Where To Read

Where To Read In Johannesburg

In 2017, we started a series on where to read in Nigeria. Extending the series to other parts of the continent, Phathu, a literary enthusiast and the co-founder of the Literary Alliance Bookclub, shares 4 recommendations on where to read in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

BY PHATHU

As someone on a mission to read 52 books this year, I can easily be found stuck in the pages of a book while nestled on my couch, or in between my sheets. Sometimes, being surrounded by familiar walls eventually gets a little tiring - even for a self-confessed recluse. The experience of reading a good book and glancing away, only on occasion, to enjoy frothy coffee or chilled wine is always a win. When reading needs to be done away from home, here are a few spots in Johannesburg that I enjoy visiting.

 

Bridge Books, Joburg CBD

 Image: Bridge Books.

Image: Bridge Books.

If you are in downtown Joburg, Bridge Books has a great selection in African literature and doubles up as a coffee shop; serving some great cappuccino. The store boasts of beautiful reading tables that are customised with covers of some highly-acclaimed books such as Mohale Mashigo’s ‘The Yearning’ and Yaa Gyasi’s ‘Homegoing.’

Owned by the friendly and helpful Griffin Shea, the indie store is perfectly positioned on the bustling Commissioner Street, and is home to a diverse and delicious range of brand new and second-hand books. On a good day, a previously loved book on your to-be-read list can set you back only R20 (roughly 2 US Dollars) – a real steal by any standard! A bargain hunter like myself will definitely find Bridge Books a dream.

Joburg-based book clubs such as Literary Alliance regularly make use of the space, so, a random Saturday visit could result in you witnessing a passionate book discussion and perhaps, you meeting your favourite local author.

Tip: The second-hand books are right by the entrance. Start there and see what gems you can discover.

Go For: Books by African authors, children’s books, and coffee.

Avoid If: The busy Joburg CBD is not your cup of tea. Fortunately, they have another branch in Maboneng.

 

Exclusive Books in Hyde Park

A big fan of grounded coffee beans? Choose to wear your sweet tooth on your sleeve? Well, Exclusive Books is the spot for you! On any given day, you will find fellow bookworms occupying intimate reading spaces, or the more accommodative long reading tables that rest alongside bookshelves amassed with multiple genres of local and international books; some of which you can also find at their other stores nationwide.

There rarely is a shortage of good books to choose from, and I always stop by the delightful Pan-African section, which seems to improve with every visit. One of my favourite things to do there is sample books and authors I am curious about and keen on exploring. Even on a chilly day, everything above - coupled with the tasteful décor - is enough to tempt. My visits there are usually after work, which, fortunately, is a stone’s throw away.

Tip: There is a restaurant, EB Social Kitchen & Bar, adjacent to the bookstore. If you have time to spare, stop there for a quick bite. You could even buy a book and enjoy solo dining.

Go For: Good coffee and book launches.

Avoid If: You are on a sugar-free diet.

 

Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

 Image: Expedia.

Image: Expedia.

Sometimes, the outdoors provide a refreshing and even inspiring atmosphere to soak up nature’s goodness. When I manage to find time on a summery Sunday, I prefer to give the couch a break and lie on the grass to read. However, when I crave for a change of scenery, the tranquil Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden in Roodepoort gives the perfect opportunity to read and reflect in a picturesque environment.

The award-winning Garden makes for the ideal place for picnics, bird watching and hiking. It is also a great place to take some pictures to adorn your social media accounts. Naturally, some slightly distracting moments may grace you with their presence, though usually minimal: think of glorious birds chirping about, people enjoying relaxed strolls, and jovial kids running around. A pretty butterfly could also land on your book while you are looking away.

Tip: The Garden gets busy at times but if you take a walk around, you may find a quieter, intimate space to read. Entrance is between R15-50.

Avoid If: You are easily distracted and have a hard time locating your spot in a book.

Go For: A relaxed and breezy reading environment outside your comfort zone.

 

Sandton Library

If you are looking for a relatively peaceful location to read, a library is probably the perfect place. Just outside one of Johannesburg’s most loved tourist attractions - the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton - lies the resourceful Sandton Library. With three stacked floors, there is ample space to get lost in your favourite piece of literature, or discover different titles. The library also affords you some privacy, which is extremely welcome; especially if, like me, you can only visit on a weekend when it is quieter. Sadly, drinks are not allowed inside, however, the peaceful environment allows for a productive reading session.

