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When Last Did You Read Nigerian?

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Teju Cole (Nigerian Author)

When I was in secondary school, I was a huge fan of literature but some works left me highly depressed and alienated. Enter Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Merchant of Venice. I did all I could to avoid classes where we read those books.

On the flip side, books by Nigerian authors were relatively tolerable given that I could understand the English. But I must confess; they bored me as well. The plots were rather too “traditional” and “conservative” for my liking. I nevertheless read them, not because I wanted to, but because I had to write exams on them.

Then one day, I saw a friend reading a James Hadley Chase’ book, The vulture is a patient bird. I borrowed it and it was quite a revelation. It was fast-paced, full of action and interesting. It was a sharp contrast from the kind of books I read in school. I also discovered I could purchase more Hadley Chase’ works because they were quite cheaper than the books I read in school. So I saved my lunchtime stipends and purchased JHC’s works.

One day while I went to get a JHC’s book at the bookshop, I stumbled on John Grisham’s A Time To Kill so I purchased it instead. I read it, I loved it and John Grisham became my next favorite author. Thereafter, I was exposed to another foreign author by a friend who wanted to borrow my John Grisham’s A time to Kill. He gave his Mario Puzo’s The Godfather in exchange. I read it and I loved it.

As I grew older, I discovered that my love – and that of my contemporaries – for foreign authors increased by the day. We became friends through their works. Their books were cheaper and easier to access than those by Nigerian authors; they could easily be purchased in the streets and the stories were what we wanted to read – fast paced, full of action and intriguing. Sadly enough, this weren’t/aren’t the type of books written by Nigerian authors…

I don’t want to believe we don’t have Nigerian writers with particular interest in legal/crime thrillers, detective stories, horror-cum-supernatural genus, paranormal/gothic works etc. I think the problem lies with the platform to express themselves. Traditional publishers in Nigeria just don’t accept such works. This leaves writers with such inclination…our only option is indigenous publishing.

 Indigenous publishing in Nigeria, with all its advantages is still a relatively new venture. Should a writer self-publish on his blog/site or use book publishers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Okadabooks?

As Suw Charman-Anderson of Forbes puts it, “Amazon has created its dominant position by providing customers with what they want: (almost) any book, at a ridiculously low price, delivered rapidly. The deep discounting that Amazon is able to support attracts buyers who sense a bargain and is often quoted as the reason, along with the Kindle, that it dominates the book e-tailing market. However, Amazon has problems and they are not trivial.”

In my humble opinion, I think Barnes & Noble suffers same fate as Amazon. While I don’t totally align with Suw Charman-Anderson’s observations about Amazon, my reservations about the publishing giant aren’t completely different. For one, most Nigerian writers residing in Nigeria find using such service a bit complex; Amazon’s terms and conditions are constantly on the increase every year; there are reports of problems with their book reviews, their prices are strictly regulated (something some authors frown at as they want to be able to fix their own prices) etc.

okdabooks advert vertical banner author shotsOkadabooks on the other hand is an indigenous ebook publishing-cum-reading platform/app. An author who wants to sell his book uploads an epub version of the book on the site, it appears on the app, a user of the app searches for the book, chooses it, sends an sms and the book gets downloaded to his phone. Books on Okadabooks are also cheap .

However, despite the attractiveness of Okadabooks, it suffers some problems. First, the app is only available on Android devices, and of the over 100 million mobile lines in Nigeria, less than 10% of those are inserted in Android devices. Okadabooks just announced that it has free WAEC past questions for its users to download, but one pertinent question to ask is “how many prospective WAEC candidates use Android smart devices?” Really?

Furthermore, the service is only available in Nigeria. What happens to an author’s international fan base who wants to purchase his books?

Again, I think there is a lot left to be done if we are to get Nigerian books written by Nigerians into the hands of Nigerians that crave to read.

THE FINAL QUESTION

“Who is Achebe?” a little boy who was sitting next to me in a taxi once asked.

“Oh, Chinua Achebe was an author,” I replied.

“How do you know?”

“I read his books. He writes well.”

