Thoughts on (lack of) reading, blogging (fatigue) & discourse with writers versus readers

Long time, no blog! It’s been a while since I posted a book review or book chat… or content, in general. It’s crazy how I started this book blog when I commenced dental school in 2014 and I’m now a Dentist working at a major teaching hospital – praise God! Life is very different now – it’s mostly filled with me looking in peoples’ mouths, making diagnoses, admitting patients with head/neck injuries or infections to the hospital, in the operating room (theater) assisting in head & neck surgeries, extracting, restoring and cleaning teeth.

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When I was a dental student, I succeeded in reading for about 40 minutes a day prior to studying. Nowadays after work, I’m usually very tired and resort to watching a TV series or YouTube, instead of reading and finishing books I start.

Reading while I was in dental school was a huge coping mechanism for me. Now, indulging (heavily) in TV shows, making and receiving music playlists, reading short pieces online + magazines and napping bring me joy as well. But in general, it’s been really challenging to read during this pandemic (especially during the lockdown period), and I know I’m not alone. So many other readers have been finding it difficult to focus on their hobbies and some readers are now finally getting their reading groove back. In an effort to get my reading juices flowing again, I joined two book clubs this year: Ghana Must Read Book Club (where we read Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami) and Harare Book Club (where we [re-]read So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ).

Do book blogs/websites still exist?? With Instagram (or Bookstagram – the section of Instagram dedicated to ALL things books) taking everyone’s attention nowadays, does the average reader even take the time to peruse their favorite bookish websites and engage with the content that book bloggers painstakingly create? Some of the thoughtful book blogs by Black readers/writers I’ve loved since 2014/2015 haven’t been updated in a looong time. Some of these book blogs are/were: Incessant Scribble, Kinna Reads, Mary Okeke Reviews, Reading Pleasure, Bookshy, Brown Girl Reading, The Storyscape, Rowena (on Goodreads), Lynecia (on Goodreads), Reading Has Purpose by Shannon, Folklore and Literacy by Leslie Reece etc. These Black readers/writers have either moved on (to Bookstagram, TikTok or BookTube) or just haven’t found the time or interest to frequently post content on their sites. But I know about 80% of them are still reading and engaging with books in their own private spaces, just not as publicly as before. Very few of my favorite literary sites/ book blogs are still going strong, like Zezee With Books, Paperback Social, K E Garland, JHOHADLI.

It’s really interesting to see how the book review/book blogging sphere has ‘evolved’. Now with influencer culture being so prevalent, the number of followers on your social media (especially Bookstagram) determines your relevance or importance. Receiving physical advance review copies (ARCs) of books to be published is now a super-duper badge of honor. This new influencer culture around books creates a hierarchy of importance amongst readers and book bloggers, and alienates a lot of people who lack access to popular books of the moment. It’s wild how this influencer culture can easily cause burnout too, with Bookstagrammers working so hard against the algorithm to be seen! You want your photos on Bookstagram to get the most likes and you want your follower count to rise so that publishers can start noticing you and you’re eligible to receive ARCs – which will enable you to flaunt on the ‘gram to let your peers know you’re ‘important’. It’s so easy to get sucked into this rat race when your hobby of reading was primarily soothing and free of this anxiety around reading socially.

The new influencer culture looks fun for those who love the challenge of constantly creating content to stay relevant, but it has created a foul competitive nature to blogging, which is tiresome – in MY opinion. Obviously, not everyone on Bookstagram strives to be an ‘influencer’ (by the way, I hate that word), but it’s disheartening for some readers who post compelling captions/reviews and don’t receive meaningful engagement because their follower count is low (I know ‘low’ is relative, please ooo). Don’t get me wrong- the community of readers who avidly read socially is pretty amazing; real friendships have been born out of our shared love (or hate) of certain books… but sometimes I almost miss the days where reading was a bit more intimate without the noise of social media, the hype reviews and the constant need to keep up with new releases.

