My impression of Kenyan books, as I went through school was that most of them were set in the colonial period and were to do with the fight for independence. Others handled the political situation in the country shortly after independence. These books, while not bad, did not inspire me to voluntarily seek out and read more of them. They were ‘set books’ to be read for literature…to be studied mostly to pass exams. Where were the books that wrote today’s Kenyan life? My Kenyan life? My modern Kenyan life? Books I could identify with? Well…I am now seeking them out.

I would like to read stories Kenyans tell, stories that tell me about Kenyan lives, stories that highlight life here, that show me sides to our place here that I perhaps may not have been aware of.

What has inspired this project?

Early this year I read two books by two brilliant writers I think are wonderful. One of them is Will Durant, a famous history and philosophy author. I think he is most famous for co-authoring the 11 book set The Story of Civilization. The particular book I read was The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time. One of the chapters in this wonderful book is ‘The One Hundred “Best” Books for an Education’, where he invites us to begin our education, and into “intimacy with great men”.

In this chapter, Will Durant recommends the great books of various disciplines from science to music to history to nutrition. The list of books fascinated me to no end, even while I noticed that no African books exist on the list. At the time I chalked it down to that Africans were probably not writing books in the periods of the recommended books. (I have since discovered that this is not the case, through the work of Wendy Belcher, a professor of African literature at Princeton University, calls this wide belief about African literature a myth.)

I became curious about what it is that Africa, and for now Kenya specifically, is writing.

The second book I read is How to Read a Book, by the brilliant and wonderful Mortimer Adler (and Charles van Doren). This book, too, draws up a recommended reading list; a list of books Adler describes as being worth one’s while to read. He calls attention to an omission that “may strike the reader as unfortunate”, that there are no Chinese, Japanese or Indian works in the list. One of the reasons for this omission, he says, is that they (the authors) were not particularly knowledgeable outside of Western literary tradition, and therefore would not have been able to make good recommendations. They go on to say that “there is something to be said for knowing your own tradition before trying to understand that of other parts of the world.

This statement struck me quite hard, and inspired me to begin to read Kenya…my own tradition.

This blog here; these are my thoughts about the Kenyan books I read. Sometimes thoughts and things about the writers. What’s a Kenyan book in my view? Books written by Kenyans – citizens or naturalised. Sometimes I will read books written in Kenya, or about Kenya.

I expect I will read mostly fiction. I will occasionally read memoirs or biographies. Kenyan non-fiction is a territory I’m yet to explore, but I don’t expect them to overflow from my bookshelves, at this stage.

Are there any Kenyan books you love and would recommend that I read? If yes, please tell me about it; send me an email on antigone@readingkenya.com