BOOK’D| SUYI DAVIES OKUNGBOWA
I stumbled upon Suyi’s writing on WordsAreWork and his approach to reading really got me inspired! It was a no brainer to have him on BOOK’D. I enjoyed reading his interview and I know you will too! He shares why he’ll never tell someone else what to read, more on his reading schedule and the authors and books that have helped him grow as a writer. His recommendations are a mix of literary fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction and non fiction! Enjoy!
1. WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?People read only one book at a time? What new technology is that? - @IAmSuyiDavies Click To Tweet
Lots of things (all at once, of course). I usually plan my reading calendar in quarters of the year–4 books and above every 3 months–then read in a haphazard fashion. This quarter, my fiction list consists of Naomi Alderman’s The Power; Toni Morrison’s Beloved; re-reads of Jo Thomas and Margret Helgadottir’s African Monsters anthology and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie. On the nonfiction side, I have Chinua Achebe’s There Was A Country and I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi. Then of course, I’m always reading short stories.I usually plan my reading calendar in quarters of the year--4 books and above every 3 months Click To Tweet
People read only one book at a time? What new technology is that?
Current bedstool. (Photograph: Suyi Okungbowa)
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’ll say I’ve always been interested in stories, telling them as well as experiencing them. So yeah, naturally, reading kinda became a part of everything I did. I can’t really remember a first book per se, but I remember going through the common middle-class Nigerian kid slash teenager library: Enid Blyton, Goosebumps, Dickens, Shakespeare, Harlequin, etc, before segueing into The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born and The Godfather.
Abi this is not the common middle-class Nigerian kid library? No vex.
I read because, how else can I experience (and hopefully, become) something other than everything I currently am and know?I read because, how else can I experience ... something other than everything I currently am and know? Click To Tweet
3. WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON READING? (FOR EXAMPLE, SOME PEOPLE HAVE TO FINISH EVERY BOOK THEY START)
Life’s short, and there are too many great books out there to spend valuable time on than one that doesn’t work for me. Reading slush at Podcastle has trained me (not in a good way, apparently) to judge a story after reading mostly a fifth into it. So if I pick up a book and it doesn’t hit the right notes–character, voice, setting, theme, style, etc; if it’s not presenting me with something new in some way, I keep asking myself: Why am I reading this thing again? I ask myself this too many times, and that book’s a goner.
However, I do understand that sometimes, it’s just not the right time for one to read a book–one’s just not ready. For this reason, I do find myself picking up books I’d once abandoned and giving them another try.
4. HOW OFTEN DO YOU READ? AND HOW DO YOU FIT IT INTO YOUR DAY?
I’m a terribly slow reader, and read an average of a book plus a month (that plus is very important oh). I’m always reading short stories: I’m a big fan and will read them wherever I see them. Mostly, I lurk about speculative magazines: Tor, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Apex, Fireside, Omenana, and the Escape Artists quartet of fiction podcasts. Sometimes, you’ll find me on The New York Times or Electric Lit or McSweeneys.I’m a terribly slow reader, and read an average of a book plus a month.- @IAmSuyiDavies Click To Tweet
I try to read everyday, and it’s usually during commutes, at lunchtime, and before bed. On weekends, I try to make space to read for 1-3 hours. I have this radical regimented routine I try to follow, which has worked for me so far. I talk about it lots over at WordsAreWork.I try to read everyday, and it’s usually during commutes, at lunchtime, and before bed. Click To Tweet
5. WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO READ? WHERE’S THE WEIRDEST PLACE YOU’VE EVER READ A BOOK?
Mahn, I read wherever I can oh. At work, I read mostly during lunch, in the food court, or in the break-out room. At home, it’s usually in bed. But I’ve read everywhere: on a danfo, on an okada, at the car wash, at the movies, at a party. Anywhere I can catch a breath and some elbow room, you’ll find my face in a book or Kindle.
