One of the wonderful activities I engaged myself in this incredibly-memorable year is a discussion I had with a group of young literati in Somalia who are using literature to brighten up their world. We are all aware of the ‘travails’ this year saw us through. The Coronavirus pandemic stunned the world in an unforgettable style and fashion. And it was characterized by weeks of various forms of lockdowns across the length and breadth of the world. Schools got closed, business got shut down, and all places of gathering became ghost-towns. One platform that allowed many people to have their teleconferences, distance education and social relations is the Zoom platform. It provided an opportunity for interactions through video telephony and online chat services. It was via this platform that I spoke on how to become a good reader to the Baraarug Library, to young Africans who want to produce a new generation of critical thinkers.
I began by introducing myself as the Executive Secretary of Success Book Club. It is an organization we formed to give the youth a platform to develop and uplift themselves and make monumental impact in their lives, communities and world at large. This, we believe because we understand that knowledge is the sole good and ignorance is sole evil. I then set a background to let them appreciate the importance of seeking knowledge I recited the poem “knowledge.”
Once upon a time, there lived a great author of children’s stories and plays, poetry, biography, history and satire in Strand, London. Her name was Eleanor Farjeon. She wrote a poem and ended on a note that every human being should strive to eschew ignorance; we should embrace and cultivate knowledge in the prime of our lives, and our lives will be great, blossoming and impactful. She titled the poem “Knowledge.” She started “
“Your mind is a meadow.
To plant for your needs.
You are a farmer
with knowledge as seeds.”
She then enumerated the need to care for the mind and also the benefits one gets when he takes up knowledge acquisition as his work and ended on a very good note.
“Don’t be a no-nothing plant in the spring.
And see what a harvest the summer will bring.”
I then proceeded with reasons why Africans of all people should read voraciously. I exposed my background as a Zongo boy. And you know how we all say to be born in Africa is a tall order. You can debate it. I love Africa more than you do but the first obligation of a reader is to define reality. Africa is behind. The land is rich but the people and our dispositions are poor. So to be born here is a tall order. I was born in West Africa specifically Ghana, specifically Zongo. Herrh! I badly need hope to survive. I need hope to chase my great ambition. I need hope to rise when I stumble. I need hope to help me face the turbulences and pestilences of life. I need hope to rekindle my spirit, reinvigorate myself, and rejuvenate my soul and much more importantly to regain my energy. Reading ensures this hope. I read books of people who shook the world. I read books of lives legendary lived. Thus my hope is sustained. I then moved to discuss how to be a good reader.
Become a reader
The first point in becoming a good reader is to be a reader in the first place. It is captured as such because you can only be good at something when you do that thing. You cannot be a good footballer when you do not play football in the first place. The question now is, how does one become a reader?
Develop an interest
Under this, based on some historical facts, it is either someone teases or entices you with the love for reading or you’re forced by someone in authority or your very association with people and the conversations you have make you develop an interest. I gave examples from three books.
In her autobiography, I know why the caged birds sing, Maya Angelou stated that she was enticed to become a reader by Mrs. Flowers, a neighbor. She recounted “for nearly a year, I sopped around the house, the store, the school and the church, like an old biscuit, dirty and inedible. Then I met, or rather got to know, the lady who threw me my first life line.” Mrs. Flowers whipped up her interest when she gave her a copy of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to read and subsequently told her she “must be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more learned than college professors.”
Secondly Malcolm X recounted in his autobiography how his very association with Bimbi, (his fellow inmate in the Charleston State Prison), the man he described as “the first man I met in prison who made any positive impression on him.’
Thirdly Ben Carson also spoke about how his mum forced them to read two books at the library and give a report on that. He wrote copiously about how that changed him from the lowest position in class to the top-notch personality he is today.
Practice, Practice and Practice
I exhorted the young literati to make it a habit to read always and everytime. I like Readwide’s slogan ‘Get Caught Reading.’ Our fathers say “by trying often, the monkey learns to jump from one tree to the other without falling.” I have had the chance of starting a lot of people on reading. People come to me on their reading habits and I start them on an article or short story a day. And I am very particular about what to send them, a story I have read and soaked up myself. So with that the person moves from an article to two or three a day and then I give the person a book (small one) to start with and the person begins to go on his own reading journey. So practice is important. It makes a very good reader. Kwame Nkrumah stated in his autobiography that “unless the pot is constantly stirred, the contents will go stale.” So keep practicing. Miss a meal but never miss your reading.
Read books that enthrall you
I read all kinds of books. Just this morning, I was reading a book ‘How contagion works, Science, Awareness and Community in times of crises’ by Paolo Giordano. However, there are books that make you want to do more in your readings. There are books that keep you flipping through the pages and make you sad when it is near ending. There are books that affect in the least, the life of your body, the beat of your heart, the illumination of your soul, the enlightenment of your consciousness and your vibration with energy and life. I read about great lives as I stated earlier and I feel a path of my life has been eased for me. I read Chinua Achebe’s books and I understand why Africa is still impoverished by centuries of exploitation and domination.
Choose the books that interest you and stick to them. One thing you have to note is that you do not have to finish every book or piece of work you pick. Robin Sharma stated in about two of his books ‘The Greatness Guide’ and ‘Who will cry when you die’ that if you pick a book that does not enthrall you, drop it and pick another. So to be a good reader, stick to the ones that enthrall you. Some people don’t like fiction. Others too believe “the life of the imagination is a vital element of our total nature. If we starve it or pollute it, the quality of our life is depressed or soiled”, so they go for fiction.
Take your reading as a mission.
Why do you read? I read to be great. I read to inspire a lot of people in the world with my life. I believe my life is a message. So as yours. Believe you can also be great and read into greatness. I wrote somewhere that I am yet to see a great man who had nothing to do with reading, knowledge and its acquisition. . Jesus Christ was reported to have cursed a people without knowledge. He stated that “for lack of knowledge, my people will perish.” The Bible time and time again reminds us that we have a duty to be intelligent. Prophet Muhammad was put on his mission with a divine command to read. And his greatest miracle remains the glorious book. For the materialists, the richest men on earth tell us we do not read much. These are people who consume books. You can follow their book blogs to learn more. All the great political leaders one could mention were voracious readers. Mandela, Obama and the greatest of the all, Nkrumah were great because they worked for and with knowledge. Hence to be a good reader, you must see your reading as a mission to liberate mankind from the morasses of ignorance and underdevelopment.
Form a Book Club
Reading is infectious. It is contagious. A good reader believes the world will be a better place if all and sundry will embrace the honored life of reading. Hence to be a good reader, one must form a book club. Find some friends or colleagues, bring the community together under the reading umbrella, in order to make more profound the understanding of things read, augment the thinking process and much more importantly harness the speaking capabilities of others. It is said that it is through organization that the talents of people are harnessed, why not discover that in a nurturing and positive environment of reading?
NB: The Writer is the Executive Secretary of Success Book Club.