Book Review

Most popular books of 2021: What Kenyans bought

books

Summary

  • Bookstores that sell fiction, non-fiction, autobiographies, and biographies recorded an increase in sales, thanks to the growing number of Kenyans who rekindled their love for reading.
  • Here are most bought and read books last year, according to Prestige Bookshop, Textbook Centre and Rafu, an online bookshop.

The pandemic period has been a good season for Kenyan booksellers.

Bookstores that sell fiction, non-fiction, autobiographies, and biographies recorded an increase in sales, thanks to the growing number of Kenyans who rekindled their love for reading.

Here are most bought and read books last year, according to Prestige Bookshop, Textbook Centre and Rafu, an online bookshop.

Rafu’s most bought books

For Kenyan titles, these were the top reads, ‘Thursdays’ by Jackson Biko, a book that depicts the life of struggling artistes, ‘Money Wise’ by Rina Hicks which teaches the need to for Kenyans to understand their finances, ‘The Havoc of Choice’ by Wanjiru Koinange, ‘Best of Whispers’ by Wahome Mutahi, ‘Up and Ahead’ by Sunny Bindra, 'Unbowed’ by Wangari Maathai, ‘The Chronicles of a Village Surgeon’ by Dr Stanley Aruyaru, ‘Kaluhi’s Sumptuous Soups’ by Kaluhi Adagala, ‘Everything I Know About Life’ by Joan Thatiah and ‘Retirement Planning’ by Rose Wakiria.

Vincent Milewa, the founder of Rafu online bookstore, said more people bought fiction books.

“We saw an increase in sales of fiction books, with ‘Thursdays’ by Jackson Biko, ‘The Girl with the Louding Voice’ by Abi Daare, ‘Love in Color’ by Balu Babalola, ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin and ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi being the top five bought books,” he said.

It Ends with Us’ by Colleen Hoover was also among the most-bought fiction books last year. Kenyans also read lots of self-help books as witnessed from the high sales of ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear, and the ‘5 am Club’ by Robin Sharma.

Other African best-sellers were: ‘Notes on Grief’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who shares how her father’s death changed her perception in life, ‘The Sex Lives of African Women’ by Nana Darkoa, where the author narrates experiences of African women who were sexually abused, and how they managed to assert their sexual power, ‘Stay With Me’ by Ayobami Adebayo and ‘We Are All Birds of Uganda’ by Hafsa Zayyan.

Textbook Centre’s Top Books

Textbook Centre which has recently added its stores in Nairobi saw an increase in sales of biographies, with books by the Obamas being in the top ten.

Becoming’ by Michelle Obama and ‘Dreams From My Father’ by Barack Obama sold really well, even though the latter was released a while ago,” said Nancy Masidza, a sales clerk.

Other biographies that sold well included ‘Unfinished’ by Priyanka Chopra, ‘Will’ by Will Smith and ‘Spymaster’ by Leslie Collitt.

Unique non-fiction books included ‘What I Know For Sure’ by Oprah Winfrey and ‘Surrounded by Idiots and Surrounded by Psychopaths’ by Thomas Erikson.

Readers also favoured Kenyan authors, with Nanjala Nyabola’s ‘Travelling While Black’, ‘Things I Will Tell my Daughter’ by Joan Thatiah and ‘Havoc of Choice’ by Wanjiru Koinange taking the lead.

“Non-fiction and inspirational books were mostly purchased by readers aged 28 and above, both male and female. Fiction was favoured by teenagers and readers aged over 30, both male and female, while biographies were favoured by mixed age group,” added Ms Masidza.

Prestige bookshop

At Prestige Bookshop, most sought-after African fiction books that were different from those that Kenyans bought from Rafu and Textbook Centre include ‘After Lives’ by Abdul Razak Gurnar, ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Adichie, ‘The First Woman’ by Jennifer Nansubuga, ‘A Man Who is Not a Man’ by Thando Myqolozana, ‘Transcendent Kingdom’ by Yaa Gyasi, ‘The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett and ‘Questions for Ada’ by Ijeoma Umebinyuo, a poetry book.

Their bestseller Kenyan authors included Khadija Khadija Abdalla Bajaber who wrote ‘The House of Rust’, a book about a fantastical sea voyage to rescue her father, and Mukoma wa Ngugi whose ‘Unbury Our Dead with Song’ details four talented Ethiopian musicians competing.

Equipoise’, an anthology of short stories edited by Makena Onjerika was the only anthology on demand, said Protus Lijodi, a bookseller at Prestige.

Most-bought biographies include; “Tiger Woods’ by Tiger Woods, ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ by Issa Rae, ‘Will’ by Will Smith and ‘Do Not Disturb’ by Michela Wrong,” Mr Lijodi said.

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