Posted in On Writing

So many books, so little time

I finally got to read Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s critically acclaimed debut novel. I bought it last year together with The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and World Without End by Ken Follet.

I hate shopping, rarely wear makeup, hardly drink and so to reward myself when I get paid for a project, I buy books, usually 2 or 3 at a go. I’m a binge reader and once I start a novel, will read it in one sitting unless it’s a beast like Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, which is over 1,000 pages. I read that in three days. I read The Notebook in one evening and was done with World Without End, the same week. For some reason, Dust stayed on my coffee table for months unread, which is pretty unusual for me.

I finally picked it up the other morning, sure I was in for a treat. After all, it won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2015. I also loved her short story Weight of Whispers, which won the Caine Prize in 2003 and introduced her to the world.

I hate to say it, but I couldn’t get beyond page 13 of Dust. What is it with some of these critically acclaimed novels that makes them such a pain to read? It’s like slogging through mud with boots weighed down by cement. I had the same problem with Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Despite several attempts, I haven’t made it past page 128 of the literally masterpiece.

When my novel The Unbroken Spirit won third prize in the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2007, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to read the books that won first and second prize; Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye’s A Farm Called Kishinev and Margaret Ogola’s Place of Destiny, respectively.

I loved Place of Destiny and have read it several times. I believe it was her best book, much better than The River and the Source, which most people know, having studied it as a set book in high school. I also liked the sequel, I Swear by Apollo but my favourite remains Place of Destiny.

I couldn’t finish A Farm Called Kishinev so I tried reading Marjorie’s other best seller, Coming to Birth. Loved that one. I will try reading the former in a couple of years, maybe it will have grown on me by then. The first book I read by Chimamanda Adichie was Purple Hibiscus. It was just okay although well written. I’d heard people saying she was the next Chinua Achebe and I thought really? Then I read Half of a Yellow Sun. Wow! Totally blown away. She’s definitely the real deal and thoroughly intimidating. Imagine writing two internationally acclaimed best sellers by age 25? Some of us on the other hand, only started writing in our 30s. Phew!

J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was just okay. I do get however, why it’s become such a cult classic especially with young people experiencing teenage angst. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was a little slow to gain momentum but I loved it.

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen is fabulous. Her approach to writing her biography isn’t the typical chronological narrative but a series of well written stories where her lifestyle unfolds through her wonderful descriptions of the landscape and her characters, thus enabling the reader to visualise it all quite vividly. She described a country I grew up in, in a way that made me see it with fresh eyes. She lived in Kenya during the time of colonialism and some of her descriptions are racist to say the least, but that was to be expected for a privileged white woman living in that era.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is another memorable title. The entire book is set in one day and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ability to minutely describe life in a Russian gulag, while holding the readers’ attention throughout is remarkable.

Bottom line, I’ve discovered that literally masterpieces aren’t always my cup of tea. I’m more interested in thrillers and murder mysteries and prefer fast moving dialogue to long narrated passages. I’m yet to find an Agatha Christie book I didn’t like. The same applies to Ken Follet and Dan Brown. Follet’s ability to cram so much technical detail into his books, such as the building of a cathedral (Pillars of the Earth) and still keep the book moving at a fast clip is truly remarkable.

I’m also yet to find a book by Meja Mwangi that I didn’t like although Cockroach Dance was a little too bleak for me. I loved Kill Me Quick but my favourite remains The Bushtrackers, where a bushranger called Kimathi single handedly takes on a poaching cartel.

I’m on a mission right now to collect every Agatha Christie book ever written (more than 80 titles) and all of Ken Follet’s books. There are so many other books I can talk about, those I’ve read and others I’m determined to get. My biggest problem is that I can’t afford my reading habit because books aren’t cheap.

I really miss Book Villa. All you had to do was pay an annual fee of Ksh2,000 and borrow novels at Ksh50 to read. I read at least 2 novels every week and discovered so many new authors. The best part was if you really liked a book, you could buy it to keep and they were affordable because they were second hand, but in very good condition. That’s how I started building my home library. If you didn’t like a book you simply returned it.

If you wanted a new release, hot off the press, no problem. Salim Alibhai, who owned the library, could get you any book from anywhere in the world. I loved the place. Even more so when they moved to new premises on the eighth floor of Union Towers on Moi Avenue and his wife Naazleen Alibhai opened an adjacent coffee lounge which though tiny, served the most delicious home-made snacks and meals.

Then he got sick and she was unable to take care of the place while keeping their other businesses open. And so Book Villa closed. Now I have to purchase a book to read it and if I don’t like it, I’m stuck with it.

One day God willing, I will make money and reintroduce the Book Villa concept to Kenyans. A place where book lovers can immerse themselves and read to their heart’s content. It won’t be about making money, but about sharing the love of books that I’ve had since I was a little girl and introducing others to the wonderful world of literature in all its forms.

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Have you read my second novel Duel in the Savanna? What are you waiting for? Click here to download this explosive mix of business, politics and romance or read the chapters online.

Image source: Pixabay

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