School of Humanities and Social Sciences

A birthday counts as a special day for many people. For some, a birthday is accompanied with expectations. For such people, if one forgets their birthday, it is interpreted that those people don’t love them. We give gifts during such days and delight at our friends’ privilege of having had one more year in their lives.

Many people have complained of a poor general reading culture in Kenya. Many are accused of reading purely for academic purposes and never for fun. In fact, many people participated in the ‘academic fires’, where books were burnt after completion of studies in Form Four. While these assertions may be true, we chose not to join those who despair. We chose to do something about it.


We thought of the Books4Birthdays initiative where we encourage people to consider books as ideal gifts for their loved ones during their special days. The campaign also seeks to ask people to pledge committing to gift their friends with books during their birthdays. Even though the campaign has a special focus on birthdays, it actually means considering books as gifts on special days including Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Anniversaries, weddings etc.

The gifting of books is not only taken to mean the physical act of dishing out books. It symbolizes a show of support and solidarity with the other person, which starts by sharing the book. Therefore, here are suggested ideas to help with this campaign.

  • Before you start announcing to your friends about your birthday and your willingness to receive books as gifts, first give. The best way to ask for a gift is to give a gift. However, even when you gift someone, do not expect them to reciprocate. Just give and leave it at that.
  • Follow up with the person you gifted after a period of time and ask them if they read the book(s), what they learnt from it and resolutions made. If possible, discuss with them and ask them to write a book review which they can share with you/or their friends
  • When you receive a gift of a book from your friend on your special day, thank them by reading it. Read it and get back to them on what you learnt, how the book challenged you and any decision ignited by it.
  • You may be willing to gift a book but unable to purchase it. Don’t worry, you can recommend a book and guide your friend on how to get it. You could even share with them an interesting article from a blogpost or a website during their birthday.
  • Since gifting your friend with a book is only symbolic, by gifting them, you somehow commit to help them grow. So feel free to invite them for a reading related event, book launch, or any other activity which can help them be a better reader and a better person.

Start activities related to this. Here are some ideas you could start from:

  • Start a book club at home/where you stay. A book club involves getting one or two people you live with to read a book together rotationally at designated times and having a discussion thereafter. One of you reads the book as the other listens and vice versa. Do this for 30-45 minutes daily and discuss the readings.
  • Involving books in your romantic dates: When you take your loved ones out, what other better way to treat them than to carry a book and read together for the time you are together. It gives you a chance to introduce ‘difficult’ topics and opens the other person to share a part of them that you didn’t know existed. Please, the next time you are taken out, decline to go if a book is not involved.
  • Start a library at your home: I am always saddened when I visit someone and notice no trace of a book in their home. Have a small bookshelf and dedicate a small corner in your house as your library. Every book that you buy or you are gifted, read it and display it there. Every time you see it, your mind picks an idea that it is joyful to read. Tell your friends who visit you about the library and history of books in it. If possible, let the library be in a place where everyone who visits you can see.
  • Allocate a specific budget for books: When you budget for utility bills, rent and food, include books. Dedicate a specific amount of your salary to buy books (at least one for you and one for your friends monthly). Remember to allocate the budget and use it for that purpose every month.
  • Infuse books in your life: Follow a TV show or two about books, subscribe to a YouTube Channel of someone talking about books. Attend book related events once in a while, quote a book or two in your speeches. Try by all means to throw in a book here and there in your life.
  • Register and visit a library occasionally: Are you a registered member in any library? When did you last visit a library? Put it in your plan. Subscribe to a library near you and visit it occasionally. Take the kids there and let them roam around and read a bit. Develop this habit in them especially when they are very young. When you go shopping with them, pass by a bookshop and let them see and smell books.
  • Introduce incentives: Make reading cool If your child likes to be taken out, somehow tie it to reading. Gift them a book and tell them that when they finish reading, you will take them out. Keep your promise. Even when buying them things that are due to them, tie them to a book, especially when they are young.
  • Include books in your conversations: When your friend is in distress, gift them a book that calms them. When your friend is getting married, gift them a book that prepares them for marriage. When you visit your friend in hospital, gift them a book.
  • When you travel to a new country or town, buy a book. Be like those people whose hobby is to buy wine from different towns. Visit a library and bookshop in the town and see the nature of the books they have. If you find yourself with sometime in an airport as you wait to hop into another plane, pass by the bookshops there and pick a book or two (though the prices may not be encouraging). When you buy a book from a town you visit, inscribe the date you bought it or let one of your friends in that town sign it for you. Fourty years later, when you look at that book, it will be a great treasure and memory.
  • Window Shop in Bookshops/Online Bookstores: Just like you sometimes visit shopping malls and go window shopping, we encourage you to do the same for books. Pass by bookshops every time you visit a supermarket or a town. You may also take some time and browse through online book stores to see what is current and what is new.

As you can see, this initiative is broader than just dishing out receiving books as gifts. It is just but a gateway to a whole new world of books which you are all invited to. Indeed, the joy of books is immense and we have a chance of sharing it during this time and always. You may reach out to us through the email provided should you have any questions or suggestions.

This article has been written by Gabriel Dinda, Graduate Assistant, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. 


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