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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Do you take time to read?

The 16th edition of the annual National Book Week festival, organised by the National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu), will take place from 15th to 20th September 2008 at the National Theatre, under the theme ‘Publishing for Lifelong Learning’. DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA asked some people about their love of reading and what they think of the event.

What do you think of the National Book Week festival?

Prof. Arthur Gakwandi, Author of Kosiya Kifefe, and president of International PEN Uganda Centre:
I think it’s useful in a sense that it provides a time when people involved in the industry get the public to focus on literary production and up-to-dates on new publications, important themes, and new messages that are being conveyed by writers. It’s also an opportunity for the writers to come into the limelight and reach the audience they write for. In a country like ours, where people don’t really think about books much; it’s good when they are reminded that books exist. And also, the publishers can share knowledge and experience about how to sometimes shift focus from money-making and explore ways of looking into different forms of publishing for an impact on society.

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana, Uganda Radio Network:The National Book Week is a grand idea with lots of potential that is executed rather poorly. I am drawn to the idea of many people meeting in one place to speak about books, to read books and to promote books. However the Book Week is by and large a dull affair and were I not an avid reader with kajanja and a lot of time on my hands, it would barely make a mark on my calendar. The National Book Week should be used to promote local literature and Ugandan authors. Dedicate a stage for books signing; involve “celebrities” if you must, have public book readings by the authors themselves. The publicity for the festival is very, very poor, it appears sometimes that the National Book Trust is ashamed of the one week in the year when it has free reign to brag and shine. Many Ugandans I have spoken to say they do not read enough because there is not enough affordable good literature on the local market. This of course, is not true. Many publishers in the country sell their books rather cheaply. Most of the books at Femrite for instance are no more than Shs5,000-10,000 for a copy. Unfortunately, no one knows this and a badly organised, laissez-faire, poorly publicised National Book Week Festival does little to help this situation.

Julius Ocwinyo, Editor, Fountain Publishers Ltd, author of Fate of the Banished and other works: It has now been decentralised; a lot of important activities take place in Kampala but then there are also activities that take place upcountry. And then there is the award ceremony and a lot of people get awards and that’s quite a big inspiration. Then also there are publishers and book traders who come from outside the country like Indians for example and people from Europe; they get to meet other publishers and writers and that actually helps them to network.

Charles Batambuze, Executive Secretary, National Book Trust of Uganda: The idea behind a book week is to draw the attention of the public nationwide to the importance and contribution of books and reading to national development. There’s the literary awards ceremony where we recognise people who excel in writing and some of the people who have won awards over the years have used that as a basis for advancing their careers, becoming famous and outstanding writers. In a way, what we’ve been doing reawakened or opened up the stage so that people become competitive and that’s probably one of the reasons why people have been winning literary awards elsewhere.

Musarait Kashmiri, Maisha Film Lab: I think National Book Week is a great idea. We all need to appreciate great writings. We live in a world where we are driven by technology but you miss so much if you don’t read and explore the world in a different way.

Hilda Twongyeirwe, Cordinator, Femrite: The National Book Week is bringing books closer to people. Writers and publishers will have the opportunity to display their works and to engage with their readers. The Book Week is also providing a platform for main stakeholders in the book industry to engage with the public on issues of book development and reading culture. There is a Book Forum where writers have been invited to make presentations on different literary topical issues and to come up with recommendations for the strengthening of Uganda’s literary landscape.

Why do you read?

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana: I read because of the beauty of words. Words create worlds outside my own, where adventure and despair, hopelessness and dreams, exist. Words open my mind to new philosophy and ideas. Words teach me about others, about the nature of the human and in turn, about myself. The Bible says it was with words that God spoke that the universe came to be. Sociologists tell us words set us apart from animals, creating this uniformity that we call humanity.I read because the only life I know is a life of words.
Julius Ocwinyo: I think it’s a habit I formed when I was still little; it just has not left me. I don’t even need to be pushed; I just find myself reading all the time.

Charles Batambuze: I read so that I can be knowledgeable about different things. I want to be on top of things; I want to be able to contribute to any debate. But also reading helps me in my work. My work involves thinking and strategising and there’s no way I can do a good job if I’m not reading.

Hilda Twongyeirwe: I read because books have a lot to offer me. Reading is like talking to people or like taking a journey where you will meet new people, new ideas, and new perspectives. It is a whole interactive process where I engage with the author, the characters, the places, the ideas, the circumstances and experiences. Reading is a learning process for me, an enriching experience and certainly an entertaining one as well. Some books are just funny and will just make you laugh and relax! Also, books are my sedatives.

What’s the best book you ever read and why?

Arthur Gakwandi: I’ve read so many great books in my life but if I was really to have to provide an answer I would say 'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy. I liked it because of its very wide and elaborate canvas and because of the profound themes about life that it explores in a manner which I’ve not found in any other book.

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana: My favourite book of all time is 'A Wind in the Door' by Madeline D’Engle. It is the second of D’Engle’s Time Quartet series. I read this book when I was 11 years old. It was the first book I read that combined both sci-fi and fantasy in a way that was relatable. I felt like D’Engle was no longer talking to me as a child, but edging me on into adulthood. It provided for me the bridge from children’s literature to adult literature and I haven’t looked back ever since. There is something deeply esoteric about 'A Wind in the Door' that keeps me returning to my well thumbed 22-year-old copy of the book again and again. Perhaps it is the pull of a well written piece of literature. Perhaps it is me just returning to the innocence of my youth.

Julius Ocwinyo: I’ve read some pretty good books but 'To Kill A Mockingbird' is one of the books that have really influenced me, but of course that’s by an American. One of my favourite writers is actually William Faulkner, who writes quite difficult books but I find them really interesting. And of course we’ve got African writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiongo. And then because I did some French, I’ve also read several French classics. The psychological complexity of these works is that you are looking at people who are leading fairly ordinary lives but you know it’s the depth of their feelings and how they respond to the situations in which they find themselves, that’s amazing.

Charles Batambuze: 'Rich Dad Poor Dad' is the book that in a way opened my eyes to see that actually my actions in a way define what I become. I read it last year and I’ve opened up a business because I was inspired by the things that the author wrote.

Musarait Kashmiri: My two favourite books are 'The Alchemist' and 'The Prophet'. Both books have simple but great life lessons.

Hilda Twongyeirwe: 'Things Fall Apart'. It is a simple story that I understood very well. The author managed to paint the villages and the characters so well that much as I read it over 20 decades ago, I still remember it as if I read it last year. And the book also had very good lessons that are applicable in everyday life across humanity. Okwonkwo can be a next door neighbour in any village! It’s a hilarious book too, in many aspects.

What are you reading now?

Rachel Mugarura-Mutana: I am currently reading 'The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable' by Nassi Nicholas Taleb and 'Acts of Faith' by Philip Caputo.

Musarait Kashmiri: At the moment I am reading, 'Palestine, Peace not Apartheid' by Jimmy Carter, 'Birds Without Wings' by Louis de Bernieres and 'Reconciliation' by Benazir Bhutto.

Hilda Twongyeirwe: 'What is the What' by Dave Eggers. It tells the story of Sudan. It is a story that makes you laugh, cry, make promises to God and your neighour, recall your humanity, recall your humility and make you say...this should never happen should never have happened in the first place.

--Sunday Monitor, September 14, 2008