There are a few hundred kilometres of distance between Polokwane and Timbuktu and the two probably have nothing in common, least of all a breath of fresh air that is sweeping through the Limpopo capital. At the rate Timbuktu Book Club is accumulating momentum it holds the promise of fast becoming a revolutionary reading movement offering a unique platform serving diverse local literary interests.
A recent revival of Timbuktu Book Club activities saw a coming together of likeminded individuals of different ages reviewing, debating and discussing the thing that binds them together. By its third session held recently it was clear that a bigger venue might be required for future fortnightly meetings as a bulging membership had already surpassed the 30-target mark and the expectations of those pioneering the constitution of a formal structure.
Timbuktu Book Club grew from an initial relationship based on a shared love for books, the written word, literacy in its various forms and the smell of ink on a page dictated by informal and unofficial exchanges between Thapelo Matlala and Molebatsi Masedi. As erstwhile colleagues, their friendship of the past 15 years had grown from an original discovery of a common denominator.
Both had collected books for many years and throughout their careers their love of reading was steered by the demands to read as posed by the dictates of their respective positions. Having been able to travel has contributed to their adding on to their personal libraries. Their individual affairs with books started when Matlala was at high school in Kimberley while Masedi vividly recalls the first full-length novel he got to read at the age of ten being James Hadley Chase’s “Knock Knock Who’s There?”
They are quick to point out that they do not consider themselves pioneers of Timbuktu Book Club but are merely creating an enabling environment for members to own it. It is more than just sharing the stories of writers, but also about expanding knowledge and horizons and reading what one is not normally exposed to. The ultimate prize for them as coordinators would be to see a well-functioning book club in place and members deriving value from it.
The two are in concurrence about reading having become part of their existence. Masedi is profound in his description of reading being the oxygen that he inhales. And it is at this juncture that Matlala produces a copy of Suraya Dadoo’s “Why Israel?” and quoting the author reminiscing that it was her father’s reminder never to go to bed without reading the newspaper that stimulated her interest in global affairs and politics.
Matlala is evidently taken by the copy signed by the author during last year’s Jozi Book Fair. Being able to have an autographed copy of a book is a factor that counts in favour of hard copy versus e-reading, he reckons. Masedi simultaneously elaborates on the view that the book becomes extraordinary and the author’s signature increases its value. Zooming into the future, he raises the question whether books would be launched in cyber space. There is no arguing between the two that paper wins over reading on electronic gadget. To this Masedi adds that the owner develops a relationship with a book and “the book becomes a person”.
With Timbuktu Book Club readily making available titles through its growing virtual library, it compels older members to now convert to modern technology in order to join the dialogue over a title that comprises the largest part of any meeting agenda.
Matlala smilingly mentions that he downloaded his first book ever in preparation for a previous Thursday’s meeting, when Escape From Camp 14 of Blaine Harden was the topic of discussion.
He concedes that the cross-over is probably not a process that happens overnight. As much as there is nostalgia about being able to hold a book in one’s hands, one should recognise that one is living in changing times, reckons Masedi. He adds that although the war over preferred medium rages on the two versions of electronic versus print complement one another.
The choice for a name for the club was informed by Timbuktu being the place that harboured the first university in Africa and a reservoir of knowledge. Considering this, it doesn’t sound too far-fetched for club members to want to embark on a mission to go investigate the riches off the beaten track.
Story: YOLANDE NEL
Featured photo: Thapelo Matlala and Molebatsi Masedi, the pioneering spirits behind Timbuktu Book Club engaged in an ongoing war over book versus electronic gadget.