Thomas Mlanda is a writer, literary theorist and critic. He’s also the founder of Set Book Help, an initiative that seeks to revolutionise the consumption of Literature in Kenyan secondary schools and help to cultivate a reading culture. He spoke to about his literary favourites.


1.Tell me the three books that excited you the most in 2017?

I tend to pick an author whose work has excited my interest then follow up on their general literary output. Two thirds of those books would be by the US Nobel Prize winner, John Steinbeck: The Pearl, and TheGrapes of Wrath. I’m in awe of Steinbeck’s social awareness. The third one is a book-length essay by Jonathan Franzen, Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels. 

2.Which two books do you hold so dear that they can’t possibly be lent out?

Those must be from my little home library; the classics Metamorphoses by Ovid, and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. I’m told Metamorphoses is one of the texts that William Shakespeare was properly schooled on while at Stratford Grammar School. My reading of it is a treasure hunt. Meanwhile, I’m stuck on a continuum of personal inquest on why at some point in history, the popularity of The Communist Manifesto was only second to the bible.

3.Your favourite childhood books? Why?

As a kid, I had the hots for Ladybird Fairy Tales Series: Rumpelstiltskin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alibaba and the Forty Thieves, etc. They were the most in the collection my father would buy.

4. If you were to dine with three writers dead/alive, who would they be and why

Mmmh. That’s tough. I’d go for Chinua Achebe, Dambudzo Marechera and Warsan Shire. I’d seek to know Achebe’s position on the world debate between low and high culture in literature, especially in the context of African literature. Dambudzo Marechera’s life is an encyclopaedic definition of rebel. I love social misfits, the break-away elements in society. Warsan Shire is simply ‘’terrifying, and strange, and beautiful: someone not everyone knows how to love.’’

5. Most unforgettable character from a book?

Peter Van Houten, the author of An Imperial Affliction in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

6. Which book do you wish you had written and why?

John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. It is brief in length, homely to the reading mind, and multi-coloured. Such are qualities of a cloth I’d wear over and over again.

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