Hi Wamathai,

Just finished reading Given the right books at the right price, Kenyans actually read.

I feel that the most important question should be; are ENOUGH Kenyans reading for pleasure?

Yes, accessibility & affordability is KEY to nurturing a reading culture. I however feel something more important has been left out.  Attitude.

What is the Attitude of Kenyans in regard to reading for pleasure?  And most importantly, how is it impacting our children?

I’d love to find out (starting with Nairobi as accessibility is not such a major challenge here compared to other places):

-From the street book sellers & book stores: How many clients buy books for leisure?  What kind of books do they usually buy? How many are repeat/regular clients?

-From individuals especially those with children: Do they read at home? When do they do this? How often do they buy story books for their kids? At what age did they introduce their kids to the world of fun reading? How many started this without being prompted by the class teacher? How many hours (or minutes) does the kid spend reading for leisure at home? How many parents know what kind of books their kid loves? Who’s their kid’s fave author(s)? How many children’s and young adults’ authors does the parent know of? How many times has this parent requested a local book store for this author (s)? Now flip it and ask the same parent what kind of TV show or Cartoon show their kid loves to watch and note the difference…

From schools (esp. primary schools): Do they have libraries? Do kids have a required reading list per class (both for English & Kiswahili classes)?

Also, Is there a time slot allocated for kids to read on their own and read books of their own choice? Where they won’t be tested for it BUT will be required to write a book report as a way of saying what the book is about, what they thought of the story, If and why they would recommend it to their classmates? Do schools have a system where a teacher can be able to gauge the reading level of an individual child in their classroom?

Speaking of required reading lists and school libraries; how many story books do they have that teens & upper primary kids will enjoy reading…How many have stories with characters who are relatable to the upper primary/teen child (regardless of the character’s culture, race, religion, geography and yes, even species -even were wolves get picked on, want to be loved & have body image issues, you know).

Fictional works whose tales feature strong heroes & heroines –even if at the beginning of the story, said characters may not start out that way. Tales that cover peer pressure, bullying, body image, family, friendships,  all shades of love, alcohol, drug abuse, standing up for what you believe in, being an individual and other social situations…

I remember reading and being moved (as a lady) by The disreputable history of Frankie Banks-Landau by E Lockart a couple of years ago (I was in my early 30’s). And I was sad because I had never encountered such a book in my teens or even in college (a period where I badly needed such a book) or even any other fictional book that reminded me of the stuff (some of it messy) that makes us human, of the human connection…books that made me feel…left me a touch thoughtful…made me take notice…

Here’s what I’ve encountered so far and it has left me a touch disheartened:

-Our media: Let’s start with the newspapers, what’s their book review section like (for adults, teens & children)? How diverse in reading tastes are these book reviews?  Compare the said section with the DVD/Movie section? Famous media personalities, people who have the power of influence over the masses; how many do you know (if any, please let me know) who have thought of kicking off a fun reading campaign for kids or teens?

-I have a colleague from work who won’t even buy a single story book for his 04 yr old daughter. He’ll watch me buy my stash from the street sellers, I’ll try to coax him and the sellers will try to woo him. But he’ll just peruse through the children’s books and brush us off by saying that they’re too complicated for his kid.  True story.

-I’ve had male pals who compare the price of a book to the price of a beer and can’t imagine themselves buying A book that is the cost of several beers. True story.

-Kenyan’s who knock on others reading choices. Case in point: My being into the Fantasy genre; has been viewed by some, as being a ‘white’ thing (yes, someone actually said this to me. Fyi, this is a Kenyan in the Diaspora who was helping me purchase books off Amazon).

I’ve seen some (esp. at some book clubs)  frown upon some books saying, the said books are not literary enough, not African enough not realistic enough…and it made me wonder; in a country where the literacy rate is low, isn’t it an AWESOME thing when we see someone reading A book and loving it? Is book snobbery something we should be depicting as cool? Is guilting or forcing a person into reading ‘certain’ books a solution to instilling a love for fun reading? (I remember hating the set books in high school. I still hate them with a passion the exception being, the Government inspector)

-Most Kenyans view reading for leisure (esp. reading fiction) as a waste of time and no good.  They’ll say, they only read self help books or books dealing with a particular trade they’re in.  And yes, some Kenyan bloggers who I viewed as level headed and articulate hold this view.

Another prolific blogger, gave me an answer to my question ‘what’s on your book shelf?’ that just left me disappointed. I admit, it was my fault for assuming that ‘coz he wrote well, he’d be an avid reader, but still…

So, after reflecting and inquiring from a few people in my immediate environment, I’ll say, for now, Kenyans attitude to fun reading is still not so good, Wamathai. BUT I’m optimistic and trying to nudge (sometimes shove) some into getting their kids to read for fun (its not easy but it sure is fun trying)

Yours truly,

Your fellow book reader

[This email was sent to me by a reader,who wished to remain anonymous, as a reply to an article I’d written. It raised very valid questions and I decided to publish it. I shall also publish my reply.]