1. The People’s Bachelor by Austin Bukenya: 42 years since it was published, still the best book to give to your friend, brother, sister, lover who just got into University. Especially Makerere University in Kampala, where it is set. Those three years whiz past, The People’s Bachelor slows them down, breaks down for you how your 20s will shape the rest of your life. Youth is not wasted on the young. The old ruin youth.
2. The Kalasanda Stories by Barbara Kimenye: What could it have been like to live in a small village in 1959 Uganda; before independence, before the wars, before the dislocation and acquaintance with the bitterness of exile? Kimenye takes you there, in her nostalgic look back. Sentimental, yes, cloying in places yes but it is all heart and it is true.
3. Understanding Uganda by Timothy Kalyegira: read this in manuscript. Kalyegira, like Reverend Innocent JamesOtto, tramped Uganda on his own resources before he wrote this short book barely 150 pages, texting his astonished discoveries back. The book maybe short but compressed in those pages are a lifetimes observations on Uganda by one of her more interesting thinkers, malcontents and lovers. No one writes better than an exasperated lover.
4. The Secret Country by David Kaiza: not available in the public domain, sadly, but I have read it. Kaiza is a great explainer. Reads, absorbs, does not regurgitate but enhances. One of the few writers who almost talks better than he writes, if you can follow his dizzyingly fast train of thought. But no, I’ll have the writing. Especially the essays and this cross cutter that unites Uganda and Kenya, exploring the sartorial savvy and history of the Karamoja region.
5. Run by Ernest Ssempebwa Bazanye: status uncertain, think a few excerpts have appeared. There are passages in this short novel that sear themselves onto the mind’s eye so that you will never drive down Jinja road without quite remembering how these young Bazanye corporates looked at Kampala and life in their Uganda before 2008, before tear gas was part of the downtown restaurant menu, bakoowu was in the slang and Eddy Kenzo had any sort of career.
6. Between Heaven and Hell by Jackee Batanda: I remember reading this and thinking, she got it, she got, if only she can keep it. Not easy to write from the other sex’s perspective convincingly but Batanda was able to do it in Between Heaven and Hell, her best short story of all that I ever read.
7. The Lesson of the Vulture by Sam Jude Obbo: All the best poets I know in Uganda quit or die young. I don’t know why. Obbo quit the form, after this perfect poem on the difficult relations between men and women and their desires when falling in love. Not easy to find this as it was published on the Makerere University Masscom Online platform that has since undergone many changes and probably lost a lot of the first content.
8. Three Levels of Elevation by Akiyo Michael Kasaija: Published in Kwani? When a poet writes prose, you can expect dense word play, undergrowth of meaning and allusion to sort through: a word and intellectual feast. Three Levels of Elevation is that, stuns you less than 10 paragraphs in and keeps hammering away. A story I did not want to come to the end of.
9. The Ugandan Paradox by Joachim Buwembo: Cannot consider this book without its sibling ‘How to be Ugandan,’ and reads like a continuation. A journalist takes you by the hand through his beats and tells you the stories his newspaper column would not let him tell, from myths to subjects he observed, interviewed, pursued and was sometimes pursued by. Too short!