BOOK’D| ZAHRAH of BookShy
Zahrah of BookShy is a serious lover of African lit. Just check out her website BookShy. I honestly admire and am inspired by her book lists like this ambitious almost A-Z listing of African Kid Lit. She’s also a co-host of one of the most popping lit podcasts, Not Another Book Podcast which I love! I was very interested in hearing her answers to the BOOK’D questions and getting her recs. Zahrah is huge fantasy and speculative fiction buff, so if that’s your thing, be prepared.
In this interview, she reveals why she became a reader, what happens when she’s read a good book and why she doesn’t like to re-read books she’s loved. Enjoy as Zahrah of BookShy gets BOOK’D! And get those recs!
1. What are you currently reading? Do you usually read more than one book at a time?
I’m currently reading Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s – House of Stone. I am only three chapters in, but so far Abednego and Agnes’ son, Bukhosi has been missing for some days. They are looking for Bukhosi, but their lodger, 24-year-old Zamani is more interested – and determined – to get Abednego to tell his life story. The book so far weaves Abed’s story with that of Zimbabwe’s history and I am really intrigued to find out more.
I’m a self-confessed book polygamist, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m currently travelling for work though, and I went through the dilemma of what books to bring with me. I ended up packing three books – I’m away for a while, so that’s how I justified it.I’m a self-confessed book polygamist, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m currently travelling for work though, and I went through the dilemma of what books to bring with me. - @bookshybooks 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?
If you ask my mum, she would say yes. She tells me I’ve been reading since I was 2. She taught us all how to read quite early so she wouldn’t have to read bedtime stories to us multiple times.
What drew me to reading? My first reaction to this question, was ‘I honestly, don’t know!’, but when I started thinking about it, I was a pretty reserved child and liked my own space, but I also used to think a lot (I still do … like my own space and think a lot), and I guess reading helped me zone out my own thoughts and focus on something different for a while. I also have always been curious about a lot of things, people, places … you name it (and I still am) and reading fed (and still feeds) that curiosity.
3. What is your philosophy on reading? (for example, some people have to finish every book they start)
It depends a lot on what I’m reading, and the reason why I’m reading it. If it’s work-related, I read to ensure I fully understand the topic and I can confidently argue or present different perspectives. During my PhD, I read to ensure I got all the facts and debates down, and that I was knowledgeable on the topic so I could defend my arguments and the claims I was making.
When it comes to reading for pleasure, it’s simply to enjoy it.
4. How often do you read? And how do you fit it into your day?
Nowadays, it’s whenever I have time. I really try and sneak it in wherever I can. On nights when I’m not super exhausted, I try and read a little bit before I go to bed. Also whenever I’m on the train, tube or bus … and because I travel a lot for work, I’m also usually reading at the airport, at the gate before I board, on the plane – although only before takeoff and when the plane’s about to land – because I am a sucker for inflight entertainment.I really try and sneak reading in wherever I can. On nights when I’m not super exhausted, I try and read a little bit before I go to bed. Also whenever I’m on the train, tube or bus Click To Tweet
5. Where do you like to read? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book?
I would say either curled up on my sofa or on my bed with a cup of tea.
Instead of weird, I would go for unexpected. It was on the Ferry that takes you from Lungi to the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone. We arrived there early and had some time to wait until the Ferry left. I had either read all my books or they were locked up in my luggage, and I couldn’t be bothered to open it. So, I ended up being given a pamphlet from one of the passengers. It was like an introduction to a CD they were trying to sell me (the music video was playing on the TV in the Ferry).
6. What makes a good book, in your opinion?
For me, it’s one that I don’t want to end, one that transports me to a whole new world that I never, ever, ever want to leave, one that I’m so engrossed in I don’t even realise it’s finished. You know when you turn the page and you’re expecting to see words, and then there’s just a blank page!!For @bookshybooks, a good book is: one that I don't want to end, one that transports me to a whole new world that I never, ever, ever want to leave, one that I’m so engrossed in I don’t even realise it’s finished. Click To Tweet
7. Who are your favorite authors to read?
Alain Mabanckou, Irenosen Okojie, anything by a writer from Zimbabwe, Zukiswa Wanner, José Eduardo Agualusa … I could go on.
8. What is a book or who is an author you wish more people knew about/read?
Nikhil Singh’s Taty Went West.
