*Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” — Walter Cronkite
In this clime, prices of books are just too on the extreme and it keeps climbing, likewise is the level of ignorance, unfortunately. Here, books are not conceived as cultural necessities for personal and communal developments but mere manifestations of the same, and possessed by those who have more than enough to flush down the drain. An average African literary book costs 3k, and the cost is no assurance of good quality or artistry. And the way this seem to have evolved is sudden and shocking. Sometimes, you’d wonder how we got here.
These days, book-buying is an investment, it has always been anyways; a serious business that requires you to strategize, formulate and make cost-efficient decisions like a serious-minded business person. To buy books, you’d have to draft a scale of preference: classify them into needs or wants, consider dates of publication, look out for recent publications by your favourite author(s) and emerging voices or well-acclaimed narratives, you’d want to keep abreast of contemporary pre-occupations and styles, and diversify your reading. Little details as cover designs, size and binding quality are essential as well. Investing your hard-earned money in what you’d find out to be a terrible book is a far terrible loss.
In addition to this, you’d want to insure your books against inconsequential disasters like theft, misplacement and loss, damage etc Asides these, there are parasites, especially close friends and strangers alike, who are not fortunate enough to make it to the government, so they’d settle with their miserly fate to loot your treasury and cart away costly possessions from your bookshelves. No, they don’t buy one nor would they borrow one (or lend you one), they’ve their eyes on everything. And some that do buy books are very clever at hiding them away. A bookshelf is an irresistible call for looting, so they’d tuck them away under their beds, bags, old cartons and boxes, and other awkward places. It’s no habit of these parasites to return your possessions, or worse, some would return them very rough and crumpled — a clear indication of mishandling and carelessness. Omo mi ku san ju omo mi nu lo. They’d drive you to anger and the chiefs among them, when they notice your tense irritation, would go on to tell you how you obsessively handle your books or other belongings like they are living things, and you’d wonder if contrary should be the case.
I remember my early days as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan, the thrills that getting books at bookshops bring are incomparable; most times, we’d even add a couple of books to round the figure. Farewell to those days! Contrary is the case now, although a lot has happened to the economy since then, going to the bookstore is not as thrilling as it used to be, everything is hardly thrilling these days. Also, who wouldn’t like the comfort of buying online and taking delivery at your doorstep when you’re too busy with the daunting tasks of life, although it does come with its down moments.
At a moment, you’d be happy sending books down your cart and Esu would delightfully hold your cart for hours, never complaining about the weight of the cart nor remind you how he has other errands and tasks to attend, he would be patient and professional, smiling at every turn and added weight, even giving remarkable suggestions, but you’d be too engrossed to notice this kind gesture nor appreciate him. However, after several hours of sifting through titles and reading synopses, you’d finally want to check out and await the possessions of the new purchases, especially the smell that comes with them and that’s exactly when the mischievous revenge Esu has plotted would start to unfold: at first, you’d be surprised how just 8 books could cost 27k, so you’d go through the synopses one or two more time, promising yourself to get the eliminated books some other time. You’ve forgotten Esu is the grandmaster of confusion and you’re slow to learn his tricks and uncover is scheme. You’d eliminate the two books you added just to round the figure. So, you checked out again and the total is still 25k for 6 books, you wonder what the difference is. Shocked! Raged! Irritated! You’d definitely want to close down the browser but you’re too hooked by his mischief to escape before the scheme unfolds completely. You want a reconciliation for the time and energy spent at least. So, you’d remove more books till you’re sure you’re left with two good ones, and you just couldn’t believe your eyes. Two books, 11k! You didn’t wonder why, you’re too stressed to be angry. You murmur some cusses and dropped the goddamn cart. You’d later blame the terrible government for the poor economy, the authors who are only into writing to make money, the greedy bookstores owners who wants to make excessive gain than deserved, the capitalist publishers for every other thing you could think of.
Now, you’ve figured why the reading culture is on a decline and illetracy on an increase, and there is nothing you can do about it. But you’d find comfort in the thought of your money still intact in your bank account.