The Stray Bulletin

Arts and culture in East Africa and beyond

Interview in The Saturday Monitor November 8, 2010

Filed under: Me in the news — Sophie Alal @ 7:02 am

BOOKS THEY READ: Sophie Brenda Alal

By Beatrice Lamwaka

Posted Saturday, November 6 2010 at 00:00

Sophie Brenda Alal is winner of Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award 2010 and a freelance contributor with She writes poetry and short stories.

What and why do you read?
I read anything good that’s printed, be it books, adverts, comics, peer reviewed journal papers, newspapers, magazines, blogs and signposts among others. Every now and then, I sample some trashy magazine or website just for fun and for cultural reference. I’ve been a voracious reader since childhood, all credit to my intellectually intrepid mother who made sure that we had a good start with books before toys. The most important aspect of reading is that it’s a pleasurable way of increasing knowledge and language skills. It’s also one of the relatively cheap and safe ways to escape boredom.

Who is your favourite author?
That’s a difficult question; there are so many fantastic authors out there that I’d be dishonest if I singled out one. Some are academic writers of nonfiction while others are creative geniuses. Off head are Slavoj Zizek, Germaine Greer, Sylvia Tamale, Monica Arach de Nyeko, Jackee Budesta Batanda, Regina Amollo, Okot P’Bitek, Arthur C. Clark, Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, R. L. Stevenson, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Which is the most boring book you have ever read?
Oh dear, this isn’t a nice question. I can only think of Moses Isegawa’s Abyssinian Chronicles and Segun Afolabi’s Goodbye Lucille. I found Isegawa’s book quite difficult to read while Afolabi’s book was so effortlessly bland that advancing into the second chapter eluded me. Most of my colleagues also stopped somewhere close to the end.

What is your favourite quote?
“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” James Baldwin.

Where do you buy your books?
Believe it or not Owino Market is good. There’s a lady who sells used books near at the extreme end of the market where shoes are sold. Kampala Road and the entry to the Old Park are also alright. Then there’s Fahad’s at the Ntinda Shopping Mall which has some reasonably priced gems every now and then. Unless I can’t help it, I’ll go to Aristoc or the Makerere University Bookshop.

How long does it take you to complete a book?
It depends on how compelling the narrative is, and also the length of the book in question. Will Self’s 50 page fantastical A story for Europe took me only an hour to read. Whereas, in Secondary school, The Count of Monte Cristo took me a whole three months to finish.

Where do you read from?
Everywhere as long as there is a wall to lean on or a surface to sit. I used to like reading in public parks, but most if not all of them have been fenced off by investors or developed into sleazy commercial buildings.

What is cooking in your writing career?
I’ve got an old battered suitcase filled with the poems and short fiction that I’ve been writing on and off for the last 15 years, hopefully they will be published one day.

Biographies and novels, which do you prefer?
I prefer novels. Biographies tend to be constructed from materials whose selection and interpretation of private truths may not be so balanced. Biographies also strike me as a kind of triumphal writing where the rich and powerful try to show a human face. However, people concoct and exaggerate stories all the time in order to be on the correct line.

What’s the longest you have ever taken without reading a book?
I can’t tell, because the absence of books in my life is so insignificantly short-lived. Otherwise I’d know for sure if it was for a longer while. For now, I am reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, but I am yet to finish Arthur C. Clark’s A Space Odyssey.

Does what you read keep on resounding in your mind?
Yes, of course especially when I find a magical phrase or an experience that resonates deeply with an aspect of my life, or with that of somebody known to me.