While growing up, the importance of reading is often relayed to us in an almost sanctimonious way, therefore, the message that seems to stick with most is that reading is a chore that is engaged in with a very clear end in mind: to pass exams.
And when this endgame is no longer there, such as when we finally complete school, the need to read takes a back seat for most people and the focus shifts to building a career.
In this exploratory feature, we had a delightful chat with five personalities who swear by the power of reading. They say that this is what sets them apart and keeps their careers in an upward trajectory.
JOHN SIBI-OKUMU, Actor, writer, television presenter
How has being an avid reader helped you build your career?
My facility with languages has assured my entire professional livelihood as a teacher of French, stage and screen actor, radio and television broadcaster, MC, conference moderator, editor, communication skills tutor, narrator and voice-over artist. Almost always, I only give books to young children and the dedication for each child is always the same: “A reader is a leader.” And I believe that, wholeheartedly.
Oscar Wilde says, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Do you read books over and over? What do you think of this statement?
If Oscar Wilde said that then who am I to disagree? But I like to read and move on as I know that I shall never, ever have enough time to read all the books I would like to read.
Is there a relationship between your reading and your writing?
Yes. Definitely. Writing has a lot to do with imitation. I attempt to write in the manner of those whose writing I admire, through reading.
What book did you struggle to read? And why was it necessary that you read it to the end?
There have been more than one: gifts which I would not necessarily have bought for myself but which I felt obliged to read in gratitude and as courtesy.
From where you stand, what is the most dangerous thing about not having the culture of reading rooted in us?
The inability to express elaborate thought.
DR JOSEPH ALUOCH, Chest Specialist
What do you read?
Naturally, I read medicine related material, I read about the latest advances, any news in medicine. Secondly, I am particularly interested in IT and computer telemedicine -- I have read ahead and seen what the doctor will be like in the year 2030.
Artificial Intelligence will replace almost half of the doctor's work. The computer will be programmed in such a way that all you have to do is speak into the computer, which then gives you possible problems, possible treatment and possible tests that you need to do.
The greatest fear is that computers will replace the doctors somewhat. For example, in some of the most advanced ICUs, half of the staff have no medical knowledge. They only know how to operate computers. We already have robotic surgeries being done in the world.
I also like reading autobiographies. That is what encouraged me to write my own autobiography. I like human stories, non-fiction. I am not a fiction person.
Have you ever read your autobiography – In the footsteps of my father, after it was published? What is the feeling?
Many times. I like the history of some of the things I wrote. And I feel like writing a second one because reading it makes me remember some of the things that I left out. Instead of writing a second autobiography though, I decided to write about my medical practice in the last 50 years.
I do a lot of reading and writing. I have written for The Standard on health, Ethics and Integrity Magazine, The EastAfrican... writing is one of my hobbies. To write, you must read.
Why should people read?
Reading improves your vocabulary and improves your comprehension. It has been shown that frequent reading reduces the rate of dementia and mental retardation because it stimulates your brain. It also makes you understand people better.
I would not have written my books if I did not read. You cannot write your story out of the blues. If you do not read, do not bother writing. It has also been shown that children who read books do better in school because reading broadens their thinking and improves their memory.
You find it easier to remember what you learn in school and it also helps with your concentration. Above all, reading helps you understand people better, and makes you a better developed and more progressive human being.
What is the most memorable book you have read?
Alibaba and The Forty Thieves. Shakespeare’s books too. I still have copies of his books, copies I have had for 60 years.
AGGREY ORIWO, Managing Director, Ipsos
Does the fact that Mandela is your role model affect the way that you read his work?
It does not affect the way I read him because to be a good reader means being creative about the way that you read. My holding Mandela in high regard only affects how I judge him, so it was very important to find Mandela the human being.
To find a human being who is good is rare, so finding out that Mandela had his moments only humanised him more in my eyes and also because of what I knew about him through his books, I could see the bigger picture.
Broadly, what kind of books do you read?
I read both fiction and non-fiction. Someone like Yvonne Owuor for example, writes very well and always contextualises her stories in a very admirable way. Biographies, motivational books and management books are also sub-genres that I patronise.
The only books I avoid are self-help books. I also read Bulawayo and Chimamanda. Achebe too. Basically all old African Writers Series, both in English and in Kiswahili is literature that I consume. I also read many history books.