“He writes for a living?”

I smiled and mumbled, “Umm, not really.”

A million things I knew about Achebe whizzed into my head – most of them I knew through his writings. Achebe was one of those few writers who made friends with me through his works. Sadly this is no longer the case now. Wake an average Nigerian student from sleep and ask him to mention ten foreign authors. You are sure to get more than you asked for. But ask the same student for names of Nigerian authors; I doubt if you will get more than Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Adichie and Chinua Achebe.

How many Nigerians go out of their way to purchase books by Nigerian authors? You reading this – when last did you patronize a Nigerian author? Is it a matter of genre? Aren’t Nigerian authors telling the kind of stories you want to read? Is it a matter of cost? Are books by Nigerian authors more expensive than their foreign counterparts? Is it a matter of accessibility? Are foreign books closer to our reach than books by Nigerian authors?

What do you think is the problem and what do you think is the solution? I am interested in your thoughts.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
HaroldWrites is a multi-talented, award winning author writer who loves chocolates and waffles garri and groundnut. He has written twenty five books several articles and has also been editor of GQ Magazine a couple of lifestyle magazines. He blogs at www.haroldwrites.com and tweets at @haroldwrites

HaroldWrites is an extraterrestrial who uses words like floccinaucinihilipilificate and antidisestablishmentarianism to keep his readers under his spell, yearning for more. Visit his blog at http://www.haroldwrites.com and stalk him on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram @haroldwrites

38 Comments

  1. St. ed

    July 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    The title of this article is misleading. What the writer was trying to portray in the article is different from the title of the article.
    BellaNaija should have someone who screens articles……lately you guys have had one or two articles that seem questionable…….

  2. oose

    July 26, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    @ st ed oh no title isnt misleading title led me to read the article and i get it he is talking access here .. in nigeria we have access to foreign publishers cos there are easily purchased from okirika sellers under the bridge than our own books which when you see them are priced arm and leg and sometimes not as thought provoking well articulated fiction of our foreign “contemporaries” i remember growing up i read pacesetters .. thought to buy them for my grand kids just to show off my “nigerianness” to them .. but i cant get them online … there is hope though i live on that street called hope … nigeria is” paradise”

  3. Beebee*

    July 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Really,the title made me open the link to read this article @ st ed. I think the problem is access to our Nigerian authors and also the cost of the books. Like oose said,it’s easier to get foreign books at prices not more than #1000 from an OK seller than to get books written by indigenous authors,even the popular ones. Like I had to wait till I could get Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus at a discount on Konga,jst last week. The books are expensive for an average student. So I think what has to be done is to make them cheaper and accessible,like put them in local bookshops,not just online. Till then,we just have to keep hoping…God bless Nigeria.

  4. Dora the explorer

    July 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    As much I love alot of foreign authors, I have also discovered a number of Nigeria authors that do it for me!!! I dnt
    Last books I read “Americanah” by Chimananda Adichie(Nig)
    “Toworrow died yesterday” by Garricks Chimeka (Nig)
    “Calico Joe” by John Grisham (not Nig)
    “there was a country” Chinua Achebe

  5. a hater!

    July 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Well where come we still do’ read nigerian novels so I don’t no abt u!

    I so much like “WALKING SHADOWs” by JUDE DIBIA on Nigerian underground Gay community. D story is really fascinating 2me so it has opend my eyes on how gay men in Lagos operate their own world.
    Anado one is “To St. Patrick” by EGHOSA IMASUEN thou I don’t like d title but its a detective novel on a futuristic Sci-Fi Nigeria where d 1975 coup coup Murtala Mohamed survived n years later no corruption society with high speed trains n made in 9ja WAZOBIA 360 salon car…lol

    So guy pls I bet 2disagree wit some Ngerians still read 9ja books so how come we east no much abt d up n coming authors n u don’t. By d way most of d high profile ones belong 2 FARAFINA Publishers.

    • Mariaah

      July 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      I love Jude Dibia too; loved walking shadows have you read Unbridled? By Jude as well?

    • Jo!