The weirdest places I’ve ever read will be shared between two instances: on the open deck below the helipad of an oil rig, with sharks circling below; and in a dentist’s chair, during a tooth extraction.Anywhere I can catch a breath and some elbow room, you’ll find my face in a book or Kindle. Click To Tweet
Fave place to read: the bed. (Photograph: Suyi Okungbowa)
6. WHAT MAKES A GOOD BOOK, IN YOUR OPINION?
A book or story that, after the last line, I go, “Hmm,” then proceed to ponder my entire self and existence in relation to the world. A book/story that takes me in, chews me and spits me out so I no longer recognise myself. A book/story that takes me out of myself and once done with me, places me back, only for me to find myself bloated, uncomfortable, uneasy with the fit.
7. WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS TO READ?
I can’t take away the influences of Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi on my reading journey–their books formed the foundation of African literature for me. As a writer of speculative fiction, Stephen King was my first love–not for the scare he brings, but for how he’s able to deeply examine the motivations behind ordinary people. Later, I found wonder in the words of Neil Gaiman, Helen Oyeyemi and Octavia Butler. I read Nnedi Okorafor as well–her imagination is astounding. I’ll read anything by Tananarive Due, Alyssa Wong and Jeff Vandermeer–they show me new ways of looking at things and telling stories about them.I found wonder in the words of Neil Gaiman, Helen Oyeyemi and Octavia Butler. - @IAmSuyiDavies Click To Tweet
But as far as favourite authors go, nah, I don’t really do faves.
8. WHAT IS A BOOK OR WHO IS AN AUTHOR YOU FEEL IS VERY UNDERRATED?
Yewande Omotoso and Sarah Ladipo Manyika are two women who inspire me greatly through both their writing and social conduct. The Woman Next Door and Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun are such amazing reads! Both women are so similar yet so different, and filled with lots of fun and wit and insight. If you haven’t read them, seriously what’ve you been doing with your life? Living it wrong, is what.
9. E-BOOK, AUDIOBOOK OR PAPER? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MAKING NOTES/HIGHLIGHTING BOOKS?
All ah them. I see them as tools for different times. I listen to podcasts and audio fiction a lot during commutes, since I can’t read while driving. I read ebooks on-the-go, when a print is difficult to read (seriously, have you ever tried reading a 9GBP hardcover in a danfo? Cue elbow sweat and okro soup stains). I think every medium offers an opportunity for different people.I listen to podcasts and audio fiction a lot during commutes, since I can’t read while driving. Click To Tweet
Highlighting books? Oh my. What have these gems done to deserve such barbaric endeavours? And this is done by actual humans, you say? Apostle must hear of this.
(Photograph: Philip Suggars)
10. FICTION VS NON-FICTION?
Fiction. First love. Wonder. Subliminal. Eternal.
11. WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU WHEN YOU READ A GOOD BOOK? (AT THE BEGINNING, DURING AND AFTER THE EXPERIENCE?)
I think in the beginning, curiosity usually takes hold. Curiosity of character, of voice, of events, of language, of style.
As the book unravels, I find myself pondering the way of things; I discover new truths about myself, my community and the world that have been there in my peripheral vision all along, but I just wasn’t looking. The best books force me to look; and when I look, I discover.The best books force me to look; and when I look, I discover. Click To Tweet
Then in the end, I find that my feelings about the story stick. I remember how I feel after a book more than I remember the events themselves. It’s the one thing that almost never goes away.I remember how I feel after a book more than I remember the events themselves. - @IAmSuyiDavies Click To Tweet
12. DO YOU REREAD BOOKS? WHY?
Sometimes, but not usually. Save for when I believe I read a book at a time I wasn’t quite ready for it, I tend not to re-read because, well there are so many other good books in the world man, and I’ve only got one life.
13. WHAT BOOK DO YOU WISH YOU COULD EXPERIENCE AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME?
An African Night’s Entertainment by Cyprian Ekwensi. Oh, the thrill and childlike wonder that first time I read it.
