Author Munira Hussein is on a mission to see young people adopt a robust reading culture. She dreams of setting up libraries in her community in Marsabit where many young girls face a bleak future because of forced marriages and early pregnancies.
Her book, Unfit for Society is a short story collection that gives an unadulterated glimpse of life in North-Eastern Kenya. She spoke to Nation.co.ke
How many books did you read in 2018 and which was your favourite?
I read 23 books this year, my target was 30 books but I did not manage to hit it. I thoroughly enjoyed my 2018 reads especially Land of Bones by Tom Mwiraria. His style of writing is unique and his stories are alive, it was like a dream vacation.
What is your ideal reading experience like?
That has to be my nightly routine where I make some coffee and lean back in bed or on the couch and read until I fall asleep. The night is usually quiet making me feel one with the characters in the book.
What are the three most memorable books you have read so far and what makes them so?
Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die. This powerful story is a reminder that the true meaning of life is to experience life with all its smooth edges and rough surfaces. Next is Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel that talks about long term intimate relationships, especially in marriage and how to keep the fire burning. I am not married yet but I still find the book to be very insightful. Lastly, The River and the Source by Margaret Ogola. I first read it in 2005, it was my first encounter with the power and resolve of a woman.
Which are your two most treasured books and why? Would you lend them out?
I have two books in my collection that are labelled ‘Not to be lent or given out to anyone’ in capital letters because I feel like they are a personal experience.
One of them is James Michener’s The Novel which is an analysis of the stages a book goes through up to publication. It’s almost like a summary of the literature class which I never got a chance to attend. The second one is Sideshow by Sheri S. Tepper. It is science fiction and one particular character who sounds a lot like me, with her defiant and rebellious attitude.
If you had the opportunity to meet three authors, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Sheri Tepper; her writing is boldly female. I would love to understand why and how she ended up writing like she does.
Paulo Coelho’s books always have a happy ending-- like a fictional motivational book. I’d like to have a deep conversation about life with him.
John Grisham; I find his books to be very captivating and engaging. I would probably ask him how come his candle of thrill never burns out.
You actively champion for literacy especially among young people, what would you say limits a vibrant reading culture in Kenya?
When a reading culture is not cultivated at a young age, it becomes difficult for people who are used to watching movies to suddenly want to read. The problem starts at home where most parents are not readers and their children can’t borrow that culture from them.
There is the false notion that reading is a reserve for nerds or people whose lives are boring. Others claim that they do not have time to read. We will never enough time, time is always created for what is important to us.
E-books versus hardcopies, what is your preference and why?
Hardcopies. It feels more real, like I am holding the world in my hand and the characters are just living their lives without the knowledge of my existence. Is that how God feels? It’s a beautiful feeling but that also depends on the book because some wreck your emotions.
Which three books do you hope to read in the coming year?
There are about 50 books on my list already. Even though I might not end up reading them all (I hope I do), Tony Mochama’s The Last Mile Bet,The Holocaust by Laurence Rees and Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo.