Wole Talabi writes fiction that closely resembles his reading choices. His book picks are some of the most eclectic I’ve come across so far on BOOK’D. I truly enjoyed reading his interview and noting a few writers outside my comfort zone whose work I would like to explore. For Wole, nothing washes down a good book better than a drink and his preferred reading location is miles above sea level. He shares why he prefers fiction over non fiction any day and the words in book blurbs that get his attention. Enjoy!
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1. What are you currently reading? Do you read more than one book at a time?
Right now I’m reading and loving Rosewater by Tade Thompson. It has this intoxicating blend of cyberpunk/biopunk action-thriller, an amoral narrator, a constantly shifting timeline and a highly unusual kind of alien invasion, all set in Nigeria.
For novels, yes, I usually only ever read one at a time however the short form is my first love and I’m always reading short stories from magazines and anthologies so sometimes I get an overlap between reading a novel and an anthology/collection (I just finished AfroSFv2 edited by Ivor Hartmann) but never two novels at a time. I like to focus a bit more with novels.For novels, yes, I usually only ever read one at a time... Click To Tweet
2. Have you always been a reader? What is the first book you remember ever reading? What drew you into reading/why do you read?
I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. By the time I was eight I had I read my father’s entire collection of Encyclopedias. By thirteen I’d read through my mother’s classic English literature collection. I read Enid Blyton and Ikebe Super. I read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Graphic novels and Frederick Forsyth’s political thrillers. I read The Iliad and Asimov’s work. I read a lot as a kid. I started early as an eclectic reader. I probably read a bit too much for a child and I’ve forgotten much of what I read then. I was too young to really appreciate much of it anyway, but reading so much so young created a sense of wonder about the world that I’ve never lost. These days though, I’m much more discriminatory about what I read.By the time I was eight I had I read my father’s entire collection of Encyclopedias. Click To Tweet
3. What is your philosophy on reading? (For example, some people have to finish every book they start)
I don’t really have a reading philosophy. But there are a few things I generally do or don’t do. For example, I never reread a book unless I’ve completely forgotten it. No matter how much I enjoyed it. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever not finished a book I began, but that’s probably because I’m stubborn and selective with what I choose to read so by the time I decide to read something, there is generally some expected merit which I am willing to work through to the end for.I never reread a book unless I've completely forgotten it. Click To Tweet
4. How often do you read? And how do you fit it into your day?
I think my reading has settled down to about a book a month. But I’m always reading short stories, most of them in magazines. I usually read short stories everywhere. On my way to work, at the bar, during lunch, in the taxi, everywhere. But usually I read novels when I’m travelling. On vacation or for work. Almost every novel I’ve read in the last five years is associated with a trip. Which I guess means that on average I travel once a month. Hmm.I’m always reading short stories from magazines and anthologies. - @wtalabi Click To Tweet
5. Where do you like to read? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book?
Usually I read in bars and cafés. I like to drink when I read. Tea, coffee, whiskey, wine, it all works.
Except when I’m travelling then its Planes, Trains, Ships and Automobiles. Haha. But seriously since I usually read novels when I’m travelling, I’ve grown to love reading on flights. Up in the air, disconnected from solid earth always feels like the perfect place to disconnect from reality. The only other place to rival it is reading on the open sea. Nothing to see but sea and sky for miles. It’s a good place to get lost in a story.the weirdest place I've ever read a book was on a speedboat in Mozambique. -@wtalabi Click To Tweet
I guess the weirdest place I’ve ever read a book was on a speedboat in Mozambique on my way to a dive site. I was reading Playgrounds of the Mind by Larry Niven and the water was really choppy but I was so engrossed I couldn’t stop.I like to drink when I read. Tea, coffee, whiskey, wine, it all works. - @wtalabi Click To Tweet
6. What makes a good book, in your opinion?
A good book is one that gives both the author and the reader what they want.
I say that first to highlight that the definition of ‘good book’ is always subjective and depends on what I as a reader, want. What I want personally from any book, it is to be amazed. I like the unusual, the complex, the unexpected, the bizarre, and the surreal. And any book that gives me that, either in its plot, characters, structure or language will probably be considered good to some degree. Any that doesn’t, wont.A good book is one that gives both the author and the reader what they want. -@wtalabi Click To Tweet
This, for example, is why I can recognize that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a top quality author but I don’t personally consider her work to be good for me because it’s not strange and unusual enough for my tastes. I see the technical and artistic merits of her work but I largely don’t appreciate them. There is one exception to that though. Her short story The Headstrong Historian which I think is just great and is the most interesting thing she’s ever written.
7. Who are your favorite authors to read?
Neil Gaiman. Ursula K LeGuin. Nnedi Okorafor. Carmen Maria Machado. Philip K. Dick. Teju Cole. China Miéville. Sofia Samatar. Stephen King. Ken Liu. Lauren Beukes. And so many, many more.
8. What is a book or who is an author you feel is very underrated?
I have to say the Ghanaian novelist and poet, Kojo Laing who sadly just passed away earlier this year. I had not even heard of him until last year. For example, his novel Search Sweet Country, is hardly known by the general public today but Binyavanga Wainaina, called it ‘The finest novel written in English ever to come out of the African continent.’ His short story Vacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ, is one of the best and most bizarre things I’ve ever read.
