What’s your favourite?

Hi Lads,

Quick question, one I’d like to pose to you all. Just out of curiosity.

As I said before… I usually devour books. That is the only way to describe how I breeze through them with a quickness that sometimes has me forgetting I’ve read the book and taking it out again at the library (this has happened to me multiple times and I’ve only realised like a third into the story….)

I usually don’t want to put the book down, I gotta get through it as soon as possible and then marinate in my thoughts.

Recently though… as I’ve been reading books on short intervals via my stop-over commute to and from work/ during my lunch hour… I’m starting to enjoy taking my time with stories. Actually savouring the words instead of acting like I’m Naruto Uzumaki at Ichiraku’s you know?

Both ways are fun methods of reading… but back to my question.

What’s your favourite kind of read?

  1. That un-put-downable, I don’t want this to end, counting how many pages til I reach the end book. aka. The book you can’t wait to finish
  2. That slow-burn, I need to ruminate over the sentence structure and cyclical themes to collect every single detail book in bits and pieces book. aka. The Book You Don’t Want to End.

There’s no wrong answer.

THAT book

“You know… I don’t actually like reading…”

Kwasi told me… and upon seeing my eyes widen and eyebrows touch my hairline (probably), he was quick to expand the statement “unless it the books you give me.”

So we started to talk.

Why doesn’t Kwasi like to read books?

They don’t get him excited, he’s not interested, most of the reading he does, is reading for schoolwork. He’d rather sit down with his brother and play on the xbox or laptop. The usual things you’d expect to hear from a teenage boy who is justifying why he doesn’t make the time to read for pleasure.

The biggest reason though, Kwasi can’t find a book that he feels is for him.

He hadn’t had that book yet.

The book that made him excited to read.

I remember back in the early 2000s when my brother borrowed that very first copy of Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak from the school library. Omari wasn’t a reader like I was, so it was really weird for our parents to see the boy who’d rather be biking on the street or watching Dragon Ball Z curled up with a book in his hand all of the sudden.

It set off a chain reaction in him.

He didn’t want to borrow from the school anymore, he wanted a copy that was his alone (seriously, he would not share, when I wanted to read them, I had to buy my own copies when I wanted to read it). And then, every time he saw a new addition had been released, he’d head down to the local WH Smith with mum and a tenner to get his fix.

After encountering this book, my brother actively started looking for books to read, first, books by Darren Shan, after all, he devoured the Saga of Darren Shan, why wouldn’t he also enjoy the Demonata series or The Thin Executioner? After literally exhausting his complete Darren Shan collection, my brother went on to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider, and Justin Somper’s Vampirates (absolute banger of a book series tbh).

(To tell you how much my brother and I appreciate Darren Shan’s horror writing; there is a small bookshelf in our upstairs hallway stocked with a near complete list of Darren Shan’s bibliography… and we both got hyped at our big university ages when we found out that Darren Shan had been releasing instalments of Zom-B.)

Omari had found his book.

It’s harder when the book recipient has particular tastes. Kwasi’s not big into magic, so fantasy is out of the question (which as a devotee to SFF, dissertation on High Fantasy writer, broke my heart). A lot of the books I read at Kwasi’s age had female protagonists, great for me, but I he’d wasn’t interested in Georgia Nicholson’s confessional diary and similar titles. It takes time, patience and experimentation to help a kid find that book.

But I found that book.

Malorie Blackman’s Boys Don’t Cry.

I actually got a text from Kwasi thanking me for finding that book for him, and if I could get him some more Malorie Blackman books. Since then I have been, mostly books that I’ve read and loved myself. I know his mum takes him and his siblings to the library as often as she can, and I give him names of books I remember reading, or authors I think he’d enjoy. For his fourteenth birthday, he got an entire book series (Gone by Michael Grant) and he’s currently working his way through those.

Seeing him carry around a copy of these books with the cracked spine and doggy eared pages doesn’t inspire anger in me it might some other book lovers- after all, the books are his now, I should just be glad he’s finally found joy in reading.

Bookkeeping

Cleaning out my bookshelf has been an emotional event.

