For many years, it has been claimed that Kenyans do not read and this stereotype has been perpetuated by those that don’t read or, like Chrystal Ading‘ put it in this article, as an excuse for not publishing a book, a response to a scathing review, a veto of certain projects, a reason for not getting a writing job, an explanation for low writing standards, and a justification for calling Kenya East Africa a literary desert.
This is however not true as evidenced by the large number of street booksellers there are in Nairobi nowadays. Some appear at certain times of the day and are the ones that sell books at the most affordable prices. Some of the books they sell go for as low as Kshs. 50. The ones that are there on a regular basis have city council licenses and their books are more expensive but still affordable. Their books sell for a maximum of Kshs. 500.
The books they sell are mostly second hand, mostly by Western authors and are usually, surprisingly, in good condition. They stock very good books too as I’ve bought classics like ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Sense & Sensibility’ and even more contemporary works like Chimamanda’s ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’ and I even once bought a three in one Nick Hornby collection for Kshs. 100!
I cannot forget to mention the people who buy the books, they jostle to buy them like the women that buy the shoes on sale on Mama Ngina street at night. It is quite a sight!
The ingenuity of the booksellers, bringing books to the reach of the ordinary mwananchi, might just enable some Kenyans to accumulate enough books to have small libraries in their homes. Maybe even Kenyan publishers might consider selling their books through them as they are bound to be more affordable than in regular bookshops as they have lower overheads. My two cents.
Point is, Kenyans are reading. May the bug spread far and wide through Kenya. Long live street book stores!
Have you ever bought a book off of a street bookstore? Tell us your experience in the comments.