9. E-book, audiobook or paper? How do you feel about making notes/highlighting books?
Paper is my first love. The smell and the feel and the sense of holding a whole other world in your hands is unbeatable. Maybe I’m just romanticizing a silly sentiment that was established in my mind when I was a child but I genuinely have a compulsion to read books in paper, if I can.The smell and the feel and the sense of holding a whole other world in your hands is unbeatable. Click To Tweet
I’ll read an ebook (or PDF on my phone) if I can’t find paper copies. But I appreciate the convenience of ebooks and admit that I sometimes really appreciate the accessibility and weightlessness of ebooks over paper.
I can’t get through audiobooks.
As for making notes and highlight books, I don’t mind it. I sometimes enjoy buying a secondhand book and finding dedications, notes and comments scribbled in the margins. It adds a new dimension to the reading experience, one that exists between me and the previous reader.Up in the air, disconnected from solid earth always feels like the perfect place to disconnect from reality. Click To Tweet
10. Fiction vs Non-fiction?
Fiction. I don’t really read non-fiction anymore. Most non-fiction authors have an agenda and color their account of the facts or limit the information they relay so you end up with a narrative of half-truths which is worse than the complete-and-honest lies of fiction. Besides, fiction is the only place I can reliably get what I want from reading: sense of wonder, a sense of more-than-the-world.Most non-fiction authors have an agenda and color their account of the facts... Click To Tweet
11. What happens to you when you read a good book? (At the beginning, during and after the experience?)
Excitement, Engagement, Wonder. In that order. I first get excited just by a concept or presentation in its first few chapters and I can usually tell early how much I’ll like a book by how excited I am about its concept or style. During the read, I tend to be fully engaged which is probably why I don’t read two novels at time. I fully invest in the story and flow with the narrative. I even start wishing I could control the events in the story. At the end, I am filled with wonder. The world becomes bigger. My mind feels expanded. I think about things in new ways and start asking myself what-ifs and even, with some of my favorite books, I become unable to prevent elements of the story from creeping into my life, conversations with friends, work. I have actually written a meta-textual short story before where I allude to some of this and the relationship between author, character, story and reader, it’s called Wednesday’s Story.
12. Do you reread books? Why?
I already mentioned that I don’t. I suppose it’s because once something has filled me with wonder, experiencing it again is almost always disappointing. Unless I’ve largely forgotten it.
13. What book do you wish you could experience again for the first time?
Embassytown by China Miéville. By far one of the most original books I’ve ever read and definitely one of my top 10 science fiction books ever.reading so much so young created a sense of wonder about the world that I’ve never lost. Click To Tweet
14. What was the last great book you read?
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck which I just read a few months ago. This one I love not for its subject but for its style. It’s a masterpiece of ecclesiastical writing, voice and message.
I also have to mention, The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough. The book moved me.
15. If you had to choose three books that everyone should read, what would they be?
Almost impossible to answer, but my first instinct is to blurt out:
- World War Z by Max Brooks
- The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman
- The Wizard Of The Crow by Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa
16. What book(s) are you embarrassed to have read? What books are you embarrassed to still not have read?
I’m not really embarrassed to have read anything. Not that I can remember anyway. I’m fairly clear on what I like. Or maybe I’m just good at purging memories of bad books. Heh.
I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read any of Octavia Butler’s novels. I’ve only ever read one of her short stories.I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read any of Octavia Butler’s novels. Click To Tweet
17. How do you feel about ‘classic’ literature?
Well the first problem is defining what classic literature is. Who decides what the classics are? Mostly I find that books that are called classics are just the books that academics like to use to teach or highlight certain aspects of literature or its history. Some of them you can actually learn from or be entertained by, some of them are just relics of a bygone era. In that respect, they are fine and I am indifferent to them. I read the ones I think would be interesting to me and ignore the rest.Who decides what the classics are? - @wtalabi Click To Tweet
18. How do you feel about book clubs?
I’ve never really had any participation in book clubs so I don’t have much of an opinion on them.
19. What book(s) have changed your life, and how?
The only book that has really had a profound effect on me is probably The Sandman graphic novel by Neil Gaiman. That book expanded my view on everything: religion, art, the nature of dreams and reality, superheroes, family, everything.
20. How do you choose books to read?
Reviews and recommendations mostly: terms like original, surreal, high-concept, unusual are generally what puts a book on my radar. I also usually keep an eye out for new science fiction releases, especially African science fiction.
21. What book are you currently DYING to read?
I can be very patient with books I’m looking forward to. I don’t like to rush into them.
Right now, I really looking forward to reading The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. It is the first of a trilogy and the title refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics. It’s been on my radar for a few years but since its part of a trilogy I forced myself to wait until all three books were translated to English (the last one came out late last year) and I have them all now. It’s currently third on my to-read list and while I’m very tempted to move it to the top of the list, I won’t. I’ve waited this long for it, I can wait a little bit longer.
WOLE TALABI is a full-time engineer, part-time writer and some-time editor from Nigeria. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Lightspeed Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Terraform, Omenana, Abyss & Apex, The Kalahari Review, the anthologies Imagine Africa 500, Futuristica Vol. 1 and several other places. His story Wednesday’s Story is a nominee for the Nommo Award in the best short story category. He edited the anthologies These Words Expose Us and Lights Out: Resurrection and was one of the writers of the play Color Me Man. He currently lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Connect with Wole
Book’d is a weekly bookish interview seeking to foster conversation about books and reading. Read our last interview with Esther Edoho here.
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