“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live” – Annie Dillard”
It should be noted that I am the ‘She’ Annie Dillard had in mind when she wrote down that legendary sentence (Don’t drag this table with me please!).
My name is Aisha Yusuff and since my involvement with books is apparent from the title, I’ll jump to other details. I recently graduated from university where I studied Biochemistry so I didn’t have the pleasure of studying literature at university. When Sekinat asked me to share my dramatic fall into the love of books, I was elated because although reading is encouraged in Nigeria, most of us haven’t internalized the art of reading without a CGPA ghost breathing down our necks. So, do you think sharing my love story will force (or cajole?) others to explore their own love story?
I chose to always believe that.
When Juliet met her (bookish) Romeo…
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I fell for books. However, I remembered saving bits of my lunch money to just to get those cheesy but AMAZING illustrated storybooks. They were beautifully written and illustrated to suit a child’s curiosity as well as spike my interest in books. Fast forward a few years and I was sucked into the glittery and rosy world of Harlequin romance and other books of this genre.
This was my first to full storytelling and I found myself living the character’s lives. I would keep a log of books I read and the characters I loved. As a matter of fact, I coined my first nickname from the name (Katherine Alexandrovo) of my all-time favourite heroine (Secret fire by Johanna Linsay).
But one memorable love story was my discovery of African Literature. My mum, a secondary school teacher had seized a book from a student who was reading in her class. The book was titled ‘Joys of Motherhood’ by Buchi Emecheta and I don’t think any other book could have done a better introduction to this genre for me.
I reread that book three times just so I can fully grasp its conclusion; twice when I was 12 and once 14/15. That book taught me that Africans write deep romantic tales too. And that you get certain butterflies in your belly when you see yourself well-represented in a book.
Why you should be falling into this love…
Since time immemorial, reading has been attributed to uncool, weird and creepy nerds. But our reality in Nigeria is that, academically, cramming has dethroned reading. To maintain good grades, most of us crammed our way through school. So after graduation, you hear people saying things like “after school, even ordinary signboard, I no go read”.
So, without realizing it, we’ve internalized the notion that reading is a chore or a task only geeks and people with plenty time should do. Once you realize you might have this mentality and you make efforts to unlearn it, you’ve taken your first bookish Cupid’s arrow.
We live in a world that’s riddled with several social vices. Most of which are ripple effects of terrible crimes committed in the past ( for example, racism is one of the by-products of slavery). Reading provides you with a blueprint to help learn from the past in order to navigate the present and future effectively.
I bet you didn’t even know we had a whole different race called the Circassians. I didn’t myself until I read someone’s long Instagram caption, which brings me to this; Reading is never restricted to a novel, a self-help book or a ‘storybook’.
Things as simple as taking time out to go through long Instagram captions is enough to pass as reading. Humans are impatient by nature and we are always in a rush. If you can take the time out to go through those long but insightful captions; a big book or even articles in magazines, you would learn the art of patience just by reading.
Other juicy benefits include lower risks of Alzheimer’s and other similar brain disease conditions. Another very practical benefit of reading that I’ve come to understand is that it will always set you free, in every sense of the word ‘Free’.
Every rose has its thorns…
Nigerians read but Nigerians don’t read enough. I know that sounds confusing. However, the numbers of Nigerians who read are restricted to certain locations, age groups, economic and social backgrounds. This lack of diversity in the reading community, in a largely diversified country, is one reason why I came to that conclusion.
From dawn to dusk, Nigerians are hustling to better their predicaments so one can’t really blame the society. Even when the average hustler takes time off to read, they turn to self-help books because ‘man must make it BIG’. Don’t get me wrong, people should read anything they want. The issues begin, however, when the popular misconception is that reading outside of religious and motivational books is ‘a waste of time’.
Another issue that has contributed to some misconceptions is the lack of books of different genres in the country. Our government isn’t even maintaining and stocking the little libraries we have let alone building new libraries. If I can’t find a way to get my anticipated reads from ‘the abroad’; I wait patiently till local booksellers like Patabah books, Roving heights, and the Book Banque, can stock up.
Even at that, not all average Nigerians are willing to spend a certain amount on books. This is why I don’t blame people who look at book lovers with a mixture of hate and admiration when they purchase expensive books. As most books are quite on the high side with the of recession).
But, we can’t allow these setbacks leave us heartbroken! There are several respectable men and women that have taken up selling thrifted books at cheaper prices. You can snag a copy of ‘ A Thousand splendid suns’ by Khaleed Hosseni for as low as N300. The only issue with this is that most of these thrift stores are in Lagos and you’d even have to wait for months or years to get some books but half a loaf is better, shey?
Are you in love with books yet? I look forward to reading diverse ‘bookish’ love stories from everyone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR