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The Full Picture

One of Book Bunk's literary knights, Marion Anvango, comes to Angama Mara to help set the stories straight
Above: The Library walls are lined with stories waiting to be read

When I think of hotels and trips, I often anticipate getting a destination-specific experience. I want to fully immerse myself in the local way of life and learn about the stories and experiences. It is always encouraging to see hotels working to give their guests a hyper-local experience through music, art, food and literature.

As the Acquisitions Coordinator at Book Bunk — a company that is working to restore some of Nairobi’s most iconic public libraries into sites of inclusivity, heritage, public art, collective memory, knowledge production, shared experiences and cultural exchange — I am responsible for curating and managing collections. I was thrilled when Angama contacted me about digging into their guest libraries. Assisting in their guest experience through literature also meant I would get to visit a fantastic safari lodge in what is considered the most enchanting game reserve on the continent.

Karen Blixen's Out of Africa is found in each guest tent
Her friend Peter Beard's visual diaries adorn the Library tables

As a self-described bibliophile, I am frequently delighted when I check into a hotel and discover that they have a library. And I don't just mean a couple of torn James Patterson books and old magazines on the nightstand — I mean a collection of classics, art books and current travel guides in beautiful spaces where visitors can hang out, read and chat with other lit-loving jet-setters.

After settling in, I was ready to look at the libraries and peruse the collections. The two stunning libraries in North and South Camp were adorned with many books, a cosy open fireplace, brick walls and leather furniture — every book lover's ideal holiday hangout. The small but rich collection is organised into various categories, ranging from historical, fiction, nonfiction, children's and coffee table books. This kind of library work was a very different experience from what we’re used to in Nairobi.

The Library collections have been lovingly curated to cater to every guest's literary preference

Book Bunk wants to ensure that communities get to tell their own stories and that there's a balance between Kenyan and foreign authors. While working in the libraries of Nairobi, we called this process 'decolonising' the libraries. We use a system called MUSTIE, a weeding criteria utilised by a majority of libraries, including Book Bunk’s own project libraries:

M = Misleading (and/or factually inaccurate)
U  = Ugly (worn and beyond mending or rebinding)
S  = Superseded (by a truly new edition or by a much better book on the subject)
T  = Trivial (of no discernible literary or scientific merit)
 I Irrelevant to the needs and interests of your community
E = The material may be obtained easily Elsewhere

'Decolonising the collection' means actively including voices of African authors alongside foreign voices, recognising that hotels provide a unique opportunity for guests to learn about a country's past, present, politics, people, tourism, art, culture and everything else the country has to offer. At Angama, my primary focus was to discard misleading books, including those that are problematic in portraying Africans and African culture. For example, the novel Something of Value, by Robert Ruark (published in 1955), characterises Africans and African culture as savagery.

Adichie's collection of short stories is perfect bite-sized read during a stay
A natural history of extinct and endangered bird species from around the world

The collection of books I have curated for Angama features highly recommended anthologies, coffee table books and historical accounts from Kenya and different African countries. The titles offer a range of topics for every guest and aim to rewrite the narrative about Africa by including works by new African authors such as Bolu Babalola and Tsitsi Dangaremba, as well as literary giants like Chimamanda Ngozi, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Maya Angelou. The aim is to strike a balance between African classics like Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Minute of Glory and contemporary titles like Aida Aomako's As We See It: Artists Redefining Black Identity.

We were determined for there to be something for everyone and Angama gave me a detailed idea of who their guests are. For the youthful travellers interested in the modern party scene in different cities across Africa and Europe, Ten Cities by Johannes Hossfeld Etyang is highly recommended, while Shades of Benga by Ketebul Music would be an excellent choice for music enthusiasts, particularly those who enjoy Kenyan music. Sulwe by actress Lupita Nyong'o, is just one of the titles in the children’s collections.

For the totos (children) Travels of the Zephyr by Caroline Mac Killian has maps that unfold and envelopes with secret letters

When I arrived at Angama, I was happy to help recommend books, recognising that hotels provide a unique opportunity for guests to learn about our beautiful country and the African continent at large. I highly recommend that everybody look through their own library with MUSTIE in mind to get the most out of your libraries and include an array of voices and perspectives in the mix to get the full picture.

Filed under: Inside Angama

Tagged with:

african literature , Angama Mara , Library , Reading

About: Guest Author

Members of the broader Angama family — be it guests, agents, suppliers, friends — contribute to the blog from time to time. We love to share their stories, too.

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