Monday, October 15, 2007

Finding Books in The Gambia

For the rich bibliophile, there's always Timbooktoo, the country's only bookshop. But as Dr King said in her Gambian literature lecture, the average price of a novel at Timbooktoo is more than the price of a bag of rice, which puts it out of the range of most people in the country. So the rest of us have to find other options. Here's how I satisfy my book habit:

1) The National Library: This is located in Banjul, near Gambia High. Just go to Arch 22 and ask any passers-by for directions - they'll tell you where to go. It's the one single place which makes me feel every time I go there that my tax money is being put to good use - they have loads and loads of books, from novels to non-fiction works to even a section dedicated to Gambian literature. Recently there has been a great increase in the number of prize-winning, critically acclaimed books on their shelves, mainly due to the efforts of the Chief Librarian, Mr Mbye, who is as bookish as they come. So much so that they are running out of space on their shelves, and having to have new ones made. You can get a ticket, which lets you borrow 3 books at a time, for D60 a year (I tell my Mum it's the best D60 I spend every year, and it is, for the returns I get from it). It is also usually empty but for a few people, and so you can sit in there and read for hours on end without interruption. (Exception: during school exam periods, when it is swarming with students fighting for seats to do their swotting in).

The National Library also has a branch in Brikama, as well as a "mobile library", which travels up-country.

2) The Internet: Your mileage may vary, depending on how much Internet access you have, but the Internet is one of the best places to find reading material. For example, my reading list every week includes The New Yorker (they have an excellent fiction section), Harpers, The Guardian Book Section, Wordsbody (an African Literary blog), African Writing (a magazine of african writing), just to name a few. You can usually find stuff by doing a google search for the name of the publication you're interested in, or the name of an author (e.g. searching for "Binyavanga Wainaina", one of my favorite African writers, brings up thousands of hits). You can then either read these online, or print them out for later consumption at home.

3) Second-hand book stalls: These are scattered all over the Banjul-Serekunda area, and usually consist of little more than a guy with a mat and a wooden display on the sidewalk, selling (photocopied) versions of the current books on the high school literature curriculum, as well as a few second-hand novels and non-fiction books. My favorite is located in Banjul, near the turn-table just before Albert Market - the guy's name is Alex, and you can't miss him: he's right there on the sidewalk, opposite the park. Whenever I feel the book-hoarding urge kicking in, I head there and spend a glorious fifteen minutes perusing the books he has on sale. The list changes every time I go, and I always get something (he will go inside and get you more from his "book box" if you ask nicely). Since I started going there, I have acquired everything from Penelope Lively to Terry Pratchett, from a book on the history of warfare to an introduction to Marxist theory. All for the extremely cheap price of D25 per title (and less if you're buying more: you can usually talk him into giving you three for D60, for example). You can't beat that.

4) Your friends: There aren't any book clubs, exactly (at least, not that I know of), but there is a literary community, in the sense of "people who read good books". Ask around - you might be surprised. I have more than a hundred books in my personal collection, and would be very interested in swapping with someone. I'm sure there are others out there. Contact them, and ask politely - most bibliophiles I know are usually very open when it comes to books, and will be willing to share. Of course, what would be nice is if someone started a Gambian lit mag, or at least a book club, to rally all of us around.

If you have any other tips, add them to the comments below.

No comments:

Post a Comment