Dr Tom Odhiambo loves to read. He teaches literature at the University of Nairobi, so some may say it comes with the job. But he has spent his entire life reading literature. He has a finger on the pulse of every novel coming out of East Africa and what you should be reading now.
“Literature can never be prescriptive,” he says. “Literature may be descriptive, but literature’s job is to provoke you to think a little bit more about every subject.”
When did being a writer/reader influence your sense of identity? I started reading books way back in the late 1970s because I grew up in a house where there were books on the shelves. The stories you read and the characters you meet in the books influence the reader’s identity.
Where is your favorite place to read?
I read anywhere I find space to read. But I love reclining on the sofa and reading my book.
What’s the most audacious book you’ve ever read?
That would have to be Alain Mabanckou’s Memoirs of a Porcupine or Broken Glass.
George Orwell said that the best books are those that tell you what you know. What would that book be for you?
I would say that that would be Wole Soyinka’s 'Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest on Earth'. Its reflections on the failure of the (African) society despite or despite an abundance of resources – financial and human – is scary because this is such an obvious proposition or story.
If you were to recommend a book to the leader of a government what would that book be?
Things Fall Apart, if you allow me to be lazy. Why? Because this is one book that speaks in the most accessible language about leadership and why any society that seeks to progress must be ready to make some hard choices when necessary.