YOU can tell a lot about a place from what its reading. In hustling, church-going Windhoek, locals seem to make a beeline for all things money and prayer. "Our business and religion departments do very well here," says Exclusive Books (EB) store manager Clara Coetzee.
The large, brightly lit South African book store has been open at the Grove Mall of Namibia since November last year and on a Sunday afternoon, three friends, dressed well, perhaps post-church, discuss literature in the African Fiction section.
"Who is Chimamanda?" asks a young man who admits that he would like to read more but finds the whole thing a tad tedious. "Why is Maya Angelou in this section?" says his seemingly well-read friend who assures him that reading literature in general is somewhat overrated and is not the only way to learn.
The woman isn't wrong but she's in a book store - haunt of rabid page turners, rapacious book fiends and pathological bibliophiles - and there's an art to reading the room.
Books by Angelou aren't the only American ones given African pride of place. Toni Morrison and Roxane Gay stand tall in an African Fiction section dominated by South African authors and even the UK's Zadie Smith cracks the melanin nod. A cursory search for books by Namibian authors disappoints but Coetzee assures me that they do stock at least one.
"We do stock Namibian authors like Piet Van Rooyen 'By die Brandende Berg'," says Coetzee who presides over a whole wall of what may be Exclusive Books' largest section broadly titled 'Afrikaans' and adds that EB is currently waiting for feedback about stocking other Namibian authors from their head office.
In the meantime, Namibian authors are welcome to host book signings at the store which boasts a big white reading table where a trickle of browsers peruse the first few chapters of a potential new book which they may even do while sipping a cup of coffee.
"The store invites all Namibian authors to come and have a day whereby they can sign all their books in the store," says Coetzee who also praises Exclusive Books easygoing aesthetics.
"Exclusive Books - the name says it all - is something totally different. A very new experience whereby you don't have to feel like you're in a book store but rather a relaxed coffee shop, with lots of different gifts along with stationery, etc."
There's no in-house coffee, the Slowtown Coffee Roasters across the way has tragically closed down and Exclusive Books certainly inspires the hushed tones and respect for personal space revered in all book stores but this isn't a bad thing.
Surely shiny and welcome, Exclusive Books much like The Book Den, Book Buddy and Orumbonde Books does the great work of stoking Namibia's reading culture with the help of cheerful EB bookseller Amy-Leigh Hammond who is friendly, professional and quick with a book search.
Asked to recommend some African literature in a store divided into sections titled Travel, Religion, Health, Bestsellers, New Releases, Young Adult, Classics, Entertainment, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Teens, Children and more, Coetzee elevates Njabulo Ndebele's 'The Cry of Winnie Mandela', 'Black Widow Society' by Angel Makhokwa and Siya Khumalo's 'You Have to Be Gay to know God'.
Enjoying a steady stream of visitors on a Sunday afternoon and promising in its inclusion of black women authors such as Helen Oyeyemi, Chinelo Okparanta and Petina Gappah and willing to order my preferred books by Bernardine Evaristo, Akwaeke Emezi and Ocean Vuong, Exclusive Books is humming hopefully away at Grove Mall.
"We are super excited about what else will still happen once Namibians who don't know that we have opened yet find out," says Coetzee.
"Everyone is more than welcome. Booklovers, teachers, scholars, church leaders and followers of Christ, African readers, sport lovers. We cater for everyone."
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