The Nairobi Book Centre

2% of the world’s rarest zebras wiped out in Kenya’s relentless drought.

We now have three elephants with a range of eight miles between us. We are friends with them.

On one of my first visits to Nairobi, I asked a local market lady to recommend a good bookshop. She replied that I would have to travel to one of the more important bookshops in the world, Nairobi. It is called the Nairobi Book Centre, run by an American couple. I can’t remember where in the world I first visited the Nairobi Book Centre, but when I visited Nairobi again, I walked into this bookstore in the middle of Nairobi’s busy business district and it just took my breath away.

This store was as modern, as cool and hip as anyone in the world could have desired—with a huge selection of books and books about books, a huge selection of African books, and a cafe where customers could sit quietly and read. I immediately bought _Good Company_ by Mark Twain, and from there I bought _The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_. The Nairobi Book Centre was my first introduction to Africa.

My first memories are of books. It was in 1972 when I was six years old. I knew that my mother would always tell me stories about Africa—stories about elephants and lions and leopards and so on. And I thought, I will go to Africa one day and find my own bookshop.

In the 1970s, the idea of going to a bookstore with a child was a very exciting one, but I must have fallen a bit behind the times. By the 1970s there had been a rise of street vendors selling literature and books in the major cities of the world. There was an explosion of the idea of the “book seller,” who opened an independent bookshop in his or her own home, rather than a small shop in a market or, as was the case of the Nairobi Book Centre, in a shop on the corner in a busy street.


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