      July 27, 2013 at 7:55 am

      This can’t possibly be English. “Anado” nah, not English, possibly Italian. ..

  6. Efemuaye Enajite

    July 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Inaccessibility. I’ve been trying to get a copy of a book by a Nigerian author for a month now and I have to wait until I travel to Lagos and go to a big name bookshop to get it or buy it from amazon.com. Meanwhile just across the street from me (I’m in a semi-village), I can get all the foreign authors I want.

    • Okechukwu Ofili

      July 26, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      that’s what pisses me off. Its like our publishers are so afraid of Nigerian pirates (who can blame them sha) that they restrict their distribution so much that it becomes easier to get Nigerian books overseas. The irony is that the priates win in the end.

    • Hian

      July 27, 2013 at 7:58 am

      Finally, some actual insight!

  7. Concerned_Boyfriend

    July 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    And what is Teju Cole’s picture doing there ?. Any correlation to the article ?. SMH!

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      July 27, 2013 at 2:49 am

      But… he is a Nigerian author, no? And one of the questions asked at the end was “when last did you patronize a Nigerian author£, no? I’m not really sure what the problem is… (although, I’m happy Teju’s name was brought to my attention as I know zilch about him and can now look into whether he’s published anything I’ll like to read)

    • Hian

      July 27, 2013 at 7:57 am

      So? Is it your photo? I believe they got permission so if he’s not complaining then you shouldn’t.

  8. aleesha

    July 26, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Oh wow. I grew up reading the classics from the African writers series. there were the pacesetters series too. And thanks to the likes of cassava republic and farafina, we still have access to good Nigerian titles. I love, and will always love Nigerian/African authors.
    P.S: @Enajite, I think you can buy some Nigerian books online. try the cassava republic website or konga.com

  9. Ibukun

    July 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Inaccessibility. I just spent the last 20minutes searching for an old book by Zaynab Alkali, found nothing. but do you know how easy it is to get hold of “to kill a mockingbird” online. It’s sad.

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      July 27, 2013 at 2:55 am

      Oh my heavens, Zaynab Alkali!!! Goodness, you just opened a flood of memories…. I wish I had saved all the literature by the 1st generation African writers which I read as a younger girl 🙁 And the really sad part is that if I was reading them now, the writing in context would make SO MUCH more sense than when I read them as just novels without proper understanding.

  10. BabyDee

    July 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Mr. Author,

    Biko, why are you all over the place? Is it the title that is misleading or you yourself is misleading? If you want to talk about Nigerian authors, then please do so, and if you want to talk about the different platforms for selling\buying books that are, or are not available in Nigeria then please do so; or if you even want to talk about the content of books written by Nigerian authors compared to their foreign counterparts then please do so BUT please please please, pick one and stick to it!!
    This was not a good read at all.

    -BabyDee

  11. Mariaah

    July 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I think for me, over the years like this writer, I’ve read books by African/international writers. I started from Achebe, Soyinka, Ekwensi, etc then those lit-text by fairly known writers they make you read in Jnr. Secondary Schools in Lagos (I loved “fabulous four”!! Its about the kidnap of 4 kids and their dog, their driver stole the car but his accomplice convinced him selling the kids in Gabon will fetch more money).

    Then I had the M&B stage, not for long though. Started loving Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins, e.t.c Then I crossed paths with John Grisham at the point of my life where crime, investigation, legal was appealing even for movies and TV ( CSI, NCIS, Law&Order SVU bla bla) so it stuck!

    I fell in love with African lit again after Richard Ali’s City of memories (Parresia books) and I’ve read quite a few known names e.g Purple Hibiscus, Unbridled, walking shadows, Caine Prize nominated “the whispering trees”. I’ve read a few unknown names too but the one I am reading currently is terribly written LOL..

    I think there was a break in African or should I say great Nigerian Literature scene but the recent crop of Nigerian writers have made their mark, the likes of Teju Cole, Adiche, Jude Dibia, Emmanuel Iduma (Farad has rave reviews though I haven’t read it), Adam (whispering trees) etc..

