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Celebrating the book world, and salute to a weighty reference work

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Today, April 23, 2022, is a day for a global celebration of literature. The UN is marking today as both the ‘World Book and Copyright Day’ and ‘UN English Language Day’ – but for now my focus is on the first.

Coincidentally, currently, Ghana can be credited with a remarkable literary achievement, the publication of a colossal reference work, the 3,000+ pages Kwahu State Book.

Interestingly, the poignant theme of this year’s World Book and Copyright Day is ‘Read…so you never feel alone’. A simple, but perceptive slogan.

“Through reading and the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April, we can open ourselves to others despite distance, and we can travel thanks to imagination,” UNESCO), explains.

As indicated, Ghana’s State Book Project has launched the Kwahu State Book, a veritable tome of tomes. Its 3000+ pages certainly make it a record-breaker. Launched exactly a week ago at Mpraeso, Kwahu, it was undoubtedly the highlight of this year’s Easter there, an observance the Kwahus are noted for.

Described as an encyclopaedia of Kwahu, Eastern Region, it is the sixth, and is reportedly priced at GHȼ1,200. Earlier ones are: Awutu State Book, launched in 2012; Techiman State Book – 2014; Offinso State Book – 2016; Hwidiem State Book – 2017; and the Tepa State Book is under way.

Summary of the background to the Project:
In 2007 a need was felt to write and document histories of all the traditional states, the religious bodies, tourism sites and centres in the country.
Among other objectives:
To create history encyclopedia for each Traditional State in Ghana.
To document the histories of the royal families in each area to enhance understanding of chieftaincy conflicts, land acquisition disputes, inheritance contestations, etc.

Launching the Kwahu Book, President Nana Akufo-Addo observed that the State Books could help solve the many chieftaincy disputes because, among other things, they document the rightful succession to the royal stools.

By any standard, the State Books idea is fantastic and those who initiated it, as well as those implementing it, deserve commendation. These reference works represent a veritable researchers’ delight!

I’m yet to see any of the books, but judging from the description and the pictures I have seen in the media, the Kwahu one is indeed a hefty tome!

Regrettably, the different media estimations of the number of its pages were confusing!

Fortunately, a couple of days ago, I was able to make contact with the National Coordinator and lead researcher of the Ghana State Book Project, the very helpful Isaac Bright Botchway.

Mr Botchway confirmed that “the Kwahu State Book is one big book of over 3,000 pages, if you add all the addendum and Preliminaries. However, the numbered pages are 2,700.

“There are also five divisional State books, carved out of the main Kwahu State Book, that represent the five divisions of the Kwahu Traditional Area,” he added.

Again, clearly the enterprise is a worthy initiative. Indeed, I pray that it gets to the turn of my traditional area soon!

But how practical is it, asking readers to manoeuvre a 3000+-pages book? I believe that the essence, the joy, of a book is to be able to hold it and read it in comfort.

As one observer quipped: “It’s a huge book. You will need assistance to carry it – literally, not figuratively.”

And given its price, it appears that it’s not only its size that will stop high patronage of the book, even with researchers and institutions in mind.

Even if the intention is to produce just a ‘coffee table book’, obviously a reader has to pick it up at some point! And how easy is it to pick up, or hold, such a massive book?

Doubtless the project management had a good reason for making the main one 3000+ pages, but I wonder if the convenience of the potential readers was part of their deliberations.

How many people will make the effort of readily picking up a book of such a size, no matter how critical its contents? Looking at my own book shelves, some of the heaviest books are:
(a) LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
Autobiography of NELSON MANDELA – 630 pages;
(b) MANDELA (AUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY)
BY ANTHONY SAMSON – 678 pages;
(c) AFRICAN CULTURE IN GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT, THE GHANA PARADIGM
BY NANA KOBINA NKETSIA V – 868 pages; and,
(d) A SUITABLE BOY
BY VIKRAM SETHI – 1,474 pages!

Considering the Sethi’s 1,474 pages, little wonder that a quote from a review by The Times, captured on the front cover, states somewhat dryly: “Make time for it. It will keep you company for the rest of your life”!

Much as I treasure those tomes in my study, mostly acquired in the pre-Google rise era, ask me how many times I feel like picking one up! So I wonder how the other State Books are faring.

Perhaps the management’s idea of having divisional State Books should be the way forward. Instead of one mammoth book, maybe it should be just subject area books, as part of a set.

After all, it has been described as an encyclopedia and the encyclopedia we know (before the advent of the internet and search engines such as Google), used to be published in volumes – some as many as 32, in alphabetical order.

Most likely, breaking it up into a number of volumes might make it more expensive, but I believe that smaller books would stand a better chance of being read.

It may be unpalatable to those of us in print media to admit it, but the truth is that these days even newspapers have a hard time attracting buyers or readers.

And given the amount of work involved, surely the objective should be to produce work that people will utilize? Of what use would all the labour be, not to mention the funding, if it becomes a book people can’t readily reach for?

It would be a great pity if such a book, which by all indications is a mine of valuable information, can’t benefit as many people as possible, because of its size and price.

Should accessibility and reader-friendliness not be the principal objectives of a book?

Even for researchers, institutions and booklovers, evidently a 3000+ pages book must be beyond one’s comfort zone.

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