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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!