  12. teetop

    July 26, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    there are couple of Nigerian books that are nice tho. i personally am a big fan of lantern books right from primary school cos they are awesome and meaningful

  13. seki

    July 26, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    BORING!!!

  14. LadyID

    July 26, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I bounce around between British, Nigerian, American and Indian literature. Those are the cultures I was exposed to growing up and there is something familiar in each of them but Naija is “home” :). I come from a family of avid readers so I’m sure that helped me develop my appetite.
    Of the new authors, I have read Chimamanda Adichie, Helen Oyeyemi, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani while Teju Cole, Sefi Atta and Lola Shoneyin are in the queue. Amazon is the easiest source of books for me but I did buy some on my last trip home.

    I know there’s a book festival, akefestival.org, coming up in Oct/November. I think it’s put on by Lola Soneyin

  15. violet

    July 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    No comment

  16. Gloria Jacobs

    July 26, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Well, i used to be a connoisseur of Nigerian books but then after a while, i began to patronize West African authors who were also very talented. I think the issue isn’t that we don’t have good authors but the old ones like Ben Okri, Buchi Emechenta, Kola Onadipe, Elechi Amadi, Isidore Okpewho, Ola Rotimi no longer write. The new ones like Sefi Atta and Chimanda arre very few and release volumes frequently. Whilst their counterparts release twice or three times in a year, we are left with very scanty frequency from our Nigerian authors. We also can not rule out the issue of piracy which is disheartening as they eventually don’t make a living from this..hence motivation becomes low which affects frequency. Our economy too is bad…who will help publish and provide funds for all of these things..it’s a combination of many factors

  17. Princess

    July 26, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    something that would help Nigerians read Nigerian books is Book reviews by poplar Nigerian blogs i think it would help a great deal

    • oose

      July 26, 2013 at 10:47 pm

      yea thats a good one maybe a blog or section on bella called bella bookazaine just 🙂 .. but the point is after we read the review where can they get it and for what price i can always get mine of blackwells water stones or amazon when its on sale just wondering about people in nigeria

  18. Fabulous didy

    July 27, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Books by Nigerian authors are quite expensive, only big bookshops have them in stock. Yet the foreign ones are affordable and sold in Big and small bookstores and sold everywhere.
    @haroldwrites Nice writeup. I suggest Nigerian authors make the prices fair enough as the foreign ones and make it accessible. Thank you!

  19. Mz Socially Awkward....

    July 27, 2013 at 3:15 am

    I’ll read anything. Dickens, Flora Nwapa, the back of cereal box…. it probably explains my constant forays into BN (because even though I’ll read anything, I draw the line at certain blogs).

    Thanks to a parent with a passion for African literature (or African feminist writing, to be more precise), I read just about every African writer there was while I was growing up. And a lot of non-African writers. I gave my sister her first Stephen King novel to read at 9years old (I must have been 11 when I discovered him), probably not the wisest reading material to put in a child’s hands but I do my fair bit to educate the young 🙂

    Why don’t I patronize Nigerian authors all the time? Sometimes, there’s a lot of hype then I read the book and feel let down. However, I’ve been discovering a few new names, which is great – Tricia Nwapa’s “I Do Not Come to You by Chance” was entertaining, I’m currently trying to make my way through Kachi’s “The Shadow of a Smile” (which is a bit slower paced than I usually prefer) and I’ve got a few other unexplored works sitting on my shelf waiting to be consumed. Then I pass them on to my friends and try and drum up their interest in contemporary African literature.

    And many non-Nigerians are ready Nigerian now. We’ve got this book-sharing initiative at work where people are encouraged to bring copies of their read novels into the office and put them in a bookshelf used for that purpose, so that other people can take them away and read. The other day, I spied a copy of “Half of A Yellow Sun” being carted home by someone and I felt really pleased that other cultures were reading something about our history.

    My only grouse with Nigerian authors is there isn’t too much variety in the genres being published. I wish Chimeka could write a sequel or something similar to “Tomorrow Died Yesterday”. It was fast paced and direct, which I really enjoyed.

