Atoke is the author of +234 – An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. After reading her interview, I was honestly just ready to buy her book because she’s SO FUNNY! We talk everything from bonding with book characters, her obsession with chick lit and the HILARIOUS reason why she reads (I can totally relate). In addition, she also shares her favorite Nigerian author and how Levar Burton transformed her reading life. Atoke answers all the questions with honesty, a dash of sass and plenty of wit. Especially if you’re Nigerian, this will leave you howlinggg with laughter! Enjoy!
1. What are you currently reading? Do you usually read more than one book at a time?
I recently finished Headscarves and Hymens – Why The Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy (Which I loved so much and will recommend highly. ) I’m currently reading Never Look An American in the Eye by Okey Ndibe. And yes, I usually read more than one book at a time. One for my commute, one for bed time, one for sitting on the white throne. Don’t judge.
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’ve always been a reader. I was a very shy child and my parents loved books – it just seemed natural to make friends with the people inside the books. The first set of books I remember reading were books by the Brontë sisters; Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen too. My dad bought books in collections, as he was pretty big on us reading – aloud so we could work on our speech, pronunciation and diction. It just helped that I also liked stories, so I’d just dive in.what drew me into reading was basically aproko… the need to know what was going on in other people’s lives. Jack and Jill went up the hill? Ehn hen? To do what? Who did they meet there? - @atoke_ Click To Tweet
So, what drew me into reading was basically aproko… the need to know what was going on in other people’s lives. Jack and Jill went up the hill? Ehn hen? To do what? Who did they meet there? To fetch a pail of water? Wow! So they had wells abroad too? You know, that sort of thing. It was mostly because I was wildly intrigued. I loved books because the people inside kept me company and away from the real world.I was a very shy child and my parents loved books – it just seemed natural to make friends with the people inside the books. - @atoke_ Click To Tweet
3. What is your philosophy on reading? (for example, some people have to finish every book they start).
I don’t have a philosophy per se. If I find a book tedious, I’ll dump it. Life is too short and there are so many sweet books to read. The time available to read books is so short – especially as an adult. However, if a book can keep me hooked, I’ll finish it… even if it takes three weeks.
Maybe one philosophy I have is balancing serious and chick lit! I’m so obsessed with Chick Lit – Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes; because my life is already serious; I have to read serious stuff for this business of ‘Adulting’, why not just relax with some easy literature about buying lipsticks and handbags?
4. How often do you read? And how do you fit it into your day?
I read everyday; okay wait, that’s a hot lie. I get distracted with other things like Instagram and Twitter; so to answer the question honestly, I read as frequently as I have a minute. So for instance, on the bus to work, I can read a few pages, or at lunch. That’s if a new episode of my favourite podcast is not out. However, I binge consume books via Levar Burton Reads podcasts, so I also consume books that way. It’s a perfect short cut and I love it.I binge consume books via Levar Burton Reads podcasts, so I also consume books that way. It’s a perfect short cut and I love it. Click To Tweet
5. Where do you like to read? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book?
I like to read on the sofa in my living room, where I know the kitchen is near by and I can trot over to the fridge to get snacks. Weirdest place I ever read a book was at a club. When I was in Unilag, I did this all the time because I hated going out, but I had friends who loved it. I never quite understood an outing where you would all be screaming to hear yourselves — the music was always too loud and sweaty people bumping into me or trying to press me is NOT fun for me.
So, to make my friends happy that I wasn’t staying behind at the hostel, I’d just carry my book, go sit in one corner with good enough illumination, and read. I’ve also gone to a boring work-mandated event where I just brought out my Kindle and started reading. Anti-social, I know, I know. But, hey!
6. What makes a good book, in your opinion?
The ability to reel me in with either the story telling – narrative or the characters. I like absurd characters; because I feel they’re harder to create and I always want to know what the writer was thinking when they conjured such a being.I like absurd characters; because I feel they’re harder to create and I always want to know what the writer was thinking when they conjured such a being. - @atoke_ Click To Tweet
To me, a good book is also the seeming effortlessness of the writing; if it seems like it wasn’t written to bamboozle or impress me, then that’s the ONE! I like the ease of language, where everything stealthily creeps up on me and I’m like 75% into the book wondering where my day went.To me, a good book is also the seeming effortlessness of the writing; if it seems like it wasn’t written to bamboozle or impress me, then that’s the ONE! Click To Tweet
7. Who are your favorite authors to read?
Roxane Gay, Jhumpa Lahiri, Marian Keyes, Junot Diaz. In Nigeria, it’s easily Elnathan John.
Roxane because she is a feminist, fearless and unapologetic in her words and delivery. She also writes brilliantly. Jhumpa Lahiri because she basically tells stories of human beings in a completely naked way. Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters have stuck with me the most. Plus, the fact that she basically showed me that Indian/Pakistani characters were not so different from Nigerians. So, her work is very relatable to me.
Marian Keyes because she is so funny. I live for laughter and any book that can keep me laughing is keeper. Junot Diaz because of the fluidity of language and his ability to weave words leave me thinking “you mean you can do that with those three words?” Elnathan John because he is not trying to protect your feelings with his writing. He just exposes all of the truth and leaves you to go answer the questions by your lone self. Plus Elnathan makes you laugh at the absurdity of our reality; which then becomes sobering. I LOVE IT.Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters have stuck with me the most. Plus, the fact that she basically showed me that Indian/Pakistani characters were not so different from Nigerians. Click To Tweet
8. What is a book or who is an author you wish more people knew about/read?
Dear Ijewele, a Feminist Manifesto by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
9. E-book, audiobook or paper? How do you feel about making notes/highlighting books?
This has changed for me over the course of years and it depends on where I am or what is happening in my life. So, for instance when I was in secondary school, I loved, loved, loved paperbacks. I bought them, consumed them, kept them, stored them, Everything. I was a firm believer in paper or nothing.
