate student studying literacy/books/reading/libraries in Ghana. I hope he got something out of the interview.

So what about May? lots coming up, including Yari Yari Ntoaso which I am really looking forward to!

 

 

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]

Book matters during January 2013

I completed five books: four fiction and one non-fiction, only one female author though, which is definitely unusual for me. One of the books was by a diasporan African, and another was by an African-American

  • The Sisters brothers, by Patric DeWitt [shorlisted for the Booker prize in 2011; a rather unusual Western with two killers as the main characters!]
  • Open city, by Teju Cole [read for Accra Book Club. I don’t think anyone present at the discussion liked the main character, and several of us found the lack of a resolution rather irritating, though we did like the actual writing
  • The omnivore’s dilemma, by Michael Pollan [I love reading about food, and this book definitely fit the bill]
  • The amateur spy, by Dan Fesperman [light reading, though I did wonder whether the main character was indeed an amateur]
  • The complete short stories, by Zora Neale Hurston [a new author for me. I found some of the language quite difficult at times]

I did buy six physical books – from Vidya Bookstore, and EPP at Legon: two non-fiction and four fiction. I also got two autographed books as presents from my daughter, plus four on my Kindle from my sister.  Nothing like a few books to liven up the New Year

I only wish that my reading would keep up with my buying.

Only one book event during the month, which I have already talked about – and yes, eventually I did get a copy of Kofi Annan’s book, Interventions.

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.

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?

Africa Reading Challenge: an update

As I moved into the month of October, I realised that I had to look at progress – or lack thereof – on my one reading challenge, the African Reading Challenge, which was initiated by KinnaReads.

I know I have read quite a few books on Africa and/or by African writers, but I still have the following four on my TBR shelves:

  • Chicago, by Alaa al Aswany – North Africa/Egypt
  • An elegy for Easterly, by Petina Gappah – Central Africa/Zimbabwe – short stories
  • Broken glass, by Alain Mabanckou – Central Africa/Congo – in translation from French
  • The cry of Winnie Mandela, by Njabulo Ndebele – South Africa

So I have decided to move them onto a more obvious TBR pile on my desk, so I will know to pick one of them up as I move to something new with an African flavour.

I only hope that this strategy works!

A belated look at September 2012 book related activities

During September, I read – or more appropriately – finished reading six books:

  1. 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 [quite apt as it was about Ekumfi Otuam, the “hometown” of the late President of Ghana, Prof John Atta Mills]
  2. The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives, by Lola Shoneyin [a polygamous marriage has many secrets]
  3. Half-blood blues, by Esi Edugyan [read for Accra Book Club]
  4. Speechless – World history without words, by Polyp [graphic non-fiction; I confess I wasn’t always clear what was being depicted]
  5. Death and pain – Rawlings’ Ghana, the inside story, by Mike Adjei [aspects of Ghana’s history during the turbulent 1970s and 1980s]
  6. The bean trees, by Barbara Kingsolver [moving early novel by the well-known American author]

As is obvious by the titles above, there were more books with African/Ghanaian flavours/origins. Unusually for me there was an even mix between fiction and non-fiction.

In terms of bookish activities, it was a busy month, or rather the last ten days were very full. I had mentioned anticipating several activities in a previous post, and indeed I did go to all.

GAWBOFEST – Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival – did take place, and I did go. 21 September was a public holiday here in Ghana (Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday). But I didn’t stay long, bought a few books, and left, mainly because I wasn’t feeling very well, even though I had heard that the President, John Mahama, was coming to read from his recently published book, My first coup d’etat. I was very sorry to have missed that reading, but I was very happy that it took place in what was a relatively informal and non-political forum.

The next week, 25 – 29 September, was the 11th Ghana International Book Fair, held this year at the National Theatre. I went round the stands on a couple of days, and didn’t buy much, mainly because I had seen what I wanted at GAWBOFEST. But I was glad to attend the formal book launch of the Burt award 2011 books, and did buy the pack of three books:

  1. The kaya girl, by Mamle Wolo
  2. The lost royal treasure, by Ruby Yayra Goka
  3. Akosua & Osman, by Manu Herbstein

For an interesting and challenging perspective on the Book Fair and writing for children here in Ghana, see Mikelle on Education’s post.

Another entertaining reading took place at the Goethe Institut, where Nigerian author Chuma Nwokolo read excerpts from two of his books, as part of the Writers Project of Ghana Ghana Voices series:

  1. The ghost of Sani Abacha
  2. Diaries of a dead African

Nwokolo was entertaining and amusing, and the audience obliged with lots of questions and laughter, and of course we bought his books!

The rest of the week involved a regular monthly gathering of the Accra Book Club, plus a meeting of CARLIGH (Consortium of Academic & Research Libraries in Ghana)…

And not too surprisingly I did buy a few books: one gift, three books for work, and nine for myself! The TBR shelves continue to grow!