Nataka Book Discussion: What is your Favourite Pocket Book?

Updated: Jul 5

Inspired by a book review of 'Beer Pressure' recently, we decided to put together a collection of pocket books we have enjoyed over the years. What is your favourite pocketbook?

In the book trade, a pocketbook is 178mm x 110mm by dimension. The vagaries of binding the pages together after printing means pocketbooks should not run into more than say 200 pages - the middle pages become difficult to read !

The whole point is that the book is easy to carry, easy to read, very affordable in price meaning they are mostly paperbacks. It is probably the only book you can leave for the next passenger on the train, bus or your preferred mode of transport after reading it. This is what books should encourage more: less hoarding, more sharing of letters.

The famous Penguin classics are printed on 181mm x 111mm paper with a few variations by different publishers including the 198mm x 129mm standard for novels. Photograph Credit: Otieno Opondo.

Here are some of our favourite pocketbooks.

My Mercedes is Bigger Than Yours

Nkem Nwankwo

Like all great books, the opening lines lay the underground, invite you in and remain etched in your memory long after reading the book.

"Once upon a time, a young man was savouring the pleasures of a new car!" goes the first line in Nkem Nkwakwo's classic. Raw, energetic and propulsively funny !

A young man with a good degree and a good job thinks it is time he got himself a status symbol to match his position. The writing by Nkem conveys a Lagos on the move, living and full of life !

These Bones Will Rise Again

Panashe Chigumadzi

A memoir, documentary and political critique fused into one engaging narrative of the author's relationship with her family, especially her grandmother, travelling and living in Zimbabwe. The prose captures the coming-of-age consciousness about surroundings, her family history and the larger historical and political developments in her native land.

We found the sections where Panashe delves into folklore, ancient beliefs and connection to the present especially insightful and show a writer at ease with her art packed into a few words.

A Hole in the Air

Lazarus Panashe Nyagwambo

A collection of short stories from Carnelian Heart Publishing.

"...the people in these stories inhabit a world where their characters cease to be firm, self-defined entities and become fluid, ambiguous consciences as they thawed by their circumstances."

A Hole in the Air is a blend of intriguing stories that are sometimes as comical as they are sombre.

Looking forward to reviewing this book.

Available to buy here.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

Lola Shoneyin

Is this funny, entertaining and theatrical novel really about the wives of Baba Segi? Is it about polygamy? Or a tragedy? Or a comedy? Perhaps a tragic comedy?

Lola Shoneyin is a gifted story teller, with a grip on our attention as the four women end in the Baba Segi household. Traditional beliefs, sorcery, both imagined and real, and religion all play a role. The rivalry is enthralling. Does Baba Segi get "his foot caught in the snare he had laid for the antelope?" This is a classic.

Green Shadows in the Kiya Kiya Republic

Farai Mudzimgwa

Jimalo is a young man in a dystopian and mythical post-coup Zimbabwe, with negotiable morals and simple needs. He leaves the city of Harare with his money snake to conduct urgent business with an ancient river God in Kariva. All around them, green shadows loom and threaten their mission. All the duo wants is to kiya kiya and enjoy nice things, like the winners in the Republic. To kiya kiya though, as Brother David reminds Jimalo, is to summon the consequences of encounters with ghosts, gods, girly girls and grim guardians who move in mysterious ways.


Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje

Novels can be a great way to access history. As novels written about today's society, they paint a portrait of our times, however fictional the plot, setting and characters.

This classic by Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, who we consider to be one of the greatest South Africans and a son of the soil, portrays life before 1899 when displacement began in the lands known as 'Mzansi'.

People on the move, changes afoot, new arrivals all paint a picture of the landscape that will forever struggle to be at ease.


Tom Holland

It does not matter which Tom Holland book you read first. It will likely not be your last.

This pocketbook about the history of the first king who united the middle age kingdoms of Mercia, Sussex and Northumberland to create England in 924 AD will introduce this historian's brilliant work.

These books are a great way to introduce history and present the possibilities before diving into a specific era or subject (Christianity, crusades, ancient kingdoms)

Available to buy here.

Open City

Teju Cole

Presented as a novel but this book is more of an exploration of space, surrounding, interactions and how we move through them over time. A visual documentary is more apt, perhaps even a memoir?

For those familiar with Teju Cole's essays, there are no surprises but more offering of his insight, turn of phrase, attention to detail which will make you re-read paragraphs which adds to the unique prose.

There are few writers who write what they mean and find the precise words to express that very thought. Brilliant book !

Beer Pressure

Otieno Opondo

"Many readers find the title of my debut novel intriguing. Let me narrate to you the inspiration behind Beer Pressure. Well, it all started with a bottle of Serengeti Beer."

These are the first three sentences which introduced 'Beer Pressure' by Otieno Opondo.

Beer Pressure is a hilarious novel with jaw-dropping narration that highlights the harm peer (beer) pressure has done to the youth.

This book is not available in our market.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman

Non fiction books have reached the peak of their popularity in this age when everyone has advice and nuggets of wisdom to share. This book is not part of that show.

Kahneman is a scholar with multiple decades of research, fieldwork and has spent time thinking about the same issues. This book does not fit neatly into any genre like Behaviour, Economics or Philosophy.

Presented are the two ways humans think and make decision, instinctive and quick ones and the longer considered decision. Kahneman explores the basis for these.

Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage

Pathisa Nyathi

A collection of histories and recounted witness accounts are beautifully recorded by Pathisa Nyathi.

In years to come, knowledge previously passed down through storytelling and reciting poems or praises, a format known as 'Traditions' in academia, will be found in this written format.

A great book presenting various histories in the short format to be explored in detail elsewhere. An example is the origin of the name 'Zambezi'.

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