At a recent meeting of the network, we discussed the concept of reading cultures. We are fortunate to have in our network Professor Wendy Griswold who has written extensively on the subject of reading cultures specifically with reference to Africa and to the impact of the digital. The concept of reading cultures is particularly useful for taking us beyond questions of reading skills or basic literacies, to consider societal influences, including those of the family and the media. We also heard from Fredrick Otike who has written about the challenges of promoting a reading culture specific to Kenya. Fredrick stressed the importance of establishing and maintaining a reading habit particularly amongst children, and he reported on the work he has previously conducted within the Kenyan education system working alongside NGOs and focusing on the key role played by libraries. A full report of the discussion can be found under Resources, including discussion points for the network to explore further.
Shortly after our discussion, Citizen TV hosted a debate featuring several leading Kenyan writers on the topic of Reading and Writing Cultures. A recording of the discussion can be found on YouTube
Although the discussion mainly focused on writing, mention was made of informal book stands and stalls that catered to readers for whom mainstream bookshops are just too expensive. Global Press Journal featured an interesting article on this phenomenon.
On Twitter, @VickyRubadiri launched a poll to accompany the program, asking Do Kenyans have a poor reading culture? This prompted some lively responses, including several comments about the excessive costs of buying books in Kenya, due to high taxes. Although some respondents questioned the idea of a lack of a reading culture, and queried exactly how reading and readers are defined, others blamed the education system for taking the pleasure and ‘fun’ out of reading, or the dearth of good reading material – referring to ‘useless story books’ and ‘nonsense’ written about high profile public figures. The discussion on Twitter also touched on digital vs print debates, partly focusing on cost, but also whether reading blog and social media content could be classed as ‘reading’.
This is a topic that seems to both produce heated debates and recur with some regularity when it comes to talking about reading in Kenya. So I’m sure that we will be returning to it in the course of our discussions. Please do leave comments if you have any opinions on the matter!