I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the generation who love and adore Toy Story, or because humans pack-bond with just about anything, or even if it’s just because I was probably a busy, heavily scheduled child and spent a lot of time with my belongings as opposed to people- but what happened is… I became very much attached to all of my belongings.

Sometimes its sentimental, other times… I spent money and I didn’t want to confirm that this money has been wastefully spent or misused.

Books have been… very important my whole life, and I’m blessed now that I get to work in this industry. My home has two bookshelves, one upstairs, one downstairs, both of which were previously housed in my room, but are now out in the communal areas of my home. On these many shelves, often double-stacked. Lay 90% of the books in the house… of these books, again, 90% of them were mine. The other 10% comprised of my brother’s small collection of teen horror, fantasy and spy books, and my mum’s holiday reads that she never quite got around to.

The first thing I noticed was that I had had some of these books for…. Years and had probably never touched them since the first time I read them cover to cover. There were books I have had since primary school…. Chronicles of Narnia, Rhol Dahl box collection, a whole lot of Enid Blyton… Stories I remembered fondly, but didn’t really want to revisit. I had and will continue to carry the memories and feelings but I don’t need the item myself. I can pass it on and give this experience to someone else.

The second thing I noticed, was how many multiples I had collected. Mostly given as gifts, or maybe I forgot that I had the same book at home and bought it again. No, they were not signed, no they were not different, no they were no more special than the other copies. They were exactly the same. It’s a bit mad to see all of my books spread out in front of me. Like… I truly didn’t realise the extent of books that I was holding onto because as a self-labelled “book worm” I felt that to give them away or throw them out would damage my imaginary cred.

Sorting through the books there were originally three categories:

1 Books I’m going to keep.

2 Books that are going to my cousin’s school (primary school) in Trinidad.

3 Books that are going to charity.

When I was finished sorting the books, I then damp dusted all of the shelves and some of the books. Before putting the Keepers back on the shelves. That left me with seven boxes full of things that I was letting go. One huge book (more like a mini-crate) for my cousin’s school and six books that were going to get donated. My local Cancer Research charity shop had asked for donations… boy I had a lot of them.

Only my mum asked me to put some thought into it. Six boxes of books are a lot to donate to one place. What else could I do with these books to spread out the joy?

The first thing- one of my Work Aunties TM from Sierra Leonne was fundraising for her former secondary school to get a library. Yes, I had to look through all of these boxes again, but I found that there were enough books for tweens and teens to fill two boxes.

Next, what about my cousins back home? About all the family who visit the house and would maybe like a way to pass the time? Again, another huge box full of things that I thought they would enjoy, that I wouldn’t mind revisiting on the holidays I take but wouldn’t want to keep for myself.

Which left three boxes for my local. Something a bit more understanding that as the new year starts people start throwing out and donating things or dumping them on these charity shops. We dropped them off today. Tomorrow my Work Auntie TM is going to collect the books for her school. The books that are going to the house in Trinidad and my cousin’s school will be sent along with the next set of barrels.

The way I felt at the end of that three-day deep cleaning of my books made me feel so good.

I always thought that I’d feel pained to remove books from myself, which was one of the reasons that I was so hesitant to finally tackle my bookshelves. Also thought I’d be one of those minimalists who had one thing that they would continue to splurge on, this thing being books and stories.

I always love collecting a good series, and I imagine I will continue to do so… most likely in an e-book format (though to be honest I am particularly weak when presented with a beautiful hardback or paperback).

Bookgiving 2017

In this 2017 all my kids getting books and pyjamas because we want to encourage them to (what?) READ and get enough SLEEP (and give their parents a break in this coming 2018th year of our Lord). Some of my kids’ families don’t celebrate Christmas- which is why this is about book-giving.

I try my best to find brown protagonists for my brown babies, introduce them to familiar folklore or re-imaginings of things they may have heard sitting in Grandma’s lap. Because that’s what Book Aunties DO!

I got 9 kids to shop for aged 2 to 13 years.


Afia is my little Ghana princess, my baby ghel. My dolly-child. She loves Disney princesses, legos and taking care of her two big brothers, even when they are mean. A serious petite madam who is always excited to read to me.