Another layer to my fatigue is how readers on the continent of Africa aren’t really part of the global reading ecosystem. Readers in Africa don’t push sales for (Western) publishing houses, so we aren’t a priority. I only have access to popular books from publishers because they are delivered to my homes in the US and the UK. But what about other readers who live in countries in Africa that don’t have addresses outside of the continent? Publishers rarely mail books to my address here in Accra; the only times I received books here in Accra were because the authors pushed for them to be sent directly to me- thank you Zinzi Clemmons, Ayesha Harruna Attah and Maame Blue.

It’s mind-boggling how publishing houses want select African book bloggers on the continent to market their books, yet they can’t make any accommodations in their budgets to mail at least 20 physical ARCs of interest to book bloggers on the African continent (apparently this excludes South African book bloggers[?]). I know the lack of vibrant publishing houses here in Ghana has a role to play in this issue. But besides access to ARCs, it’s rare that book bloggers here on the continent are included in certain book campaigns and paid promotions of popular books by our Black writers. Buying new books is also expensive here in Accra – you need at least GH₵ 100 to purchase a book, and it won’t even be a hardback. So for me, all of these things culminated together have dimmed my fire a bit. Obviously, I’ll always be a reader. I’ll continue to post my book reviews and discuss literary happenings on my platform. But these blatant inequalities in the global reading ecosystem have been quite disappointing.


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Flyer for the three-way event with Ghanaian women writers.

In August, I had the privilege of moderating a wonderful reading event with three brilliant Ghanaian women writers – Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, Nana Oforiatta Ayim and Ayesha Harruna Attah. It was a dream come true to be in the midst of Ghanaian women writers that I admire and have loudly celebrated on this platform (via #ReadGhanaian) since 2017. The event was held at Studio 189 in Osu, with an audience of about 50 people in total. The venue was cute and the event was pretty rich and vibrant.

After the event, I realized how starkly different it is to discuss books with writers versus readers. When I’m discussing literature with writers, it’s usually in the presence of an audience, in a Q & A format. There is some level of performance on my part, as I try and ask questions that would give the audience context to the books being discussed, while avoiding spoilers as much as possible. Unless I’m out to dinner with a writer, I don’t feel like I’m able to truly be myself because of the audiences’ presence and my nerves acting up as I try to sound intelligent in keeping the conversation flowing spontaneously.

Flyer of the virtual readers’ discussion on Sekyiamah’s collection.

On the other hand, discussing literature with fellow readers feels more laid-back. I’m able to divulge my truest feelings when discussing books/characters/storylines; and just fellowshipping with other readers without an audience feels comfortable and less performative. Two weekends ago, I had a virtual discussion with some readers on Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah’s debut collection, and it felt wholesome! About fifteen womxn RSVP’d, but only five showed up – which was still great. While some readers were not able to finish the book, it was still an eye-opening, nuanced conversation. When I was in dental school, I didn’t have the luxury of time to join book clubs, as I had to focus on school material. And when I was in college (Middlebury College, VT), discussing Black books felt anthropological, so my African American literature class discussions tended to feel flat and very academic. Joining the Ghana Must Read bookclub allowed me to really enjoy discussing books with a group of people who came into the discussion with different perspectives. Maybe I should start a bookclub?


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Currently Reading:

I’ve read some timeless gems this year. The best book I’ve read thus far is The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah. I might have a review up soon – even though I really don’t have the words to do that collection justice. I’m currently reading fellow Ghanaian-American Zeba Blay’s debut – Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture – which is radically vulnerable and honest, in all the good ways. I’ve attended a couple of her virtual conversations on her book tour and I truly appreciate her deep thought and her love for Black womxn. I’m also finishing up Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women White Feminists Forgot on Audible – which is sooo smart, thorough and relevant. I have a true understanding of Black feminism, thanks to Mikki Kendall.

Immediate TBR:

Has anyone read The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw? Jouelzy’s #SmartBrownGirl book club raved about it in September, so I just had to get a copy! I’m excited to get to it soon.

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Last but not least, here’s a music playlist that I’m most proud of. It’s a long-form mélange of: Indie Soul, Neo-Soul, Indie R&B, Jazz, Funk & J Dilla inspired Hip hop. 118 songs for a duration of 8 hours : 30 minutes. Enjoy this playlist with some Palm Wine!

