Nurturing a lifelong love for reading

Nurturing a lifelong love for reading

Wendy Njoroge, the founder of Soma Nami, and African-focused book hub.

Photo credit: Pool

Wendy Njoroge, 34, describes herself as a ‘mum to four lovely children, wife, sister, daughter and now an entrepreneur’.

She is a career marketer with a BCom from Strathmore University and an MSc in Marketing from the University of Nairobi. She has played various roles in advertising and marketing. Wendy is the founder of the TBC Book Club, which has gone on to be the largest corporate-sponsored book club in Kenya, as well as Soma Nami – an African-focused book hub.

“I have loved reading for as long as I can remember and I was very fortunate to have siblings who also loved reading, so I naturally found myself reading their books, newspapers, anything that I could get my hands on. I especially loved reading the weekend edition of the Daily Nation. I remember John Kiarie’s comic column that I would not miss on a weekly basis.”

The first book that she read was Beauty and the Beast. She vividly remembers the illustrations; bustling rose bushes and the fair-skinned princess as well as the ghastly beast.

“Children tend to be very impressionable and this is something that I am very cognisant of as a mother. Representation is very important for children because it shapes their imagination and inspiration.”

As a reader, she tries to be open to all genres of books. However, she gravitates towards historical fiction.

Magical power of books

“I find that I enjoy stories that teach me of a different time and space. I know it is a good book when it inspires me to research further about a particular space, event, time period or phenomenon. Fiction has that ability to educate and entertain. What I look for in a book is something that can inspire my curiosity and educate me on aspects of life that I was unaware of. Books have that sort of ‘magical’ power to open up worlds that were previously unknown to me,” says Wendy.

Soma Nami started as an encounter at a book club between Wendy and her partner Muthoni. She says their book club was committed to exclusively read African books. While there, they kept having the challenge of finding the books that they wanted to read.

She says: “Books by contemporary Africans are not readily available in Nairobi and those were the books that resonated the most with our book club members.”

It was at this time that Wendy and Muthoni realised that they shared similar passions and a vision and so they set out to solve that.”

The two have intentionally created a book hub that nurtures a community of readers to discover books, interact with each other and have critical conversations on the issues that matter to them, as inspired by the books that they read.

“We pride ourselves in nurturing a community around books. This community is anchored in the celebration of African stories, ideas and experiences. As an African-focused book hub, you will find a diverse catalogue of books by Africans, Africans in the diaspora as well as women.”

Soma Nami also organises and hosts a range of community forums to catalyse conversations around books. They run their own book club as well as support other clubs by sourcing any books they would want and a meeting space as well.

Muthoni Muiruri and Wendy Njoroge

Muthoni Muiruri (left) and Wendy Njoroge. They grew their book club — Soma Nami — into a bookstore.

Photo credit: Pool

The book club runs on an open and free membership and anyone is free to join. They read one book per month and meet at the end of the month for the discussion. The space is also open to the larger book community to host events, author signings, book club meetings, readings and forums.

Wendy notes how important the digital element is in Soma Nami, seeing how they have a vibrant community that thrives online on social media, mainly Instagram and Twitter.

She says, “Our website also serves readers as far as Kapsabet, Mombasa, Kisii... basically all over Kenya. Our club also runs online on Zoom as well as in-person. We have book club members from as far as Europe and Nigeria. Digital channels; mainly social media and our website, have been very instrumental to how we operate.”

For Wendy, success is having one happy reader as she is big on small wins. She believes that those small wins accumulate to be big wins and so she tries to stay present to all the small wins, and not just holding her breath for the big ones.

To maintain a healthy work-life balance while running a business during a pandemic, she tries to prioritise rest, especially a good night’s sleep.

“Keeping a regular sleep schedule ensures that I have the necessary energy to keep going through the day. I also enjoy walking so I always opt to walk within short distances. It also gives me time to think, relax, strategise or just observe things around me.”

All-time favourite books

She says her family and friends have always been supportive of her, her ideas and ventures.

“They really have been going over and above to provide their time and resources whenever I have needed them.”

Wendy thinks that the future is bright for the book club because the reception they have gotten tells them that readers want representative stories as well as to belong to a community where they are seen and heard.

“Our hope for the book club is to continue cultivating the pan-African spirit by connecting readers from all over the continent and in the diaspora. As for Soma Nami the store, our goal is to be a home for every reader as well as aspire non-readers because we run on the philosophy that ‘there is a book for everyone out there,” she says.

Her all-time favourite book?

She giggles saying: “This is always a difficult question because I have read so many good books in my time. But if I had to choose a few of my top books, they would look something like this – Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie, House of Stone by Rosa Novuyo Tshuma and The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell.”