What they got: Ada Twist, Scientist Andrea Beatley, With Love from Anna Hibiscus Atinuke

Why I bought it: With Love from Anna Hibiscus was a request, lads, when you get that premier book from a series you are SET. Here is proof- the next book in the Anna Hibiscus series was a request. Like Pokémon- Afia’s trying to catch ’em all! Ada Twist, Scientist is a fun book about a little girl who’s smart as HELL and has a supportive family who encourage her all through her life- just like my girl! Plus it’s cute AF!

Kwasi has been through a lot in his short 13 years. Sometimes I know I spoil and indulge him because I know I want him to feel loved and supported, and now I’m seeing the teen angst and anger sweep through him. I try to find him books that are a bit more mature now so he doesn’t feel like he’s being talked down to.

What they got: Pigeon English Stephen Kelman, The Spider Weaver Margaret Musgrove

Why I bought it: Pidgin English, I wanted to give my boy some more male protagonists who are also black because Mallory Blackman’s Boys Don’t Cry was such a success. The Spider Weaver because well… his mum is always telling me about how  her brothers weave Kente and I didn’t know this story that comes with a mini-history lesson on the fabric. I assume he had too, but I always remember loving having physical copies of Trini folk-tales, not just memories of the oral and thought he’d enjoy the same.

Lizzie is the sweetest little thing! She’s such a nice big sister and is learning how to read for herself, though she still needs help. Her mum was doing my hair and Lizzie came to keep me company all day and read Jack and the Beanstalk with me (her favourite part, that she can recite by heart- little actress in the making: FEE FI FO FUM I SMELL THE PONG OF AN ENGLISHMAN (the publisher changed it from “blood” I guess to make it more child-friendly? don’t @ me)

What they got: Lila and the Secret of the Rain David Conway

Why I bought it: I wanted a cute picture book! Also… like, do y’all know how deep picture books are getting nowadays? I literally love it. This is a cute story about trying to do your best for your community… and the joy when it prevails.

Hannah is my baby sister (who’s 13)! If not in blood, then by face. When we are out together, especially at weddings people are always saying how nice it is to see sisters with our age gap (lol) get on so well. She’s bi-lingual! My girl speaks Twi, cause her daddy taught her, she’s a lil mix of the islands and the motherland, sweetest thing.

What they got: Pigeon English Stephen Kelman

Why I bought it: Honestly I heard bits about this book for the longest while and yes, I bought it TWICE. My girl’s dad is Jamaican and Ghanaian, like I said, she speak Twi! I don’t come across books for kids this age with African protagonists, and even then, harder still for me to find a Ghanaian protagonist? Plus this book is doing bits on the english secondary school curriculum I heard?

Ramalah I’m dying with all these Tweens. Ramalah is a bright girl, she can bake cakes, brownies and doughnuts as well as her professional baker mum. One problem…. she don’t like to read all that much.  Book shopping for Ramalah is like a science experiment, I’m still on the look out for that book that will let her see reading can be fun.

What they got: Zahrah the Windseeker Nnedi Okorafor

Why I bought it: I had so much fun reading Zahrah the Windseeker. It was the first Nnedi Okorafor book that I ever read and it spurred me into reading as much of her work as I could. It feels like Sci-fi and Fantasy all based in Nigerian cultures. The setting is very mystical and feels very solar punk (the people live in interactive house trees, you can GROW computers from seeds!) and the cultures of the characters are vivid af.

Sam is the most serious six year-old you ever met. Despite thanking me for his gift, he let me known that he mostly reads non-fiction and would like a book about science, space, dinosaurs, history or archeology. Yes, in that order. So yes, I have work to do.

What they got: Anna Hibiscus Atinuke

Why I bought it: I’ve had great success buying Anna Hibiscus titles. All the kids I’ve previously bought it for love it. I especially buy these books for my little Naija babies because they’re books their parents love reading these short stories to them as well, as the characters go through situations that the parents may’ve had in Nigeria and tell their kids about when parents go into one of those “back in my day” times.

Shamfa My sweet angel, the love of my life, the light in my heart. My little clone! Who was also born in December. The Terrible Twos are here, and even though she can’t read- she will remind her big, big sisters that what they’ve got in their hands are “[her] book!”