A Spotify Playlist: PalmWine Seltzer, by me. Enjoy

18 thoughts on “Thoughts on (lack of) reading, blogging (fatigue) & discourse with writers versus readers

  1. I always enjoy reading your blog and following your reading, so thank you for posting despite how life has changed for you.

    I admit I pretty much ignore the whole Instagram, YouTube veering off of the blogging world, except that I avidly follow and keep up with Didi at Brown Girl Reading, since we are both kind of outsiders reading literary fiction in English living in France. I check in on her Friday Reads.

    I too wish the publishing world wasn’t so Anglo/American centric. Not only is it great to read authors from African countries but readers opinions are missing too, unless they’ve moved to one of those two countries and can share from there.

    It’s great to hear that you’ve had the opportunity to engage with local writer’s and I hope you go ahead with your book club and continue to share what you are reading. Bonne Continuation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Claire. Thanks for reading, as always! I too follow Didi on all platforms, even though I don’t find much interest in Bookstagram anymore – where she seems to be posting a lot more lately. Yeah, the lack of vibrant publishing houses here is a real problem and without them springing up soon, nothing will change. I wish I was interested in forming a publishing house, but that’s certainly not my ministry haha. Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll continue to do what I can, when I can, for sure!

      Like

  2. This is a whole conversation with so many points that need high lighting! I’ve always loved blogs especially book blogs but there’s definitely a movement toward Instagram (and now TikTok) which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Those platforms are great for community and finding new titles but I’m not interested in playing the algorithm! It’s asking for too much.

    I still love blogging and book Twitter although I don’t have the time/ energy as much these days

    Podcasts are also filling a space right now, I enjoy a lot of those

    I hope you carry on posting on your platforms! I’ve always enjoyed African Book Addict and also Bookshy Books. Thanks for mentioning mine as one you like too!

    I really hope publishers get better at sending ARCs internationally, especially since there are some Bookstagrammers/ bloggers/ podcasts who do so much to highlight titles. Even more I look forward to having more publishers come out of Ghana and the continent

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Charlene :). Agreed, the movement towards Instagram and TikTok is definitely not a bad thing…. just not for all of us. Yes, that algorithm is the devil LOL. I too indulge in a lot of podcasts; those have forever been my saving grace. What are some of your favorites?
      I too look forward to publishing houses coming out of GH and other West African countries. South Africa and Kenya and dem seem to have their shit together. If I could form my own publishing house, I definitely would. But that’s certainly not my ministry… the thought of it alone gives me a headache haha. I appreciate your book blog/website and your Bookstagram as well. Thanks for your fresh voice and perspective. Still looking forward to meeting you whenever you’re in Accra :).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Trust me, the dream of a publishing house is amazing but the headache sounds very :-s

        I will be giving you a shout when I’m in Accra! I miss it.. and also haven’t see. Half as much book places there as I would like. Somehow when I go there, all my priorities turn to eating

        The podcasts, so many! Between The Covers, Tin House is really good, Books And Rhymes, Lit Friction, Libreria, Stacks, so many! Which ones do you like?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yesss, whenever you’re in town lemme know! And I can definitely understand how priorities turn to food haha. The book places aren’t a lot here though.

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  3. This was so interesting, thank you for sharing this state of the art on African blogging and the relationship with publishers. I’m not hugely surprised, but it’s so disappointing. I really crave hearing about what people closer to the cultures of some of the books I read think of them, but it’s hard to find (e.g. I couldn’t find any African bloggers talking about the language in Abi Daré’s The Girl with the Louding Voice, which I would have really appreciated reading; I found the reactions of Black and White readers to The Other Black Girl very contrasted and interesting and learned a lot from the Black bloggers’ perspectives).

