Yesterday, I read this article, Nigeria Has Produced Some of the World’s Best Authors—So Why Is Its Reading Culture So Poor? and was going to do a thread on Twitter in response but decided to do a blog post instead. The piece identifies some reasons reading culture is poor in Nigeria, such as, widespread poverty and the dearth of dedicated reading spaces like libraries. I agree with the submissions in this article but I think more should have been said about the second-hand books market.
It would be interesting to know the reading culture of the many Nigerians who patronise the second-hand books market. Surely, these people do not buy books to gather dust in their homes. The reason this market thrives is that it costs far less to buy a second-hand book than it does to buy a new one. Clearly, cost is a determining factor, which isn’t surprising in a country where many live on less than one dollar a day. You can read more about this thriving market in this piece, The Secret of Nigerian Book Sales.
As a child, I was a voracious reader. Looking back, no one encouraged me to read, it was just something I loved doing. Also, there were few alternatives for entertainment back then. Television stations opened at 4 pm or was it 5 pm and closed before midnight (my bedtime was 9 pm anyway, once NTA news began). There were few who had video games, there were no mobile phones or internet so reading was a necessary hobby for me. At the time, I read any book I could lay my hands on including books by Nigerians authors but for some reason, I stopped reading books by Nigerian authors after secondary school.
I started reading books by Nigerian authors and publishers again two years ago and since then, I have read over 100 books. This has been possible because of the e-reader apps I use, Kindle and Okadabooks. Accessing books is far easier and cheaper. Both apps are on my mobile phone so I read anytime I have minutes to spare. The cost of some really good books on Okadabooks, for instance, will easily rival second-hand books. For e.g., Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen retails for N1,500 at bookstores but costs N500 on Okadabooks. But many people have never even heard about Okadabooks. Until I introduced them to it, none of my friends knew about Okadabooks. We ran a competition on our blog for people to win copies of Wine and Water on Okadabooks and the winners had never heard about Okadabooks!
Mo and I started this blog in February this year after chats we had on Twitter about the reading culture in Nigeria. This is our way of contributing towards improving it and also, supporting the Nigerian literary industry through publicity and book sales. We found out in these past few months that many don’t even know about these books we have been enjoying. We also discovered that some people in Nigerian literary circles snob genre fiction. We think this is odd, people ask us why we review so many genre fiction books, especially romance. Guess what? There’s a market for it and since we love reading it, it makes it even easier to review and promote.
I think more can be done if we start early to cultivate a reading culture in our children. Book clubs, book review blogs, literary prizes by corporate organisations, accessible and affordable books on e-readers like Okadabooks etc. contribute to improving the reading culture in Nigeria. Technological innovations like the e-reader and social media can help achieve this aim.