What they got: Twelve Dancing Princesses, Rapunzel, The Princess and the Pea Rachel Isadora

Why I bought it: It was my baby’s birthday. She loves being read to. I love reading books to her! So does her mum and dad. The main pull of purchasing these Rachel Isadora versions of classic fairy tales- my uncle and his partner are very afrocentric and loved that these stories were being given a different cultural setting than the ones we grew up on.

Taymiyah is easy to shop for. My girl will read any and everything under the sun. She’s bendy so I was gonna look into some kid-yoga books, but then I remember just how much she loves reading a book where she and the protagonist are the exact same age.

What they got: President of the Whole Fifth Grade Sherri Winston

Why I bought it: Like I said- easy buy. Taymiyah just went into year six. Last year, I got my girl a book with a protagonist of the similar age- her mum reported that she did not put down that book at all (and is still revisiting it). The cover art of this novel looked cute, and it’s a series! So if she loves it… thats a few gifting opportunities sorted (who doesn’t love a complete set?).

Yaw– Recently bespectacled, my tiny professor. He whinges often, but loves to ask questions. My boy’s first words were chiding Oscar Pistorius for the crocodile tears at the sentencing hearing- he pays more attention to the news than I did… and he was also the easiest to shop for as he’d been asking for one particular book since it came out.

What they got: Jaden Toussaint- The Greatest Episode 1 Marti Dumas , The Getaway Jeff Kinney

Why I bought it: Yaw been asking for The Getaway since it’s pub-date. I promised him I’d get it for his birthday, but it wasn’t published until well after. He lives for this series. Because this birthday he just got the promise of the Getaway and some legos- Jaden Toussaint was a fun extra- this was the best choice, my boy is smart and inquisitive and I thought he’d enjoy a book with a child genius protagonist.


That’s it all folks.

Bookgiving 2017, all done.

Book Auntie antics- over!

6 lessons from 6 weeks

So… I have just finished a six-week internship. It is in fact, my first day off.

I had lovely co-workers, an easy commute and got paid! *Cha-ching!*

There was a lot of admin. Scanning. Printing. Filing. Binders. There was one point where I was dreaming about excel spreadsheets and my fingers were stained with highlighter ink- but, it’s something I look at and laugh…

There have been a few things I’ve learned. Truly learned to be true- about myself, during my placement. Things that you usually hear and don’t take to heart, but you realise to be true later on.

What are these things?

  1. Having 18 hours of my day (sleep, commute & work, respectively) already accounted for has made me plan my days better. I learned to make the most of my “spare time”. I struggled keeping to my bullet journal before, but then… I as the weeks progressed, it was much easier to bring structure into my life. Also the fact that I had something to do during the day made the few rejection emails that I got for permanent work, that much easier to deal with.
  2. I read so much. So, so much, during my commute. Literally blazing through books, but still enjoying them immensely. Usually, I like to start a book and devour it in one sitting. I guess its similar to binge-watching? This starting and stopping (due to changes, lunch breaks etc.) made it feel like I was anticipating the story progression more which made the experience better for me.
  3. I love sleep! This is not a surprise. But I really love sleep. Sometimes I used sleep as something to do when there’s nothing else to do, like a mini-escape from all the things I did in the day. Par example, I love a midday nap. Getting through the day linked through to the next thing I learned.
  4. There is so much tea drinking in the office environment. I’m a big fan of tea. Even though I’m on a green tea kick right now, drinking breakfast tea 3-4 times a day? I was buzzing! Hard! Also tried two new types of tea (Earl and Lady Grey). I can see why Picard drank that tea! I will be trying a wider variety.
  5. Food markets are amazing! I’m a millennial or whatever, so like, finding joy in food and beverages is something my generation is supposed to do a lot right?
  6. Sometimes, work emails are about baby bracelets, baking shows, restaurant recommendations, recipes or helping someone in the office win a contest online. And that’s fine!

Becoming an “adventurous reader”

Those of you who know me know that my reading behaviour is obscenely predictable.

Fayola… is a huge SFF nerd and YA fan with high standards. Sometimes, she is a cover snob, and if the blurb doesn’t pull her in right away- it’ll take a lot of pestering and recommendations for her to even consider adding the book of your choice to her ever-growing TBR list.

That used to be the case.