    So yes, I read other bloggers still and really want to hear from a wide variety of voices, not just a small bubble of people like me. And I hope you carry on blogging. Also thank you for those links to bloggers who are still going, I already follow Zezee but will look at the others. Keep going!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Liz. Thanks for reading! I’m happy readers like yourself still value the perspectives of Black/African readers and book bloggers when it comes to discussing Black/African books. But do publishers care? That’s what is so disappointing. They seem to forget that #ownvoices bloggers and readers bring real perspectives to the table, which makes for a more wholesome global reading experience when discussions take place online.

      I don’t know if you are on Bookstagram, but there are a lot of Nigerian readers/bloggers there who’ve read + reviewed Abi Daré’s book, like @lipglossmaffia (https://www.instagram.com/p/CHfNz-fg7FZ/). You can also search #AbiDaré (the hashtag) to see what other own voices are saying about the book. I hope that’s helpful, if you haven’t already used this method. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I meant to say I have Carefree Black Girls TBR from NetGalley and bought Hood Feminism in the summer, I’m looking forward to reading and sharing thoughts on those and would love to know what you think of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Welcome back!
    There’s so much to unpack in this fascinating blog post, but like others, I won’t try to respond to everything. I’ll just confirm that I’m still firmly in the book blog world. I never visit any of those other platforms and have no idea how they work, nor do I care. I’m interested in thoughtful written (not podcasted or YouTubed) book reviews by people who read widely. There’s plenty around, and they’re getting good traffic and lots of commentary so I think it’s premature to worry that they’re going to disappear.
    However, I read as many African novels as come my way, surprisingly over the last couple of years, mostly from the Edinburgh Book Festival which went digital so I could ‘attend’ from Australia. But I would dearly love to see these books reviewed by readers from that culture. I’m reading Wole Soyinka’s novel at the moment, and I’d like to see how it gets reviewed in Nigeria, especially by a woman!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisa, hiii. I’m soooo glad book blogs/websites like yours are still thriving. While I have my issues with Bookstagram, it’s definitely a good place to read #ownvoices book reviews. You might want to head over there to see what’s being said about Soyinka’s novel. Not everyone has the capacity to create a detailed book website on WordPress, but it’s pretty easy for some to create an Instagram account dedicated to books – and there are some compelling, thoughtfully written reviews there (don’t get me wrong!). Some users even have Instagram live sessions where they go more in depth with their reviews by discussing books live with people who watch them in the moment. BookTube and podcasts are great too; but I’m just happy to see that some book blogs are still thriving. Even though the literary space is moving towards fast fashion-type of reviews & marketing, like you, I’ll always be partial to carefully curated book blogs/websites. Thanks for reading :).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Appreciate seeing this post from you – it’s been a while – and your insight to the landscape. Which is pretty on point. I’ll admit while I do engage with booktube and bookstagram, I’m probably not as active as I need to be. But I continue to read (not as much as I’d like) and share my thoughts via whatever platform I feel inclined to. Whatever else, all this is, it should be fun, right? So I just try to make sure I’m still enjoying it. I blog because I still enjoy blogging – it’s like having a mini-conversation about books I want to talk about. Look forward to reading more of yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Darkowaa!!!! Thanks so much for the love! Thanks sooo much! I’m subscribed to your blog via email so when I got the new post alert a few days ago I was so excited one of us (book bloggers) was still out there blogging. I flagged the email so I could get to it later and today’s that later lol. Everything you wrote here about your reading habits in college (as an escape) and your reading habit now as an adult just had me nodding vigorously. It’s all so true. So true. After a long day at work I just want to consume entertainment in the TV/Movie format. Then the short pieces and the magazines and articles. There are so many books I want to read but I don’t feel like I have the time to read them. I also can’t consume the pages at the pace I would like to but slowly is better than nothing. I’m currently reading Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” and I love it so much so far.

    I’m glad you had the experience of moderating with writers and even though I haven’t had that honor I understood everything you wrote. If you start a book club I’ll definitely be joining! Thanks for this post! It’s well thought out and definitely hits home for a lot of us in the blogosphere. More power to your elbows! Wishing you the best as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Osondu! I know you would relate to the post. My short conversations online with you and Bookshy on how the book reviewing space has changed inspired the post. I’ll look into the book by Franzen. I hope all is well with you! 🙂

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