Words on a Page
Do Nigerians read? It is a question that has plagued the Nigerian publishing industry. For our foreign counterparts, it is already a foregone conclusion that if you want to hide something from a black man, hide it in a book.
My answer to this question used to be yes. I used myself as a yardstick and the girls around me, as the percentage of Black girls who read was far greater than the boys. However, of late I have been forced to reconsider my stance.
Hub Bookstore was, as far as I was concerned, the only bookstore on the Island. At the very least, it was the most well stocked that I had come across. For those of you crying Laterna, remember that Laterna is known for its Christian content. Also, Terra Kulture only stocks African works, which is excellent, but restrictive. So I came to choose Hub as my bookstore of choice. Nonetheless, the last time I visited the Palms, Hub had been replaced by yet another technology outfit.
Where had all the books gone? One-eighth of the books now held a section of the Hub Media store.
This, broke my heart. This was when I realized that perhaps Nigerians don’t read. After all, how can the most well-stocked, superbly placed, bookstore close down? Of course, one needs to take into account the exorbitant amount demanded by Palms Shopping Centre for rent; and then consider how many buyers would need to flock to the store in order for the bookstore to profit. After all, unlike a bag store, or a media store, one purchase couldn’t even dent their costs. Five book purchases wouldn’t do much either.
Perhaps, another reason for Hub’s lack of success is the advent of eBooks. Why bother with paperbacks when you can read a novel on your phone or your tablet? For many, paperbacks are fast becoming a vintage item. They are heading to that place where gramophones and tapes now reside. And this is not a Nigerian problem but an international state of affairs. And one that isn’t going away any time soon. So when I buy a physical copy of a book, I almost expect fireworks and a team of people to jump out from the bookshelves to pat me on the back.
But they say that amongst blind men, the one-eyed man is king. And in my opinion, the Hub Bookstore was the one-eyed man. It had a children’s book section that was well stocked and well designed, with a sitting area to boot. They had categories that included African fiction, fantasy, romance, crime, how to, and inspirational. There was also stationary and so much more.
I have come across several individuals of late, especially guys, who tell me cheerfully that they don’t read. Some will profess to only having read one book in their entire lives. How does that happen? Does what lies between the pages of a well-titled book not incite some curiosity? Or is the act of reading, tiresome?
Consider this article to be a farewell to times long gone, when one would relax on a sofa with a novel that had that new book smell, and a nice snack to accompany your time of leisure. Now we have the cool scentless kindles that can store 100 – 1,000 books at once. And no need of a bookstore that’s carrying lots and lots of paper. When at the end of the day, Kindle or not, Nigerians and the world at large prefer to watch their stories rather than read the words on a page.