The library occasionally hosts book sales where you can grab a second-hand book for as little as R10 or R20 (roughly 2 US Dollars). Book events and launches are a regular sighting, too. The library is said to be home to over 90,000 books which readers in the community can borrow for an annual fee of R48. Be sure to take a copy of your ID and proof of residence to sign up.

Tip: The library has different operating hours on certain days; be mindful when you go.

Go For: A noise-free environment is not your vibe.

Avoid If: A noise-free environment is not your vibe.

 

A few other spots in Johannesburg that I would recommend are Book Circle Capital in Melville and African Flavour Books in Braamfontein — both of which specialise in African literature and have just recently opened.


Got any favourite reading or working spots in Johannesburg we should know about? Share in the comments and let us know what to look out for! 


 

Where To Read In Abuja

This article is the second in a series on where to read in Nigeria, and is written in partnership with Twang Africa - an online retailer, distributor and collector based in Abuja. We'll call this one cafés and libraries.

BY TWANG AFRICA

All around the world, cafés are the go-to inspiration hub for writers and readers. Be it to get some work done, meet new people or just for some pictures to earn some cool points on Instagram, here are two cafés in Abuja that we highly recommend.

 

CLASSIC ROCK COFFEE

 Image: Classic Rock Coffee.

Image: Classic Rock Coffee.

Located at Ajesa Close, just off the ever busy Aminu Kano Crescent, Classic Rock Coffee is a café full of chic splendour. Once you step into the building, you immediately feel at home as the aroma of fresh coffee wafting effortless in the air welcomes you. The ambience is sophisticated, with a setting that crosses between contemporary and rock and roll.

On the walls are pictures of rock artists and covers of some of the greatest rock albums. You can’t help but get lost in the pictures and grand décor as even their coffee tables are actual drums! You’ll need a constant nudge to remind you that you’re visiting for something else – to read! You could either take a seat at the lounge upstairs or by the bar downstairs.

Either one you choose, you are sure to be welcomed by their very friendly staff. Classic Rock Coffee offers a variety of cocktails, mocktails, smoothies and - as you’ll guess from its name - great coffee! If you get hungry, you could always get something off their incredible menu. It may, however, not be the perfect spot for quiet readers as there’s always music playing through the speakers. Not to worry though, it’s good music!

Tip: they have Karaoke nights on Wednesday evenings, and a live band on Fridays.

Go For: great coffee, chic ambience and inspiration.

Avoid If: quiet reader and on a budget.

 

SALAMADER CAFE

Salamander Café is a favourite among writers, readers, expatriates and the general art community in Abuja. It is located in Wuse II. Here, you will find a small but dazzling space with a chilled vibe. The food - ranging from Pasta to great salads to traditional meals - and drinks are always a delight, and so are the staff. Must, however, warn that it is a little pricey!

A peculiar thing about Salamander is that it doubles as a mini bookstore. Towards the extreme end of the room, there is a beautiful space dedicated to the best of Nigerian authors like Leye Adenle, Toni Kan and Edify Yakusak. For book connoisseurs like us at Twang Africa, Salamander always leaves us inspired.

All in all, Salamander Café have you wanting to come back.

Tip: events and book launches are often held here. It may be worth getting in touch before visiting to read or work.

Go For: (non-)accidentally bump into an Nigerian author.

Avoid If: can’t resist the temptation of new books. Home is always safe - well, not entirely so, with Twang Africa just a click away!

 

LIBRARIES

Libraries are typically discarded as places to read leisurely, and are often a last resort for many in Abuja and nationwide; owing to the fact that most are poorly maintained, and in most cases, people don’t know that 316 libraries exist! Nonetheless, libraries are a great place to read, research and work.

 

YAR’ADUA LIBRARY

 Image: Architectonics and Style.

Image: Architectonics and Style.

The Yar’Adua Library is located in the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre, and was built in honour of former President Shehu Yar’Adua. The centre has a gorgeous atrium (meaning plenty of natural light!), a museum and its extensive library. For a monthly fee of 10,000 Naira, you can make use of the library which has an exciting range of books that cuts across several subjects and genres. It also has free Wi-Fi (always a plus!) and good space.

Tip: events are often held at the centre, making it noisy at times. Call in before visiting to double check schedule for the day.

Avoid If: secluded places are preferred.

Go For: conventional reading spaces and exploring new subject area

 

BMT AFRICA GARDEN LIBRARY

 Image: Twang Africa.

