The clock strikes 5 o’clock and the streets of Nairobi are immediately teeming with the Kenyan working force, recently unchained from their mundane desk jobs, each rushing to the comforts of their home. As they call it a day, there is another group of people setting up shop on the streets; their day of business is just beginning.

Some take the care to craft a stand while others simply lay their wares on a gunia. They are all looking to tap into one market and to gain profit from one product; books. Some specialize in the glossy, and more expensive, motivational books, others take a dive into the more lucrative world of fiction.

Street bookstore

Previous reports on literacy in Kenya have shown there to be a poor reading culture. However, if this boom in business is anything to go by, it can be concluded that there is a class of people within the city of Nairobi that love nothing better to do than to lose themselves in a good book. Even better, the cost is much more agreeable than what one would spend in buying a new book from any bookshops as the books are second-hand.

And so book-lovers, including this writer, walk with an eye peeled for any book that catches their attention or any elusive book that has been in their ‘to-read’ list but is not in general circulation. Their ears are enticed by the heavily accented calls for books sold for as low as thirty shillings while others, in much better quality, go for about 350/-.

Book selection ranges from the classic tales of Jane Austen and Edgar Rice Burroughs to the contemporary writings of Stephanie Meyers, Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz and Nora Roberts, just to mention a few. There seems to be something for everyone. There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting an amazing classic such as Life of Pi for only fifty shillings and I say so from experience.

Mwende Ngao reading Mai Ghoussuob’s selected writings.

Though this new class of business men and women take up quite the sidewalk space, making the grueling human traffic even denser, they are a welcome inconvenience. Well, at least that’s the case to those of us who don’t mind the distraction of a great read.

I don’t know if they will last forever or if it’s just a matter of time before the City council catches up with these literary angels but for now, all I can do is appreciate the service as well as the convenience of getting great books at very affordable prices.

Have you bought any books from these vendors? Tell us about your experience with them.