Reading is important because…
It widens your scope. Reading makes you able to query. Reading gives you grounding in your reasoning and stimulates your mind. Any time I read, I find myself more alert and sharper and more intellectually stirred.
When you read, you have something to do. If young men read, for example, they would know that heartbreaks are normal and not really the end of the world. Reading keeps you out of trouble. When I was younger, a lot of my free time was consumed by reading and that kept me out of trouble.
For 18 to 30 year olds, it is good to fantasise. Old science fiction gave birth to the advancements in technology which we see today -- drones, laptops, palmtops and wireless headphones. But you can only conceptualise things like those if you read.
Great investors of our time like Steve Jobs read to come up with the innovations he came up with. If you do not read and do not want to learn anything, dreaming about being like Steve Jobs remains just a dream. Revolutionary leaders of the olden days read books.
ROSEMARY MUTUNKEI, Sustainability and philanthropy consultant
What aroused your love for reading?
It started at home. My mother reads a lot. When I was a child, I saw her get excited about books. This then seeped into the way that I built my friendships and what I did with my friends, even as a child. I had a group of friends that I read, talked about and exchanged books with.
Slowly, I begun to broaden my reading scope. When we try to make people see the importance of reading, they must not see it as something that has to be done by force – not everyone can be an avid reader. If you are not, begin cultivating your reading habit from where you are.
Is there a particular genre that you like most?
I like human-centred stories, stories of hope, resilience, family dynamics, gender issues and parenting. That means that I read a lot of motivational books, such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I also identify very strongly with Pan-Africanism, so I deliberately look for literature in this area.
From the outset, I knew that my career is not a stand-alone part of my life, therefore, my family, my friendships, my interactions with the people I have met are all intertwined with who I am, truly. I am also deliberately looking out for African stories now, stories that I can relate to, such as Marjorie Kabuya’s book which explores women’s friendships and values.
Has reading played any key role in the progression of your career?
Reading makes me proactive in my work and in my search for solutions. Reading has made me a very resourceful person. When you turn pages of a book and consume all the new concepts supplied there, you become a better person.
Again, you do not have to agree with whatever is said in a book, but opening up to other realities means that I also learned to become a dynamic and a very adaptable person.
PALOMA GATABAKI, Editor-in-Chief, Finance Magazine, producer, #KTNPointblank Show
How does reading fit into other things which you do?
In my free time I read. I have to read something before I sleep. It has been ingrained in me for a long time. The beauty about reading is that it opens up your mind to different cultures. But I need to read more books by African writers, that is what I am terrible at.
I read Western fiction, primarily. This then transfuses into my work, how I see things and how I see people. I am an editor and a writer, and when I am talking to people, there is the confidence and eloquence.
Reading opens up your mind and improves your capabilities. I do not know a world where you can exist without some form of reading. Perhaps that is why newspapers are still in circulation. I think our problem is what are we reading and what informs the choices of what we read.
How did you come to books?
As a child, I took a long time to begin speaking, so my parents started giving me books to read as a conscious effort to get me to speak. At every opportunity, I was encouraged to have a book to read. We went to a bookstore almost every Saturday to pick up books and comics, because of that, reading comes natural to me.
Have there been new patterns in your reading over the years?
If I do not find a book interesting past the first chapter, I do not force myself to read it. I also try not to read books that other people are reading at that time. If there is a movie out that has a book, I will prefer to watch the movie first then read the book because I get disappointed with the movie if I watch it after reading the book.
I have also gone back to the classical books because I realise now that I simply read them for school purposes. I now want to understand them as an adult. If you look at A Tale of Two Cities, it feels as if you are reading about the Nairobi divide between the haves and the have nots. Beginning to understand the concepts in a more nuanced way is the highlight of this for me.
What three things have you picked from reading?
Ability to communicate properly. Travel: I get deep into the places that I read about, which gives me the opportunity to know where I want to travel to next.
Thinking out of the box: there are concepts that you see in a book and they revolutionalise your thinking. This it is a huge quality in my field of work because it informs how I structure my engagements with both my audiences and respondents.
Why should people read?
You might be a very good business analyst, but if you do not read and cannot express yourself, how will you critically engage at international conferences, a factor that would boost your career?
The import of reading completely changes your image because of the kind of words that come out of your mouth. That said, children will need to have a very serious role model in school for them to pick up a reading culture if they do not already see it at home.