I have now been an active member of my local library for over a year! (Unbelievable! Great! Amazing! Beautiful!) I know this because the blog post I wrote about joining up “I only wanted to see the study zone” was posted exactly thirteen months ago.

And I’ve noticed a huge shift in both my behaviour as a book reader, and a book buyer.

A big part of that is due to having joined the library.

My local library quickly became my favourite place to pick up books. I’m always looking at the recently returned shelves to see what caught other people’s eyes and to see if anything there catches my eyes as well. The librarian recommendation displays are so nice.

Since joining I have saved so much money, books and clothes were my biggest expenses. As I’m trying to embrace minimalism in my life I’m buying less books- physically, and primarily use my Kindle. But when I want to hold a book, feel the pages beneath my finger tips and sometimes (if i’m extremely early and lucky) want to smell that “new book smell” I can find myself in the library doing exactly that.

Not only has my bank account been glad of this library membership, my bookshelves have too. I’ve never experimented with the literature I read as much as this in so long. When you’re about to buy an item like a book, you think you’re going to keep it for life, you want to revisit it and treasure it and display it so that everyone can see that you and it have a good connection. I’ve always been so scared to try out books that don’t catch me right away.

What if I hate them and am stuck with them forever (or long enough until someone’s birthday’s arrived and I might be able to gift it to them?)

It always limited me. Now, I don’t feel that limitation.

Yes, books have gotten prettier, reading on my kindle is sometimes cheaper than buying a hard/paperback, but I’m less scared to read something and not love it. Because, at the end of the day, if the plot is dragging, or I hate the characters, or I just can’t wrap my head around it.

At the end of the day… It’s not mine.

It’s a freeing feeling to not have to hold onto this book and admit that, “hey, this one didn’t bang- we’ll just be on the look out next time for something better” to myself. And I have been. I’ve been broadening my reach. I’m researching authors and series more and saving up for the books that I desperately wanted a physical copy of. All the while, enjoying the casual pick-and-choose moment in the library every three weeks or so.

Yes, I’m still into primarily SFF and YA, but I’m stepping into speculative fiction in ways that I haven’t before. (And shameless plug, documenting this journey on Instagram “bookstagram” @fayolazahra) I’m no longer boxed in by the genre that has held my interest for as long as I remember, and I’m becoming one of those “adventurous” readers.

Something, something, something- Support your local library!

I only wanted to see the study zone

 

Why am I like this?

What is self control (in relation to books)?

Clearly I don’t have any…

It all started last week, when I realised I had only one week left to have any reason to travel to Kingston from my house in SE London… I have a dissertation to write, and I can’t justify travelling for an hour to get to the lovely post-grad library section on campus… I can’t work at home because procrastination is the devil incarnate, (suddenly, all my chores seem more important than my education somehow…)

So I was out buying last minute cheap additions to my costume (don’t ask) and I decide to stop by the local library.

Let me tell you, I haven’t used a council library since I was 8 and my Greenwich Library card was terminated because I was a child who used to keep books forever and/or damage them so badly that my parents had to buy them from the library. Greenwich council, I am sorry, please forgive me.

I used my secondary school library a lot, I became the best of friends with the librarian. Our friendship meant that I could spend my lunches hunched over a book or watching the star wars rap flash animation instead of standing around in the cold (or pollen or heat, depending on the season). I got first pick of the new arrivals, my opinion was valued, how many other 14 year olds answered questions like :”Is this book (with a sex scene) too mature for your age?” on weekly basis? (The answer was always no, because the smut available online was way more graphic than the brief paragraphs in question)

I looked at my local library as I walk down the highstreet… it just looked sad and small, but apparently one of my university alumni recommended it as the  place to write a dissertation when summer comes around. But… it still looked sad and small, so I went to the library 5 more minutes away.

And I fell in love again.

I only went in to see their study zone, on a whim. Instead, I have signed up for a Bexley Library Card. The librarians were so nice to me, they gave me all the information I needed to know  about the Bexley Libraries and I got their sympathy and well wishes as my broken hand is always a conversation starter- even though it’s a boring story.

