Even though Canada only has a land mass of 9.985 million km², reading works by Canadian writers comprises more than half of my reading.
Meanwhile, Africa has a land mass of 30.37 million km² and less than 1% of my reading has come from the pens of African writers this year.
Curious about that less-than-1%? It’s Téju Cole‘s Everyday is for the Thief (and Cole now lives in Brooklyn, so I’m not sure if everyone would consider him an African writer, although this novel in particular is set entirely in Nigeria, whereas Open City had a NYC setting).
Even though writers of colour comprise 39% of my reading this year, only one book of those books has been set in Africa.
And even though the United Nations counts 54 countries in Africa, I have read one book set in one of them in 2017.
Let’s consider this in terms of population: Canada in 2015 contained 35.85 million, whereas Africa in 2016 contained 1.216 billion.
Which means that, in terms of land mass, if less than 1% of my reading was from African pens and minds, then comparing my related reading habits in terms of population, between my home country and the African continent, I must be looking at a negative number here. (If you’re math-y, feel free to jump in. There will be decimals, I’m sure.)
And clearly, if I want to fill this gap, it’s not just going to happen.(Last year? African authors comprised less than 1% of my reading as well, including some Chinua Achebe and Nurudin Farah along with other African writers now living elsewhere.)
The choices on bookstore and library shelves are not going to correct this imbalance without an effort.
The recommendations from publishers and booksellers and readers are not going to magically adjust these stats.
If I want to read more books by African writers, I’m going to have to make a point of it.
The library branch in Little Jamaica has a more colourful collection than some, including a special Black and Caribbean Heritage collection. (Dust is one I pulled from those shelves.)
It is not my neighbourhood branch, but it’s not too much further to walk there, about twenty minutes rather than ten.
Anyway, I was itching for a copy of the first volume of the autobiographical trilogy by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, which was on their shelves. (Having read only Téju Cole this year, it’s unlikely that Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o would naturally fall into my stack.)
A few years ago I attended an event which considered the writing of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Brian Chikava and Carole Enahoro, with a moderator posing a series of questions to this varied panel; ever since, I’ve meant to read something by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o but it became one of those “someday” ideas. (And when I say “few”, it’s probably more like ten years.)
But, suddenly, it’s a “now” idea because I have been reading Maya Angelou’s autobiographies this year and am freshly intrigued by the idea of multiple volumes of memories. As I am about to begin reading her fifth, I was longing to see how another writer might approach this kind of project. (I’d dabbled in Doris Lessing’s two volumes, but I can’t think of other multi-volume autobiographies, besides that massive set of Mark Twain volumes – and maybe those are diaries. Suggestions?)
Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge actually requires only five books, a list which would be immediatley shortened if I enjoy the work of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o because he has completed three volumes in his autobiographical writings. However, I also plan to include the three books fanned on top of this library stack (I’m trying to read from my own shelves as well as the library shelves).
So I’m aiming to read more than five. (That’s what I read in my last less-than-one-percent year anyway.) Which might also include the two leaning books here, which are about Africa but not written by African writers (supplementary reading, not challenge reading).
So far, the only book in the stack which I have read is Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door (which I’ll discuss in more detail soon). Recently longlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize, it’s a quietly mesmerizing story of two South African women who were determined not to be friends, each carrying her own baggage as her life on one side of the colour line sprawls into unfamiliar territory (emotional and geographical).
I’m not sure which of the other books pictured here will nudge their way from the stacks-in-the-wings to the seriously-underway-and-actually-reading stack, but this is only a first browsing. If you have comments or suggestions about any of these (or others which would fit this challenge), do share.
Meantime, I’m enjoying the possibilities. Once upon a time, I would read maybe one short story collection a year, and thanks to the advice of Mavis Gallant (in short: leave time between reading each story) and lots of exploring, story collections now comprise a significant portion of my reading.
Time to exercise another reading muscle. Have you been exercising a new reading muscle recently? Or, planning to?
[Edited to add the seven books read: Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door (2017), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Dreams in a Time of War (2005), Opening Spaces Edited by Yvonne Vera (1999), Out of Exile: South Sudan Edited by Craig Walzer (2008), There Is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation South Sudan Edited by Nyuol Lueth Tong, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988). Also, Margaret Laurence’s collection of stories, The Tomorrow-Tamer (1963), although she was a Canadian only visiting Ghana.]