Ghanaians and Reading, Kids and Literacy

Sigh. I don’t like speaking about such deep things when it comes to my country, because I’m very naïve and the issues I form opinions about are usually ‘beyond me’ and my ability to grasp or understand. (Leave me alone, I’m only sixteen.) But this one dier, I have to post about it, get it out of my system. Shoot me down if you want. **plays Titanium in the background.**

On Sunday, I paid a visit to the Silverbird bookshop. Brother, you don’t need to tell me that if an actual bookshop is what I’m looking for, that is not the place to go. I know this. (oh dear Lord, why do we not have a Barnes and Noble here?) But I happened to be passing by, and books attract me, so of course I went in.

People.

I said you don’t understand my reaction to the variety – or should I say lack there of – of books. People! It’s like my heart died…with disgust. In my head, I was just like “But you people paa…” Because lined on the shelves – and I mean shelf after shelf after shelf – was an absurdly large collection of romance novels. There was one shelf, that went even a full shelf – it was the one for display right by the window – that was lined with some Ghanaian books. There was also a Nigerian economy book. ( have no idea what that was doing there.) But chale – the few Ghanaian books over there had no variety at all. If it ain’t Ghanaian history, it’s tourism, else it’s a Christian novel that reveals its ending in the blurb. What dis?

So, I picked up a book to pay for, because I was curious, and the cover was nice, and I went to pay. As I waited, I decided to question the lady at the desk. I asked her, “How do you select the books you sell? Do you base it on world trends or on the preference of the people?”

You know what she told me? She said that over the years, they’d been able to determine which books buyers bought more often, and they got many more of them.

So I gestured to the shelves on my left and asked, “So do all these romance books get finished? People actually buy them?”

“Yes!” she responded. “People buy all of them.” And she also proceeded to explain that on many an occasion, the children bought what they found their parents looking at. Now, I understand that in the 70s and 80s, there was a large Mills and Boon craze. Resultantly, people in my mother’s age group may look at them with nostalgia occasionally.

BUT WHEN A GHANAIAN BOOKSHOP IS 95% ROMANCE AND ONLY HAS A DISGRACEFUL VARIETY OF GHANAIAN NOVELS…I will have a problem. I mean, there was some quality, like a Roald Dahl collection, The Hunger Games, Horrible Science…but the ratios easily showed which genre really had the favour of the readers.

So… On to this book I bought. As I said, I was attracted to the cover design, which I recently found out was done by a Ghanaian illustrator I already know of, Elkanah. The first few pages had only short passages ion them, and all they said was that the story would be that of Osei Tutu I. I was deeply intrigues, because I love mythology, and since almost all Ghanaian history is even myth-based, Iw as eager to read it.

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This eagerness was killed as soon as I was done with the first paragraph. So I stopped, and I read the author’s profile once more. Ah? This man, Kwabena Ankomah-Kwakye is an educated individual? With a strong passion for essay writing? Graduated from KNUST IN 2006? And STILL cannot write a single paragraph of a story with a consistent tense? It’s like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to tell the story in past tense or present tense, and he couldn’t decide whether to tell the forthcoming events in simple future or conditional. It really isn’t that hard to learn the difference between ‘will’ and ‘would.’

But I decided to let it slide for that first paragraph and plough on, in the hopes that it would get better.

Awurade. The spelling mistakes in the book dier, even Class 6 students would have been disappointed. How can you say ‘the alter of the gods’? There were so many worse ones, and even aside from that, there was the issue of punctuation. Oh, God, the punctuation! Commas missing everywhere they were supposed to be, being placed everywhere they weren’t needed! Paragraphs that looked like 2 short stories mashed into one long paragraph. Quotation marks hanging in random places, absent in others! And last I checked ‘young man’ is not one word.

But you now, sometimes, you must forgive the authors. They are stressed, they are under pressure and they are struggling to get their ideas onto the paper. So they might make a rather large number of mistakes. That’s where the editor comes in n’est-ce pas? This is where we commence a different section of the rant.

The Juvenile Community was not my idea. For that one, see Kiiki Quarm. But before I was involved in it, I was never really a content editor. I’d always been a creator, too lazy to proofread my own work. But being a co-editor with Owiredua at TJC, I can honestly tell you that editing isn’t always the most fun job. It’s time-consuming, can get really frustrating, and some spelling mistakes can make you want to give up on life (even when the mistakes are yours). I know that at times, things can slip out unnoticed, thus go uncorrected. I also know that though editing may be trying at times, IT’S NOT THAT HARD TO DO!

The editor of this book, The Deliverer, must have been one of the laziest editors ever, if he/she even existed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the story passed through no editor. This published book looks like it’s in the stages of a freaking first draft. That’s not the worst part. Apparently, the book was published first in 2011. The ‘revised’ version I bought was published in 2012. Revised? Which part of the book is revised? They changed the fanciness of the chapter titles or what?

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“This revised edition…”
The fancy chapter thingie.
The fancy chapter thingie.

The idea behind the book was fantastic. Definitely, let kids learn about history outside of a textbook. Osei Tutu’s story fascinates me. But there was little about this book that made reading it much different from reading it for History class in form 2 from ‘A History of Ghana’ or in class 6 from a Social Studies textbook. (And these books had fewer grammatical errors too.)

I know I’ve gone back and forth, but let me summarise the essence of this post: Publishers like these, and Ghanaians like us claim that we aim to foster literacy among Ghanaians, especially the young ones. And then we discourage people who want to be artistically-inclined, actors, authors, whatever, in favour of ‘practical’ things like medicine, law or engineering. Where does it leave us? With illiterate doctors and politicians, children being encouraged to read Ghana’s own mistake-filled literature that may have the detrimental effect of showing them that it’s alright to write like that, and the rest of the population filling their heads with hot sex and one-month fictional flings that add no value to their lives.

You know what? Y’all can go and fix the Cedi. Shoot all the politicians if you have to. Meanwhile, I’ll be there in the background, working on literacy in any way I can. After all, you need smart people to maintain a nation in a global village. How does the world see us when our First Lady goes to the world’s Superpower and can’t properly deliver a speech? (And we laugh at it like it’s funny.) I’m willing to dedicate my life to Ghanaian literacy. If, by my retirement age, my work comes to nil and has had no effect on the country, you might as well just come and find me, and tell me to shoot myself. (It’s very deep.)

 -Akotowaa =)