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      July 27, 2013 at 3:17 am

      Sorry, that should have read as “And many non-Nigerians are reading Nigerian now”

  20. Jo!

    July 27, 2013 at 8:03 am

    When I saw the title, I was sooo sure Ofili wrote this. Surprised he hasn’t commented sef about the okadabooks ish.
    Yea, that’s all I wanted to say. #okbye

  21. This is so true, we have so many fab authors right now.

  22. Chichi

    July 28, 2013 at 10:18 am

    A good question for example is Why is Chimamanda’s book N5k? Its too expensive for the average Nigerian or student in my opinion

  23. 'Mide

    July 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    @ Mz Socially Awkward, don’t tell me you have married out Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. Is she now Tricia Nwapa? What a loss ! I planned taking her home. At this rate, e be like say na you go replace am o!

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      July 28, 2013 at 6:34 pm

      Hahahaha! Nwoke (meaning “Dude” in Ibo), no vex abeg. I must have been mixing up the Tricia’s in my mind. And you’re right, I meant to reference Miss Nwaubani’s work and hopefully, you still have a fighting chance of wooing her. 🙂

  24. Chicadimples

    July 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Just read Chimamanada’s Americanah and it was quite entertaining and thought provoking too!

    I love Nigerian authors but accessibility is always an issue!
    Anyone know where I can get books published by Farafina? Don’t like buying things online, I live in Lagos. Tanks!

  25. rolake

    July 28, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    when last did you patronize a Nigerian author? last year, which was the last time i purchased any book; foreign or local….covering face*
    Is it a matter of genre? yes, it is…most nigerian books are traditional and conservative, although we have people like Ben Okri; but people find his work strange. Aren’t Nigerian authors telling the kind of stories you want to read? no they arent, nigerian authors are scared of thinking and writing outside the box…i think the problem is we dont think scifi or horror(black witches and wizards dressed in red dont count) isnt relative to our culture.
    Is it a matter of cost? Yes, partly.
    Are books by Nigerian authors more expensive than their foreign counterparts? Yes they are…a book in the uk can go for three pounds, thats like 750 naira, and naija books could be 1000 and over and not as bulky as the foreign book ure buying.
    Is it a matter of accessibility? yes, partly
    Are foreign books closer to our reach than books by Nigerian authors? Yes they are…you find them everywhere and anywhere, even in traffic

    What do you think is the problem and what do you think is the solution? I am interested in your thoughts——the publishing industry needs investors and publishing houses that embrace new and fresh ideas. i know some people that write crazy, but are scared because they think their thoughts are too wild to be published for the nigerian situation.

  26. Tunmi

    July 29, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    I love reading, it’s simple and quiet. I did get some Naija books and if not for Amazon…I would not have them. Fortunately, I can have my mum send me some from Naija. My favorite is “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Lola Shoneyin. I loved the pace of that. I just finished “Daughters Who Walk This Path” by Yejide Kilanko and that was really great and well researched. I would love to read more Nigerian authors and other African authors but I do not know many of them.

  27. Braun Hill

    August 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I am from Cameroon and as a kid my only hobby was reading.. IN secondary school we had a circle of ‘readers; It was like an Informal Book Club – We borrowed books, read and rotated them and discussed them during Lunch Break . The Best Books i read as a teenager were from the PACESETTERS Series….which was Nigerian. It was modern and we identified better with their stories than we did with the Mills and Boons, Harlequin Romance Series, and James hadley chase books etc…I also read a lot on Chinua Achebe ( I read the COncubine more than 4 times before i was 18), Kenjo Jumbam, WOle Soyinka, Camara Laye etc..Even today I still hunt for local authors from the CASSAVA Republic….a publishing house i guess that focuses on local writers…..You will love their books….I have no Idea who this author is but finding NIgerian/African novels boring at any age goes to show your disconnect with Africa….WHo wont love the village Life and Romance as protrayed in the Concubine by Chinua Achebe..May that Great Man R I P

  28. Ekene

    September 24, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Nigerians are trying. Check 9jabooks.com and see that they are rising. There are young authors – just that there are few publishers

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