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The more you read, the more you know…really

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[FILES] A man looks at newspapers at a newsstand in Abuja, Nigeria June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The lazy student’s timetable is simple: never read today what you can read tomorrow. Why? Because the more you read, the more you know. The more you know the more you forget. The more you forget the less you know so, why read?

Recently, quality newspapers and journals around the world have spent their space on the usefulness of reading. They quoted psychiatrists. They quoted philosophers. Not a single one of them gave a thought to the illiterate person.

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From early November last year to a day or two before Christmas, I was in the hospital. I came out emaciated and unable or unwilling to read a book. Listlessness maybe but the last thing I wanted to do was pick up a book and read. All through the first quota of the year, this feeling persisted. Sometime in April, I seemed to be on the pickup. I love Daniel Silva novels, the ones about Gabriel Allon. There were two titles on my Kindle, which I had not read. I started one and in no time I was reading two or three books at the same time.

Before long, I was going to Exclusive Books in search of new books. Usually, I would telephone a particular branch if they had a particular title in stock. If they did not, could they locate any of their branches that had the title. This way I could save time and resume my lockdown.

I had gone to a branch of the shop in search of some titles by some South African writers Fred Kumalo, the female writers profiting from crime {!} by writing fiction about crime. In my browsing, I saw what I thought was a new book about Fl. Lt. Jerry John {aka Junior Jesus} Rawlings. Written by a Ghanaian writer for that matter. It was exciting but it would have to wait another day to be bought. When the day came I did not bother to telephone ahead about the book. Surprise I was told that there was no book of such title. When I told the gentleman helping me that I saw the book on the shelf a few weeks before, he looked at me and asked: Are you sure?

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I had gone to speak with a psychiatrist a couple of weeks before to be sure that ‘my head is correct’, as they say in the Yoruba language. How do you answer a person who questions, even doubts your sanity? Give him a dirty slap? Which would make everybody else doubt your sanity because slapping a person is not a sane way of proving your sanity. So, I thanked him for helping me. I will go and get the book. I went back to the shelves. There, at the last bottom of the shelf was The Trial of Fl. Lt. J J Rawlings. How unlucky some writers can be depending on where your book is located in the bookshop. When I took the book to the counter to pay for it I gave it to the counter. In the meantime, I saw a bird pen and took a look after which I added it to my purchase. And waited. Card in the machine and PIN number. Did I want a bag? No, I did want a bag. She gave me the biro pen with my receipt. And thanked me and asked me to come again. Where is my book? Which book? The book I came here to buy, that book, by your left. That’s yours? Are you sure? Another slap? No. Yes, it is the book I came to buy.

Another time and another branch. I was looking for Hermann Giliomee’s The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. I telephoned ahead and a copy of the book was reserved for me. When I got there I was given the book and I paid for it and other items including Daniel Silva’s latest novel. On the way home, I began to look at my new books starting with Silva’s new novel. Next Giliomee’s monumental history of the Afrikaners. It was then that I had been given the Afrikaans edition rather than the English original version. We had to go back to the shop who was sorry for the mix-up but they did not have the English version. Where can I find an English version? They telephoned around and gave me the address of another branch. They gave me a card for my money and off I went to the other shop. I could not read such a huge book in Afrikaans for an academic purpose. The first chapter entitled ‘Humble Beginnings’ is translated to ‘Small Beginnings’ in Afrikaans. There is such a huge difference between ‘humble’ and ‘small.’

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This other branch had the English version. I did not take their word for it. I checked. It was in English. I gave them the card into which my payment had been converted. Is there a problem? I still owe forty-something rand. But I was told that books cost the same amount. Not so, they said here. The English version was more expensive than the Afrikaans one. Hermann Giliomee is an Afrikaner. Why did he write in Afrikaans? I paid the extra cost, took my book, and left.

Another time, another bookshop in another country. Cairo in fact, the capital city of the ancient country of Egypt mentioned in the Bible. The bookshop is many mats spread on the ground and books placed on them. ‘Every bound, three bound!’ Every book, three pounds! There is no ‘p’ in the Arabic alphabet. But there was a book for me. I took it and examined it. Cybrian Ekwesi People of the City translated into Arabic. I wanted to buy two copies but there was only one copy ‘awahid, baas’, one copy only. You should have seen the face Cyprian Ekwensi when I gave him ‘his’ book in Arabic. So, they can read my book in Arabic, was his wonder. Nothing about his ownership of copyright. No wonder pirates prosper in Nigeria! Writers are so grateful that they are noticed at all. . . The more you read.

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