To share, or not to share?

The implications of shared literature on a literary movement. 

The initial thinking behind the NERDAFRICA Book Club was to create a space where we could share and engage African literature. Over the past four months, we have downloaded and shared books by African authors that are available on the world wide web. Although this sharing has to a point served to empower our cause, it has also raised some red flags and created limitations to the type of books we read.

In the month of April we experienced an increase in the number of people interested in attending our book club meetings. This was primarily because the book we had chosen to read was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a widely acknowledged, widely read, and widely available piece of literary craftsmanship. People were excited about Achebe.

But on the other hand we receive queries such as, “Why do you only read old books in your book club?” And of course this is a valid question, noting that Ngugi wa Thinong’s Decolonising the MindThe Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart were first published in 1986, 1923, and 1958 respectively. Nuruddin Farah’s Knots, which brought the least amount of people to book club, was published in 2007.

By sharing books that anyone, from anywhere, could download and read on a mobile device of portable computer, we hoped to rebel the infamous saying, “The best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book,” but this has also led us to wonder about the number of coins we are removing from the tables of those who make a living through this art form.

With writers sometimes getting only as little as 10% from book proceeds, the less people that buy their books, the less they make. This may not necessarily be the case for world-renowned authors such as Chinua Achebe, but it might affect Nnedi Okorafor, who’s 2011 book, Akata Witch, is downloadable online.

I won’t lie, I’m often envious of our neighbouring book club at the Afrikan Freedom Station. On my last visit we read The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, this month they read Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers. Both these books appear on the google best book of the year list in the year they were published. At the rate we are going, we’ll probably get to read these in our old age.

The issue of access is cited as a major factor prohibiting readership among the African population. “Books are expensive, we can’t afford them,” this is a claim we have been holding on to for decades. I think it may just be time we find more creative ways of accessing these books, books that ultimately tell stories that are our own.

A group of four friends at the Jo’burg meeting each brought a book to exchange with another friend. Because this is a close circle, they are not worried about losing their books. This way, if one of them buys a book club book, all four of them can read it for themselves in a matter of months.

We have decided to make the May meeting an open meeting, where everyone is open to reading any book they please from our shared folder. We’ve also included African American literature for an expanded world view. We are also making allowance for June, where we will start reading books that are more current, and perhaps more relevant to us as a progressive African society.