Then, someone gave me a Kindle and there I was suddenly not having to worry about being able to read when NEPA takes light or when it gets dark. No constraint of storage – I have a room full of books at my parents’ house. It’s a mess. Anyway, with the Kindle, I could highlight with a tap, and jump to footnotes with a tap, It was so cool. I fashied paperbacks. And when I moved abroad, books were just everywhere, I live 3 minutes away from the public library and there’s no worrying about whether the gen has to go off at midnight so I have to rush and finish this chapter.
So, with both options, audiobooks were never really in consideration. Untilllllllll…. One day while listening to one of my favourite podcasts, The Read, Crissle and Kid Fury had Levar Burton (Reading Rainbows) as a guest talmbout he has started a new podcast where he reads short stories. WHATTTTTT??? I hit the subscribe button so fast… Let me tell you… do you know how many books you can ‘read’ while cooking moin moin, and efo riro? I go through books so fast now, I can almost swear by the gospel of audio books, and this is all thanks to LeVar Burton Reads. And I wasn’t a fan of Sci-Fi or Afro Futurism before now I’m sitting at the edge of my seat waiting for the next mystical line to be read.Let me tell you… do you know how many books you can ‘read’ while cooking moin moin, and efo riro? I go through books so fast now, I can almost swear by the gospel of audio books... Click To Tweet
10. Fiction vs Non-fiction?
Both? Hahahah I know this is cheating but I read non-fiction a lot because I want to learn. Right? Do I prefer them to fiction? I don’t know. It’s half and half for me. I’ve been reading non-fiction back to back for about two months now. But I also read a lot of fiction in between; they’re quick and easy and I can return to the library fast fast.
11. What happens to you when you read a good book? (at the beginning, during and after the experience?)
I take deep breaths, put the book down and mutter in Yoruba to myself. This is what happened when I was reading Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo– I had so many questions, I kept discussing with myself. It’s crazy.
Thereafter, I torment my friends about it.
12. Do you reread books? Why?
Sometimes. If I didn’t really understand something the first time; and I go on Twitter and find an angle I never considered before.
13. What book do you wish you could experience again for the first time?
Hmmm, this is hard. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It was truly a fantastic adventure. I wanna be in that world over and over and over.
14. What was the last great book you read?
Great book? Hmm.. I don’t know oh. I’ve read so many brilliant books in the last two months. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, maybe. It was so insightful. I had some knowledge about institutionalized racisim in North America but did not really know about Britain’s race issues. So that book was WHOAAA! Of course there’s Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens – which is a keeper.
15. If you had to choose three books that everyone should read, what would they be?
Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens – Why The Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijewele – a Feminist’s Manifesto.
16. What book(s) are you embarrassed to have read? What books are you embarrassed to still not have read?
I can’t recall any book I’m embarrassed to have read because I try to stay away from bad books.
I can’t recall any book I’m embarrassed to have read because I try to stay away from bad books. - @atoke_ Click To Tweet
Embarrassed to still not have read – Anything by Maya Angelou. I know, I know, I KNOW!!!! Don’t judge.
I’ve also not read the Harry Potter series – and I am ashamed to say that out loud, but in my defense, when it first came out, a pastor at my church said it was demonic or something. By the time I’d stopped being religious, the series was already at book seven! Where to even begin now?! So reference to Hermione and Slytherin and whatever just flies over my head.Although, I’ve caught some bits on TV, I’m still ashamed.
17. How do you feel about ‘classic’ literature?
Like what? Things Fall Apart? Or Oliver Twist? I love them. Personally, I feel that some classics are classics for a reason. They’ll outlive us.
18. How do you feel about book clubs?
They’re great. I’m part of one. It’s a women only book club and the girls are great.
19. What book(s) have remarkably changed your perspective on a given subject or life in general and how?
Born on a Tuesday – Elnathan John (It opened my eyes to Northern Nigeria in a way that I never expected)
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I love this book so much because I think I lived in a cocoon as a Yoruba girl who had lived mostly in South West Nigeria. This book was a remarkable life changer)
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni-Eddo Lodge (I cannot speak enough about this book; I learned about intersectionality, of race, or being black in Britain, of being a black woman. Everything! )
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. (It was such a STARK book — completely stripped me of everything I knew I was capable of feeling. I also liked that it is a ‘Drops mic’ book by the author… LOVE IT!)
20. How do you choose books to read?
Would it be shallow to say, the cover? Well, if it’s by an unfamiliar author, it’s definitely the book cover. Then, the synopsis. If the plot sounds like something that I’d laugh about, it’s coming home with me.
21. What books are currently on your to-be-read list?
Black Privilege by Charlemagne the god
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Chasing Butterflies by Yejide Kilanko
Slay in Your Lane, The Black Girl’s Bible by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uvibienne
Atoke is a lawyer, writer, retired foodie and FitFam adherent. She worships at the altar of words, and believes life is too short not to be kind to other people. Born, raised & buttered in Lagos, Nigeria, she spent a part of her life travelling between Newcastle, Swansea, Houston and back. She now lives in Toronto, Canada with her MacBook Pro & her New Balance running shoes. Of course she exists to watch TV but she doesn’t think that’s appropriate information for a professional bio.
Connect With Atoke
Follow on Twitter – @atoke_