Books are not expensive. We are cheap. We are cheap people who know a lot about price but very little about value. We are cheap people who will not blink twice at spending Ksh 500 a week on data bundles but complain endlessly about buying one book a month at Ksh 1500. We are cheap people who will borrow a book, not even read it, then return it, if we bother to return it at all, looking like it fought World War 3 by itself. We are cheap people who STEAL books and music — it is not piracy, it is theft of intellectual property — because we have no idea how much sweat and effort goes into producing just one piece of art. We are loathsome, cheap creatures who will pass over Meja Mwangi’s witty offerings because we want to read the shallow ruminations of cheap celebrities who have nothing of substance to contribute to society, to Live our Best Lives Now and inhale Seven Steps to Instant Success and Riches.
We are cheap people who will not even stop for a moment and grieve when those really worth celebrating, literary icons like Barbara Kimenye pass away. Three days of mourning were declared in Colombia when Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away in April 2014. Barbara Kimenye died in 2012 and what did we East Africans do? We went on with our usual politicking and day to day drudgery. Uganda, Kenya, the two countries that Barbara Kimenye called home, what have we done to honour and commemorate our daughter, the amazing lady who gifted us with Moses, King Kong and the assorted crazy inmates of Mukibi’s Educational Institute for the Sons of African Gentlemen? Do our thuggish leaders even know who she was? Shame on us.
People who know about value can be found bending over the street-corner inama bookshops, where they cry with joy over gems found for Ksh 100, while others invest the same Ksh 100 in mindless, violent, pirated television dramas that do nothing to improve their existence. Mind you, those who only limit themselves to the same violence in book form or refuse to venture outside the realm of cheap titillation are no better.
We are cheap people who, ironically, keep doing unaffordable things. We keep contributing to endless social functions- wedding committees, funeral committees, fun weekends out of the city,drink-a-thons on public holidays— yet we would wish, for sums even smaller than those we randomly dole out on MPesa, to deny ourselves the absolute pleasure found between the pages of a book. The acquisition of a book is an investment. It is a passport to worlds entirely different from our own. A book is a pass, for 200 pages or more, to take on someone else’s skin, to go through experiences, to acquire lessons and wisdom that time, chance and finance would never otherwise permit. A book is a bridge between people of different origins, times, lifestyles, places and races.
Do not tell yourself books are expensive. Plan for them, as you would any other purchase of importance. Factor them into your budget. Let us give up our cheap standards and judge books by their value, not their price.