14. WHAT WAS THE LAST GREAT BOOK YOU READ?
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso. It taught me so many things about growing old and finding new ways to hope when on the cusp of endings of all sorts. Amazing book.
15. IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE THREE BOOKS THAT EVERYONE SHOULD READ, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
Truth be told? I’d almost never tell anyone what books to read. I think people should read anything and everything, and diversify as much as they can. As for picking three books to recommend, that’s a near impossibility for me, so I’m gonna pass on this one.I think people should read anything and everything, and diversify as much as they can. Click To Tweet
Most exciting quarter of my bookshelf. (Photograph: Suyi Okungbowa)
16. WHAT BOOK(S) ARE YOU EMBARRASSED TO HAVE READ? WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU EMBARRASSED TO STILL NOT HAVE READ?
Embarrassed? None. However, I recently took a look into one of those Harlequin books I read as a teenager and…eish. I still cringe at the thought of the first paragraph. How did I ever get past that?
I haven’t read any book by Wole Soyinka. I’ve just never been inclined to read one.I haven’t read any book by Wole Soyinka. I’ve just never been inclined to read one. Click To Tweet
17. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ‘CLASSIC’ LITERATURE?
Ugh. Seriously, who gets to decide what’s “classic” and not? What are the parameters? That it must be a hundred years old, written by a Dead White Man™, be recommended reading for academic literature? What exactly?“Classic” as a qualifier means, for me, little to nothing more than a library of work handpicked by a privileged few. Click To Tweet
“Classic” as a qualifier means, for me, little to nothing more than a library of work handpicked by a privileged few. Generally, I read these so-marked titles like every other thing: if it’s not working for me, dump. You’re welcome to disagree with me on this, of course, but eh.
(Photograph: Suyi Okungbowa)
18. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BOOK CLUBS?
This one’s a toughie. I’ve tried them, but I think they likely won’t work for me. I’m more of a private reader, and while I enjoy (and encourage) discussions around literature, I’m super conscious about all forms of herd mentality, something the book club can’t help but entertain.
19. WHAT BOOK(S) HAVE CHANGED YOUR LIFE, AND HOW?
Hmm. There’s this one book that got me hooked on the possibility of African speculative fiction. I can’t even remember the name or author–I was like 10 or 12 then–and it was about 3-4 Nigerian teenagers who find a spaceship, take it on a joyride adventure through the galaxy, and crashland home in time for dinner. It got me thinking: I could be these kids; I could experience this world and other worlds too. It’s not just for the golden-haired. And thus my love for speculative fiction was born, and I haven’t turned back since.
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, as well as Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her have made me see voice, style and language differently. I never wrote the same after reading them.
20. HOW DO YOU CHOOSE BOOKS TO READ?
I follow some sort of structure: every quarter, I read at least one contemporary fiction title, one speculative fiction title, one “classic” title (what is “classic” is wholly decided by me) and one nonfiction title. So I fill in these titles through recs by writer and reader friends on social media and Goodreads. My pals at WordsAreWork, Podcastle, the African Speculative Fiction Society, and my writing groups also point me in lots of good directions.
21. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU CURRENTLY DYING TO READ?
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a storyteller who writes freelance from Lagos, Nigeria. His (mostly speculative) fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark, Mothership Zeta, Omenana; and the anthologies Lights Out: Resurrection and A World of Horror; amidst other places. His nonfiction has appeared in Lightspeed and Klorofyl. He is a charter member of the African Speculative Fiction Society and an Associate Editor at Podcastle. Suyi also works in brand marketing and visual design. He lives online on Facebook, tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies, blogs at suyidavies.com and chatters at his monthly jabberwock, After Five Writing Shenanigans.
Book’d is a weekly bookish interview series seeking to foster conversations about books and reading. Read our last interview with writer Pamela Naaki Tetteh.