9. E-book, audiobook or paper? How do you feel about making notes/highlighting books?
Paperback. I still haven’t been able to really get into e-books. My poor kindle (and yes, I still have the 1st or 2nd generation one that has the keyboard) is gathering dust on my bedside table. I know it makes sense to carry it when I travel instead of packing my suitcase full with physical books, but as my maternal grandma says ‘Common sense is not so common’.
10. Fiction vs Non-fiction?
I love them both in different ways – is that a cop-out response :)? Fiction has always been my way to escape into new worlds, and nonfiction is something I have always been drawn to – to get an understanding of different aspects of life and living.Fiction has always been my way to escape into new worlds, and nonfiction is something I have always been drawn to - to get an understanding of different aspects of life and living. - @bookshybooks Click To Tweet
11. What happens to you when you read a good book? (at the beginning, during and after the experience?)
I’m unable to read another book for a while. Is it called a book hangover?
12. Do you reread books? Why?
With exception of Harry Potter – when I was younger and I used to re-read the previous books in the series when a new one was coming out – I haven’t really re-read a book in a very, very, very long time. Purely because if I really loved a book, I don’t ever want that first time experience to be tainted.
I haven’t really re-read a book in a very, very, very long time. Purely because if I really loved a book, I don’t ever want that first time experience to be tainted. Click To Tweet
13. What book do you wish you could experience again for the first time?
I honestly can’t think of any.
14. What was the last great book you read?
Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account.
15. If you had to choose three books that everyone should read, what would they be?
I’m usually a rule follower … except when it comes to books :). So, I’m totally not sticking to three books. I would say – and in no particular order – Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account, Yasmina Khadra’s What the Day Owes to the Night, Bryony Rheam’s This September Sun, Tade Thompson’s Rosewater (actually anything by Tade Thompson, including his novella with Nick Wood – The Last Pantheon), Irenosen Okojie’s Speak Gigantular (actually, also everything by Irenosen Okojie), Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door, Alain Mabanckou’s Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty (actually, also anything by Alain Mabanckou), Nikhil Singh’s Taty Went West, Zukiswa Wanner’s London Cape Town Joburg … okay, I’ll stop there.
16. What book(s) are you embarrassed to have read? What books are you embarrassed to still not have read?
I don’t think I can think of a book I’ve ever been embarrassed to read. Similarly, the books I haven’t read I don’t think I’m embarrassed by them. I like to tell myself I’ll read them one day – like James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son.
17. How do you feel about ‘classic’ literature?
I think they are valuable – even though sometimes the language is totally inaccessible. I do also think we need to change our understanding of what ‘classic’ means – something I myself am guilty of, as I often tend to associate ‘classics’ with the works of old white men and women.I do also think we need to change our understanding of what ‘classic’ means – something I myself am guilty of, as I often tend to associate ‘classics’ with the works of old white men and women. - @bookshybooks Click To Tweet
18. How do you feel about book clubs?
I think they are great, and a great space to be able to be introduced to new books you may not necessarily read or may not be on your radar. If I’m honest, I’ve never really been part of a book club – purely because I’m not good with reading to a schedule or theme.
19. What book(s) have remarkably changed your perspective on a given subject or life in general and how?
I’m currently learning and unlearning about Islam. So, any books or texts that help me fully understand and grasp it, particularly from a feminist perspective like Fatima Mernissi’s Beyond the Veil.
20. How do you choose books to read?
How I choose – a mix of the book cover and the blurb. My reading, though, depends a lot on my mood and how I feel. I can start a book, and if I’m not in the right headspace put it down and pick it up later when I feel it’s the right time. I did that for Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account – when I first picked it up, I really could not get into it, but a few weeks later I picked it up again – and it is now without a doubt, up there as one of my top reads of all time.
21. What books are currently on your to-be-read list?
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (thanks @postcolonialchi) and HOLD by Michael Donkor (my PhD was on domestic workers, so I am always curious about any book on this form of employment) and Nnedi Okorafor’s new comic series about Black Panther’s Dora Milaje.
Zahrah is an independent researcher and consultant on women’s economic empowerment and social protection. She is also the Founding Editor of bookshy (a blog dedicated to African literature), one-third of Not Another Book Podcast (a literary podcast), and a contributing writer for ReWrite (a platform for black women and women of colour writers). She is obsessed with tea and her fiction genre of choice is Fantasy.
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Book’d is a weekly bookish interview series seeking to foster conversation on books and reading. See our last interview with Autumn and Kendra of the Reading Women podcast.