So now I can take out 12 books at a time for at least three weeks. For my purse and overburdened bookshelves, this is a bit of a godsend. I was even shown to the YA department… where I browsed diligently for 15 minutes before picking the top 4 books that I needed to read ASAP and take off of my TBR list:

  • The Art of Being Normal | Lisa Williamson
  • Vanishing Girls | Lauren Oliver
  • I’ll Give You The Sun | Jandy Nelson
  • Stars Never Rise | Rachel Vincent

I’ve already read them all.

I know I was trying to read a book a week this year (and I’ve been failing), but it seems like I’m catching up on lost time. It’s turned into a book every other day right now. On my return to the Library I’m going to observe the Sci-fi Fantasy section… I’ll need you to pray for me and my bag next week, I’ll probably take home the full 12 books of my allowance.

For real though, I’m so glad I stepped foot into a non-school library for the first time in however many years again. Looking forward to my TBR list shrinking further and making friends with the librarians (maybe they do placements? who knows?). Anyway, now I have a beautiful addition to my keychain.

2016-05-12 19.12.30

Adulting and Auditing- Building Reader Communities

Apparently I do not sit through enough lectures on my course.

Why do I say this? Because on Wednesday I attended a panel on Building Reader Communities at Greenwich University. Unlike my regularly scheduled lectures, this event was held in the evening, and also… there was wine (a major plus).

Building Reader Communities? I thought it would be focusing on something like what the Royal Burough of Greenwich is doing to improve literacy rates in the council. But that’s what happens when you click attend to an Eventbrite event that you haven’t read the description of properly.

I was wrong. But pleasantly surprised.

In as little words as possible, this panel was hosted with people with experience in building a repertoire with consumers, heavily featuring recommended reads or acts, online fundraising campaigns and general fan interaction. I casually called it the “fandom conversation”.

The panel consisted of 4 (originally 5) people whose interaction with their communities in the physical and online world helped them in their endeavours. Our panelists were the Co-Directors of the Greenwich Book Festival, Auriol Bishop and Alex Pheby; Meike Ziervogel, novelist and founder of Peirene Press (they do translated “un-sellable” books); Alexis Kennedy, CEO of Interactive Fiction Studio Failbetter Games and Kate Russel, a tech reporter and author of Elite: Mostly Harmless, a novel based in the Elite Game World who attended via pre-recorded message.

We discussed the various ways that they have used their position in reader communities to promote their work and courses simply through interaction. Alexis Kennedy and Kate Russel both talked about crowdfunding and appealing to existing markets looking for new products- which were games based on literature, and literature based on games respectively. Meike Ziervogel was passionate about how publishers can do more for their authors in representing and creating a brand that communities are curious about, and therefore investigate.  Auriol Bishop and Alex Pheby focused on how they try and elevate new author’s voices, especially those of Greenwich Uni’s Creative Writing students during the Greenwich Book Festival.

From them, I have learned 5 basic tips about building a reading community from. Below,  in no particular order are these 5 tips for building a successfully engaged, enthusiastic community, with some quotes from the panelists as back up.


Unfortunately due to drinking wine and taking notes,these quotes cannot be properly credited, which does suck tremendously.


1. Be aware of the fact that community and audience are not the same. A community is more likely to enjoy your product if it is interactive, and audience implies passive consumption of your product.

“Audience is passive.”

2.  Be genuine and interact with your community. Don’t just peddle your wares, take note of what others are doing and give them feedback because they will be more likely to return the favour. Interaction can also lead to hiring from the community.

“Find something you love and show interest in the genuine community.”

3. Be regular and consistent. Have a regular appointment to post a blog feature, set a number of tweets that need to be produced a day. Anything that keeps you constantly active in the community can only help.

“Keep the show on the road or you might not be able to continue to do so.”

4. Be creative. Pair this with consistency, find new or perfect old ways to engage with your community and bring fresh perspectives to them. Do not wait for your genius to be discovered, trust your gut and write for the sake of writing [if you write], not to sell.

“Go and create!”

5. Hold your nerve. In what you believe and in what you like and what you know the community has been proven to like, sometimes this is where bigger corporations can fail.

“We’re good at knowing whats good.”


Greenwich Book Festival is held during the 27th and 28th of May this year (2016).
Elite: Mostly Harmless Elite:