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HaroldWrites: What are Nigerian Millennials Reading?

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dreamstime_l_33118103Three years ago, I wrote an article for BellaNaija titled “When last did you read Nigerian”? In that piece, I tried to address two pressing issues confronting the Nigerian literati space: (1) the seemingly restrictive genre of writing by Nigerian authors; and (2) the market space for literary works in Nigeria. On the first issue, I delved into the “traditional” nature of writing by Nigerian authors and how that may have been responsible for the popularly acclaimed “non-reading culture of Nigerians”. In the aforementioned article, I talked about how as a student, I hated works of literature recommended in school. I only read them because I would have to write exams on them. In contrast, I was introduced to “non-school” literatures written by foreign authors like James Hadley Chase and Mario Puzo and I loved their books. I noticed that, I was not the only one who hated “school literature” and liked foreign books – my peers did too. The foregoing realisation added impetus to the poser that, perhaps, the question truly isn’t about if Nigerian millennials read, but what they love to read.

To further buttress the above point, let me share an experience. Earlier this year, I made a resolution to read a lot of books before the year ran out, especially books by Nigerian authors. I was inspired to do this after stumbling on a tweet from Zaynab Quadri wherein she stated that, she would be reading books from 54 countries in Africa this year. People who know me, know that, I have a thing for buying books. I love buying books. The problem is, I don’t get to read them as much as I should. I just buy them and stack them in my shelf. If I eventually get to read them, I could spend quite some time doing that. I could take a month, two months or even three months to finish reading one book. All the books by Nigerian authors I have read this year, took some time. However, I had a different experience when I got hold of Tunde Leye’s Guardians of the Seal. I read Guardians of the Seal in less than seven hours, although I spread these seven hours into two days given the volume of work I had at the office.

If I had stumbled on Guardians of the Seal in a bookshop without having prior knowledge of who the author was, I would have thought it was written by a foreigner. The first thing about the book that caught my attention was its cover. It is so beautifully designed that, fans of the popular TV series, Games of Thrones could mistake the book for a sequel to the TV series. Yep. It had those magical symbols imprinted on it. More fascinating than the book cover, is the plot and genre of the book. Guardians of the Seal is classified as a fantasy work, but reading it, I could not help but see other genres of literature fused into it. Genres like sci-fi, horror and mystery. It explores a plot which is akin to re-telling historical accounts of the beginning of creation and the ultimate futuristic end of the world. In the book, I was introduced to the fictional world of angels, demons, fiends, monsters, dragons, swords, charmed ornamental articles, portals into spiritual realms etc. It was more like watching a Hollywood blockbuster than reading a book by a Nigerian author.

Of course, there are some flaws in Guardians of the Seal, some of which I intend querying the author when the book is officially launched on September 25, 2016, at Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Oniru. I was fortunate to get this piece of information when I attended the recent literary event, Grill and Read at Yaba, Lagos. One flaw I noticed in the book is a few typographical errors here and there. Well, the author could be forgiven for this, given that, Guardians of the Seal was self-published. If this book had been published by big publishing outfits like Farafina or Quramo, then I would have ripped into the author for the littlest grammatical error.

This aspect of Guardians of the Seal being self-published is one I would love to address in a different article. I do not understand why our indigenous publishing houses don’t publish books with fantasy, sci-fi, gothic etc themes. My experience with Guardians of the Seal got me asking myself some pertinent questions: Why don’t Nigerian authors explore genres like sci-fi, gothic, fantasy etc? Why don’t big indigenous publishing houses publish books with such themes? Why don’t we have literary awards for books with such themes in Nigeria?

My friend once opined that, indigenous publishing houses will not take a chance with writers of such themes because African literature has not got to that level yet. Our indigenous publishing outfits would rather stick with “academic” or “traditional” writers, than take a gamble with the so-called “contemporary” or “commercial” writers. I would have loved to have a counter-opinion to that of my friend, but when I look around, there seems to be an iota of truth in that line of opinion. But then again, I can recall that, Nnedi Okoroafor, a Nigerian writer who specialises in fantasy and science fictions, won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for her fantasy work, Zahrah the Windseeker. Well, it could be argued that, Ms. Okoroafor is an exception to the rule. In any case, her book was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a publishing outfit in the United States.

There is something foreign publishing houses see and do that our indigenous publishing houses don’t. I think it is about time our indigenous publishing houses started churning out fast-paced, action-filled and edgy stories. In my opinion, this is where the literati interest of the Nigerian millennial demography lie.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

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

6 Comments

  1. Beard gang

    September 15, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    nice article harold.
    i think indigenous publisher don’t publish sci-fi, gothic and fantasy books because only a handful of the book lovers here like sci-fi, gothic and fantasy books. nigerians cannot be separated from drama; movies, books and even lifestyle LoL! look how well-received adichie’s americannah and half of a yellow sun were. so don’t blame publishers rather give the readers a reason to love the aforementioned categories and watch how publishers will chase you pants down. publishers are business people remember. have a nice day

    • EE

      September 16, 2016 at 2:25 am

      Maybe its the crowd I hang out with, but I’m shocked you say only a handful of Nigerians like fantasy. I’d assume it, after romance was the most popular genre here.

  2. Naijatalk

    September 15, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    To answer your question – Facebook, Twitter, Bellanaija, Linda ikeji, SDK. I kid I kid

  3. Bee

    September 15, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    There was this lady called Umari Ayim I used to follow a while back… her stories were quite compelling, bothering on the other-worldly, though sometimes a little rough round the edges but still showed a lot of promise. she somehow dropped out of the blogosphere. I guess its just tough to keep body and soul together with fantasy stuff. I’m not even sure other writer genres in Nigeria will survive on just writing alone. Nigerians generally like it easy on the mind.

  4. Chimka

    September 15, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Harold you’ve just started the facts, this is why those of us trying to write are also worried. We try to limit our imagination as it comes naturally and try to fussed in the traditional element because we don’t want to be self published. Unless an American company publish sci fic or supernatural novels frm africa, no African company would publish such book and that limit the chances of that book being read widely. I pray our publishing companies become business conscious and start exploring all aspects of African writing. The only African writer I can read her book and don’t feel bored is chimamanda others I force myself, because their prose is written in a particular way to have the same general Africa theme. And this is not good. There should be variaties of books and variety of writers our local publishing firm should support us, if a manuscript is not perfect or the writer is not there yet, they should be able to help such writer with talent.

  5. chichi

    September 15, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    I think Nigeria are doing quite well but like its already been said, its about demand and you would really be taking a chance and have a lot of money to publish these books without the demand. Personally I dont enjoy Sci fi not even the western ones although I do enjoy fantasy movies more than books so I cant fight for this cause but I would encourage more openness in what people read, as at the end of the day this encourages more open minds.

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