Image: Twang Africa.

Just by the Swiss Embassy is a narrow road which leads to the entrance of the BMT Africa Garden Library. You walk into a gem of a garden with lovely fountains, a mini zoo, lots of green areas, lounges and chill spots. At BMT, you’ll also find a mini exhibition of photographs and artefacts.

The library itself is relatively new and doesn’t have a huge selection of books but the quiet and serene environment makes up for it. What makes BMT stand out is its multifunctional space. You’re not restricted to the four corners of its library. Should you need some stretch, you could settle in the garden chairs to read.

Though access to the garden is free, the use of the library is not. You can subscribe to be a member for 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 Naira per month, quarter or year, respectively. We’d, however, say to buy something - as little as a cold drink - if you use the garden space.

Tip: be careful when entering through its really narrow path which leads downhill to the garden.

Go For: quiet and serene reading/working space.

Avoid If: Not animal friendly. Peacocks, ostriches and other animals could be found lounging. Don’t fear  — the dangerous ones are locked!

 

Other great Cafés and Libraries worth checking out in Abuja are the Bunna Café (the coffee there is to kill for!), Metro Café and the National Library in Area 2.


Got any good reading or working spot in Abuja we should know about? Kindly share below or via our social media pages, and let us what type of reader/worker it caters to. 

Where To Read In Lagos: Part I

This article is the first in a series on where to read in Nigeria. The Lagos edition is split into two parts - one covering Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki, and the second covering Lagos Island and the mainland. 

BY TOBI

Sometimes, reading at home just does not cut it. Your attention is often either being pulled in ten thousand directions, or your inspiration tank could easily find itself on reserve. For me, quirky and creative spaces with good bites and great coffee make the perfect work spot! On moving to Lagos, one of the first questions I asked anyone I met was "where would be a good spot to work or read?" My flexible work hours and a recommendation by writer and photographer, Eloghosa Osunde, have had me scouring through Lagos for the cosiest and most inspiring spots - few of which I share below.

 

CAFE NEO

 Image: Cafe Neo; pictured is the Agoro Odiyan outlet.

Image: Cafe Neo; pictured is the Agoro Odiyan outlet.

The moment your loyalty points are racked up enough to buy you a cup of coffee or two in just six weeks, you know that the coffee is either really good, or you have an addiction to tend to. Pleading guilty to both charges, though more of the former, this is my Cafe Neo story

Cafe Neo is where the freelancers, entrepreneurs and writers in Lagos convene - I tend to call it Lagos' Starbucks! Each outlet has a peculiar and vibrant feel, with clean and earthy decor; the workspace, with the exception of their 'pop up' outlets, would usually have a combination of sofas, stools and chairs, so you can stand, bend or stretch as much as it pleases you.

Their coffee is the best (or second best - Four Point's cinnamon latté is surprisingly good!) I have had in Lagos. Non-coffee lovers are also in for a treat as they also offer fresh juices, hot chocolate and wine. Nibbles wise, they serve the yummiest carrot cake and offer a few pastries and snacks. My advice would be to grab a meal before committing your day there, unless calories are your thing.

For a fairly quiet or an outdoor Neo experience, go to the Adeyemi Lawson outlet. If you go on a Sunday, consider watching an open-air movie afterwards. Of the five of eleven outlets on the Island I have visited, my favourite, however, remains Cre8 - the Agoro Odiyan branch in VI. If you visit, tell Precious that I sent you! You will walk away with the warmest smile, and the best-made drink!

Tip: you can have your hot drinks made with caramel, vanilla or chocolate syrup! If you are lactose intolerant, ask for Soya milk. You also want to have your croissant hot!

Go For: Coffee, meeting (new) people, free wifi, music and good vibes.

Avoid If: Quiet reader, on a diet, and do not want to see someone you know.

 

ART CAFE

Art Café is indeed a hub for inspiration. It has a bohemian, hippy and chique feel to it - something like a convergence of Central European Countries, France and the Middle-East. If you are looking for somewhere "alté"or retro, Art Café in VI, is certainly the place for you.

If it is not hanging from the ceiling, you can find art hanging on the wall next to you, or in the gallery downstairs. It is the perfect spot for a creative to get lost in! They serve hot drinks, chapman, wine and beer (on tap, too!) and in true cafe style, a few bites - although I must confess that I was not impressed with the turkey toastie I had, especially not for the price.

