BOOK’D: OJIMA ABALAKA

Nigerian illustrator Ojima Abalaka creates refreshing, minimalist images. She also has a love for literature and photography. In this interview we chat about reading for book covers, balancing a routine of reading with studying for a law degree and her top notch way of recognizing a good book. Perhaps the most attention-wresting recommendation for me is that of the book that changed her approach to social media. Please enjoy Ojima’s words and even more, her beautiful photographs.


1. What are you currently reading? Do you usually read more than one book at a time?

I’m currently reading Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers. I tend to stick to one book at a time.

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?

Yes, I remember reading a strange book called Pepeye and the Mangoes. It was about a mango-loving duck. It was part of the Pepeye children’s book series by Hauwa Imam. I also remember reading most of the Pacesetter Novels published by Macmillan. Although, I was probably too young to be reading them, I liked collecting them because of their covers. I actually started reading because I was attracted to interesting-looking book covers but now I just read for the sake of it.

I actually started reading because I was attracted to interesting-looking book covers but now I just read for the sake of it. Click To Tweet

3. What is your philosophy on reading? (for example, some people have to finish every book they start)

I’m haunted by books that I never finished reading. I think about them often and hope to return to them someday. But no, for the sake of my short-term happiness, I don’t finish every book I start. However, I’m very picky about the books I read in the first place. If I’m not already familiar with the author, I always read reviews before deciding to read.

for the sake of my short-term happiness, I don’t finish every book I start. However, I’m very picky about the books I read in the first place. If I’m not already familiar with the author, I always read reviews before deciding to read. Click To Tweet

4. How often do you read? And how do you fit it into your day?

I’m currently in university and my law degree is irrationally demanding so I read when I can. Usually before I go to bed and for a few minutes after I wake up. Sometimes if I’m feeling fancy, I take a day off, usually on the weekend, and dedicate it to reading.

5. Where do you like to read? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book?

I almost always read in bed. I once read under my desk because the suspense was killing me and I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was quite dramatic.

6. What makes a good book, in your opinion?

If it makes me forget to eat, then it’s a keeper.

If it makes me forget to eat, then it’s a keeper. - Nigerian illustrator, Ojima Abalaka Click To Tweet

7. Who are your favorite authors to read?

I will read anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I also really enjoy reading Buchi Emecheta and Akwaeke Emezi.

8. What is a book or who is an author you wish more people knew about/read?

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg because it’s relevant and funny.

9. E-book, audiobook or paper? How do you feel about making notes/highlighting books?

I’m trying to reduce my screen time so I read mostly paper. But I try to get most of my books from the library because I’m not a fan of lugging books around when I have to move.

10. Fiction vs Non-fiction?

There was a time in my life when I only read a particular type of fiction but now I try not to discriminate. I read as much non-fiction as fiction.

11. What happens to you when you read a good book? (at the beginning, during and after the experience?)

At the beginning, I’m always pleasantly surprised that it’s a good book because I always go in expecting the worst. Then I can’t put it down and I have to finish it at all costs and once I’m done, I bring it up in conversations any chance I get or start researching concepts or events I found interesting from it.

12. Do you reread books? Why?

Yes, for research purposes. I usually don’t reread the whole book but I go back to read random chapters that are relevant to what I’m researching or thinking about.

13. What book do you wish you could experience again for the first time?

I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani.

14. What was the last great book you read?

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.

15. If you had to choose three books that everyone should read, what would they be?

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.

16. What book(s) are you embarrassed to have read? What books are you embarrassed to still not have read?

The entire Twilight novel series. I put my teenage life on hold for a week and deprived myself of sleep for those books. It wasn’t worth it. People try to make it a big deal when I mention I haven’t read the Harry Potter series but I have no regrets.

17. How do you feel about ‘classic’ literature?

I have no strong feelings about classic literature but I do think Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a classic worth reading.

18. How do you feel about book clubs?

I’ve been a member of 2 book clubs in my lifetime and they both disappointed me. I think it has to be at the right place and with the right people. That can be a bit tricky to find.

I’ve been a member of 2 book clubs in my lifetime and they both disappointed me. I think it has to be at the right place and with the right people. That can be a bit tricky to find. Click To Tweet

19. What book(s) have remarkably changed your perspective on a given subject or life in general and how?

Cal Newport’s Deep Work made be rethink my relationship with social media and the Internet. It made me think about how social media was impacting the quality of my work and led me to reconsider the role of these tools in my life.

20. How do you choose books to read?

I’m always open to suggestions from trusted friends (emphasis on trusted). Also if I’m really interested in a topic or concept, I search for books that make it more accessible.

21. What books are currently on your to-be-read list?

Wow, a lot. But I’m really looking forward to reading The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion and Immaculata Abba’s first book when she finally writes it.


Ojima Abalaka is an illustrator who likes to tell stories.

Instagram: @ojima.abalaka