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.

  • http://gitts.blogspot.com gitts

    got a Grisham and a Stephen King for 250 tried to haggle but they know classics. also got Frankenstein for 50 outside Tusky’s commercial. great stuff

  • Victorine Ndinda

    My favourite is the one just outside Tuskys:-)I have become addicted to those books coz every time am in town i can’t fail to leave without 2 or 3! I have 4 am yet to read even! What i find most ingenius is the fact that you can exchange a book you are done with at any vender at between 20-50ksh!

  • http://URL Adi

    I LOVE STREET BOOKS!!!
    I have bought some amazing books and my home library is growing.

    Vive les livres de la rue!!!!!

  • http://nyamburazdiary.blogspot.com/ Nyambura

    Lots of Kenyans read, however, if we were to do a poll, a majority are still not avid readers (especially adults). Most even have a negative ‘view’ of fiction (some even scorn books that fall under speculative fiction. which is interesting as we were raised on fables that had ogres, witchdoctors & other supernatural elements)…On a cool note, lots of kids seem to be enthusiastic readers and the children’s & YA sections seem to be growing…

    I find myself frequenting the Street book stores alot. What I love most about them is that I’ve managed to get my hands on rare book titles, comics and graphic novels that I was previously unable find in the mainstream bookstores.

  • Mwenda

    How incredibly correct you are, Kenyans read like you can’t believe. Of course those that read are way less than those that don’t but the same is true in several other countries including the superbly ignorant America.
    I got favorite novel, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt from a book vendor hapo nje the Tusky for 50 Bob as well as its sequel ‘Tis’
    And Mark Haddon’s ‘the curious incident of a dog….’
    Ernest Gaines’ a lesson before dieing
    Rawi Hage’s whose title I have forgotten….
    John updike’s ‘Terrorist’ etc
    Yes, most of them are by foreign authors.

  • http://inkdrops.me ndinda

    Oh hallowed by the street vendors!

    I have bought 102 books in the last three months. I believe it is possible to build a library the size of a wall, and to never run out of books to read for the rest of your lifetime

    These street book vendors have inspired me to do a little something- lately, every time I pass by the book vendor at Tuskys Beba Beba, I always make a point to buy a book. He sells them at 50/- If I am going to meet someone, I make sure I get them a book. So books are what I am taking to my tea dates these days. I must share the fun..

  • http://inkdrops.me ndinda

    Oh hallowed be the street vendors!

    I have bought 102 books in the last three months. I believe it is possible to build a library the size of a wall, and to never run out of books to read for the rest of your lifetime

    These street book vendors have inspired me to do a little something- lately, every time I pass by the book vendor at Tuskys Beba Beba, I always make a point to buy a book. He sells them at 50/- If I am going to meet someone, I make sure I get them a book. So books are what I am taking to my tea dates these days. I must share the fun..

  • Adi

    I love street books.
    Recently a friend of mine sent me a list of ‘books you must read before you die’.We have managed to find atleast 20 of those books on the street.We are still on the prowl for the reminder of the books on the list.Desert to our coffee dates is looking for books.
    Vivre les street books.

  • http://gizzicedd004.wordpress.com sokaylujo

    Hey Adi,care share the list please? We must benefit as well.Don’t you think?

  • Mark

    that’s where i get almost all my books, long live street bookstores!

  • carol

    I have a ‘guy’ on Tom Mboya who deserves an award! he stocks all my fave authors. He sold me a Wilbur Smith that was missing from TBC and booksfirst and at 3hundred kshs.!
    I love the street bookshop as much as I love my street shoes ‘guy’