That being said, it is a little pricey. If you are balling on budget, this is certainly not the place to stunt. While the ambience is fantastic, it loses a few points for comfort as the tables are so far away from the sofa. If you are solely there to sink into a book, the sofa is perfect. If like me, however, you have back pains, ditch the sofa, and come with a pillow for the regular chairs. 

If you prefer to work silently, Art Café may not be the place for you, as you will seldom find indoors nor the cute terrace quiet. Even on less busy afternoons, you are guaranteed to assimilate two stories - the one you are reading, and the one spilling from the next table. Consider visiting the gallery, and then walking down to Browns' on the same road - Eloghosa swears by their pancakes!

Tip: go on a Friday afternoon, and unwind with a shandy, addictive nuts and live music playing from 7pm on Friday nights. You can also get your hot drink made with Soya milk!

Go For: Art Gallery, Bohemian inspiration, free wifi, and draft beers.

Avoid If: Hungry, minimalist, and not a fan of people watching.

 

BOGOBIRI house

Bogobiri has a special place in my heart for thousands of reasons. You feel its eclectic, pan-African and antique vibe as soon as you walk through the gates. Turn to the left for its restaurant, walk straight down to a mini library and space of open mic nights, or turn right for its souvenir shop.

The real gem is, however, the Nimbus Art Hub, which can up found up the spiral stairs by the graffiti encased wall. The space is heaven for all art-lovers, history- and culture- enthusiasts, music lovers and bookworms. You are welcomed by an extensive library with a wide range. If you are looking for an old book, or looking to uncover your roots through literature, look no further!

From the quirky chairs to the hand-placed shells on the walls, Bogobiri is all sorts of feels. The first time I visited, I walked into a room with old vinyl records of the greatest African classics, and danced and sang along to Ipitombi as the Art-gallery manager, Chike, educated me on pre-colonial Africa and the importance of history, books and heritage. Need I say how at home I felt?!

The space is great for reading, and meeting other like-minded people. A plus is the delightful food - it is affordable and good value for money! It does take a couple of minutes, so be prepared to get through a chapter with a cup of tea. If you are looking for a stay-cation in Lagos, their hotel would make the perfect spot. You might just be lucky to get fresh Moringa leaves like I did, too!

Tip: sign up to become a member, and have access to their extensive library! They have live music playing on Monday/Wednesday nights; Spoken word on Thursday night and Reggae on Saturdays!

Avoid If: On a diet, uninterested in (African) history, and detest nature. 

Go For: Art Gallery, great food, a discovery of self and history and fast wifi.

 

JAZZHOLE

Jazzhole is your one-stop-shop for everything (Afro-) Jazz and Juju music: from old school Sino Bakare to new school Asa. What draws you in is, however, their array of books on display! Again, with a wide range - that is, from classic books to your latest authors - Jazzhole has it all.

Just a few minutes in, you are bound to get lost in its vintage feel, and forget you are in Lagos! The space is such a stark contrast to the madness you walk in from on Awolowo road in Ikoyi - it is warm, friendly and exhilarating! Further down is a cute work space with a homely cafe and a live music set-up right opposite it. Here, you can also grab cakes, coffee, tea and freshly made juices.

With Jazzhole, I would caution that discipline is needed in abundance. You can easily spend your time drooling over their books, or feeling so inspired, you finish your read in no time! To be honest, either way is a win-win. The former was the case when I visited with Niki, who could not stop gushing about authors I knew nothing about, and literature on the Soviet Union. 

The 'downside' about Jazzhole, however, is the price of the books - they can leave you clutching your chest tightly, and your purse tighter. Thus, budget ballers, beware! For me, it makes such a cute and artsy spot to read as it drowns out the noise of Lagos. The tables and chairs are quite small, so do avoid bringing your whole library. Ask for Mr(s) Tejousho if in need of a story or two! 

Tip: they often have jazz nights, listening sessions and (international) artistes play.

Go For: Jazz or live music, fresh juices and smoothies, and classic literary finds.

Avoid If: On a budget and like spacious reading/working area.

 

A few other spots I would recommend would be Blowfish, Maison Fahrenheit and Radisson Blu - all in VI; Wheatbaker in Ikoyi; Four Points in Lekki. These are all hotels with beautiful and calming poolside spaces. The latter's rooftop and restaurant downstairs are perfect reading spots!


Got any favourite reading or working spots in Lagos we should know about? Kindly share below or via our social media pages, and let us know why it's a must-go!