“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them” – Ray Bradbury
“Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe go hand in hand with it – will be dead as well” – Margaret Atwood
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” – Joseph Addison
“I never feel lonely if I’ve got a book – they’re like old friends. Even if you’re not reading them over and over again, you know they are there. And they’re part of your history. They sort of tell a story about your journey through life” – Emilia Fox
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one” – George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire)
At precisely six weeks, eight days, fourteen hours, twenty-three minutes and eleven seconds ago, I got sick and tired of life in township. The hustle and bustle and sweat and blood with little cash to show for it are simply exhausting and pitiable. My goodness…Can I Live? Sure, I Can!
The voices in my head kept telling me it was time to pack my belongings and commence an exodus to the village. Life over there would be much better, they told me. I wouldn’t pay for water and power supply. There would be no noisy generators disturbing my sleep and waking me up from my usual comical dreams. Last night, I was about to get a handshake from Fidel Castro and suddenly woke up to the heavy sounds emanating from the generator house.
So I hearkened to those inglorious voices and decided it was time to leave. Not for good, of course. But I just had to go back to my roots. Motherland – where my forefathers trotted upon the ground beneath their feet as they warded off marauding infidels. Motherland – where the smell of fresh okazi leaves (dancing wobbly inside the cooking pot) serenaded my nostrils as I sip from my palmwine gourd. Motherland – where the crickets would speak to me in the silence engulfing the night, as I gaze at the tiny stars littered on the dark sky above my head. Motherland, here I come!
I traveled to my hometown – Owerre Nkwoji – a couple of days after I made up my mind to do so. I decided I would partake in cultivating the yams and cassava during my stay there. The New Yam festival had gone; a new one would soon be born. I hope the gods would have mercy on the barren ground by quenching its thirst with the colorless liquid from above.
I greeted the elders when I walked into the compound. Nno…welcome our son, they told me. Everywhere looked different. Everyone seemed to be aging so fast. They inquired about life in township. Township is fine, I told them while handing over some loaves of bread and bottles of brandy to the eldest of them all.
It’s been ages since I set foot on this soil. May the ancestors not frown on me for staying away too long! I would make up with them, I promised. Before I sip frothy palmwine with the elders, I would pour some on the soil for the ancestors to take a sip. Before I eat kola while watching the theatrical display of the local dancers at Nkwo Oji market square, I would break it into half and drop some for them to eat. I hope Amadioha smiles wryly as the nuts fall on bare floor? And before I wash my feet at Mmiri Oji stream, I would………Well, I’d have to think about what the ancestors would like on that occasion.
Later in the evening, I walked into Pop’s library and beheld all the books staring in my face. The dusty rectangular objects lined neatly on the shelves. These books raised me. Back then, I would be made to read them and write essays on each chapter. My worst nightmares while growing up were these objects looking me right in the iris! These books I was staring at reminded me of the ones lined neatly in rows and columns at the Children Center library in Nsukka Campus. How time flies…racing at the speed of sound!
Back then, we were children of the literary age. But all of a sudden, we’ve transitioned to the children of a technological age, when social media has replaced the libraries. An age when quick messages submerged in a stream of typos have replaced letters filled with literary anecdotes lined on a platter of figures of speech. In this age, we’ve found streamlined ways of doing much of our habitual work; pictorials have replaced words. Our words are no longer our weapons.
It is not uncommon to find young people unwilling to read long literary articles. These same folks would gladly read a quick celebrity gossip not more than a handful of meager aggregation of vowels and consonants, along with scandalous images.
According to Bruce Wexler in Poetry Is Dead: Does Anybody Really Care, he lamented that society was gradually changing in a way that did not favour the reading of poetry (and by extension, other forms of literature). A child who comes from a background where the parents or other close relatives don’t read would likely not read. It is as simple as that! These days, people don’t value the written word anymore.
What is the importance of writing books for people that wouldn’t read them? It is just like a call girl going to market her services at the Vatican. When great authors die, people spend time lamenting and wailing. The eulogies flow like crimson tides. When Achebe died, mourners gathered around and in hushed whispers, they mourned the death of a literary giant. But in the silence that engulfed their abodes, they quickly forgot what the man stood for. How many of those mourners have read any of his books? This lackadaisical attitude would only hasten the dearth of the reading culture in our society.
The Wailing Wailer
Are we the last of a dying breed? Are we the last living souls inhabiting this floating island about to be erased soon? A painful obliteration that would pierce sharply into our already wounded hearts! This modern languid approach towards reading would only succeed in breeding a new generation of confused folks with little knowledge in fields other than the ones they find themselves in. What does that make us? Ignorant Zombies!
Maybe this is as a result of the society we find ourselves in. In a nation filled with suffering and dejection, it would be uncommon for folks to substitute the time spent on hustling and listening to pointless gossips for time spent on reading. Or in a best case scenario, they’d rather read a holy book or a pamphlet by some man of God. These ones would bring spiritual solutions to their dejection and misery, they hope.
But I am glad that there is some hope for literature and the reading culture. Parents gradually understand the importance of reading and are doing their best to encourage their kids to do so once more.
One time, I was at a car park trying to board a bus when I beheld a young hustler selling books at the park. I suddenly remembered I had to stock up my library with contemporary African literature. So I called him and perused the collections he had. I saw Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come and bought a copy. All of a sudden, another hustler ran towards the window with wraps of plantain chips, beckoning on me to buy. I told him I couldn’t because I was watching my weight. We all laughed at the joke. He saw the book I was holding, smiled and told me it was a good one. I enjoyed it when I read it, he said.
Now if I told you I wasn’t puzzled, it would make me the son of the devil, the father of all lies. My goodness! There I was at the car park, book in hand and a young hustler beside me, momentarily separated by the door of the car, listening to him give me a quick summary of the book. At that instant, I became glad and my joy knew no bounds. I realized the reading culture in Nigeria wasn’t dead after all. If a hustler selling plantain chips could make out time and read a book, then there is no excuse for anyone not to do same.
An Extempore Exit
So I flipped the last book I was holding – Victor Hugo’s Tailors of the Sea – and dropped it beside other dusty books on the shelf. I had to leave for the village square before the men start gathering with their trophies from the forest. Aneke promised to bring ele for me. I would eat it with Ukachukwu’s special palmwine when I reach the village square.
As I left the house and walked past the Ama – the entrance to the clan’s Obi, I suddenly beheld Nkechi bringing in the clothes hanging on the clothes line. She was wearing a spaghetti top and a short brown skirt enclosed her pelvis down to the midsection of her thighs. Her boobs were calling out for a willing mouth to munch on them. She winks at me and I do same. I will have to hurry up and hope to make it back on time before she changes her mind. I prayed to the gods that the ele and the palmwine I was going to have would act as aphrodisiac so that I will finish work when I come back home to Nkechi’s bosom.
I hope the gods would hear my humble request.
Now Playing: Lithium by Evanescence
Word to Mutha: This work is STRICTLY the opinion of the writer. No Love Lost; No Love Found…It is what it is!