The evening is near and the scorching sun that graces the face of the heavens is fast setting. Its fading rays cast long shadows on the bumpy road, while the architectural designs of the buildings in sight tell of the calibre of people who inhabit the neighbourhood.
Lekki, a fast developing section of Lagos, is mostly populated by the upper class. Little wonder some unusual sense of quietness pervades the atmosphere. This home is shrouded by wild greens and the rather quiet atmosphere is a sharp contrast to the noisy Lekki/Ajah Expressway.
Piles of books adorn the long stretch of shelves in the living room and the settees are very antique. They are simply made of canes. A 24-inch Plasma television sits atop a wooden cabinet. To cut a long story short, everything about this home exudes simplicity and antiquity in modern times.
The shelves in the living room are no match for the ones in the inner chambers. Piles and piles of books are everywhere in Seun Ogunmodede’s home! It’s amazing that as a young managing director of a privately-owned company, Ogunmodede eats, drinks and sleeps with books!
“I imbibed the culture of keeping a home library from my mother,” explains Ogunmodede. “It may sound strange to some people that a woman has a library in her home. But it’s true that my mother developed my interest in books. She has a very good library (which she still keeps) with very rare books one can think of.”
Keeping a library in the home is what many people regard as a treasure, some kind of lifetime fortune. The fortunes are two-fold: first, the knowledge they acquire from reading the books; and second, the fact that some of the books are ancient and modern classics which are usually hard to come by. Hence, a library in the home is some kind of intellectual goldmine.
In fact, some people say they would prefer to inherit their parents’ libraries to any other asset. “I don’t mind inheriting my mother’s library,” adds Ogunmodede. “I enjoyed feasting on the books as a young boy. Money cannot buy the knowledge I gained from the books I had read. Although I am from a wealthy home, I will love to inherit the library in our home.”
As a young girl in the late 1970s, Ronke Adewale says she grew up sniffing around her home for the latest collection of books in her father’s library. At the tender age of 10, she had nearly completed all the Shakespeare titles. She had also read the works of Chaucer, Christopher Marlowe, including the poems of Alexander Pope, John Donne, WB Yeats, among others.
“My father was a collector of English classics,” Adewale recalls nostalgically. “He had a very huge library in our home in Ibadan. He ensured that all his children read the works of great English and Russian writers. He was a lover of books.”
As in Ogunmodede’s case, piles of books grace the shelves in the living room of famous Nigerian poet and author, Odia Ofeimun, and the settees are very antique.
“My friends tell me to change my furniture,” explains Ofeimun. “But I simply tell them there is nothing wrong with them. I just want them the way they are.”
Everywhere in Ofeimun’s home there are piles and piles of books! This propelled BusinessLife to probe the mind of this renowned poet who treasures books. But Ofeimun would rather talk about his favourite authors than his favourite books.
“Which book do you consider your favourite?” I ask.
“A book? Just a book?” he replies sharply. “Ah, no o, it’s difficult to tell. I can tell you there are authors I find very difficult to give up. I mean, I have always read them and I still read them.”
Such is Ofeimun’s love for books that one cannot help but imagine that his library is worth millions of naira considering the quality of books on his shelves.
Mayowa Adenaike, a book collector and avid reader, says some home libraries are worth millions if the value of the books is considered. “The books in a home could be valued at N5 million or more, depending on the kind of titles they are,” he explains.
Ogunmodede agrees with Adenaike that books are valuable assets worth millions of naira. “The estimate of my mother’s library,” he says, “is about N2 million. That is an average estimate. I’m sure book experts may do a better estimation than me.”
However, sustaining this great reservoir of knowledge and turning it into a family heritage is never an easy thing. Updating the books and preserving the older reading materials, adherence to some simple rules and making proper use of it are some of the challenges that come with having a family library.
The concern of Bimpe Adeosun, a brand consultant, is the preservation of books in the home which can be easily infested by ants. “Books are valuable,” she agrees, “but can I keep them for so long considering that they could be tampered with by insects? I have some books from my grandfather that have been almost destroyed by insects but I have to dust them because they are rare Yoruba novels.”
And so, owners of home libraries take great care to ensure that their ‘treasures’ are well protected against insects and people who borrow books but never return them.
Apart from the early morning devotion that brings every family member together, the family library at far-end of the living room of the Kolawoles at Agbara, on the outskirts of Lagos, gives the family much cause to unite in reading.
The library, established with 25 books by Ajasin Kolawole, the patriarch of the family, about four decades ago, now hosts the descendants of the book-loving late grandpa in pleasurable, research and educational reading, with over 1,000 books to choose from.
Besides bringing to the consciousness of every family member the importance of reading, the small but rich library is a typical well-kept family value and gives the Kolawoles and their friends a sense of pride.
Apart from reading newsprints, magazines and watching cable TV, one of the family members who once won N25,000 in the MTN ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ show says he owes his sharp and retentive memory to the volumes of books he read at the family library. Of course, other family members who indulge in the daily ritual of reading initiated by their grandfather also do well in the academic field, mental exercise and public issues due to the time they devote to reading books, manuscripts and files in the library which they have not been able to exhaust till date.
“Ours is a quiet family,” says Tunji, a family member who is also a banker, “because when there are no chores to do, you find yourself a book to read. And my father’s admonition has always been, ‘Get positively busy with a book.’”
For some people, keeping a library in the home helps them reconnect with the past and connect with the present and future. The joy of delving into the family genealogy, knowing one’s grand and great grandparents without seeing them, reading about the exploits of men of old and reconciling true historic accounts with popular tales are some of the benefits the family members gain by visiting the library.
“You can’t tell me where I come from because the evidence in my library is enough to connect my past and present and even project my future,” the banker adds.
Gbenga Esan, a manager in a blue-chip company, has a library at home. It occupies a whole room in the house, with many more books stuffed into plastic containers simply because his bookshelves cannot hold any more. He tells more: “My books are arranged and sectioned by topic, which includes my 19th century print editions, computer books, oversized reference books, economics, personal finance, children’s books, fiction and non-fiction, literatures and different versions of the Bible. They are organised and I know where to go to when I need to get any particular book I want.”
A home library is one of the finer things in life. It is something that many people aspire to own, especially people with a scholarly bent or those who have collected beautiful treasures that they would like to display.
One can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a man by his library. Little wonder Babatunde Badmus, a gynaecologist, admits: “I love books a lot. When I was young, I admired my uncle’s library and said I would love to own one when I grow. Today, I can say my dream has become a reality. My library contains books on Biology, Ethnology, Psychology, Anthropology, History of Science and of Thought, Art, some important works on Physics and Mathematics, diverse essays and music.”volumes BROWN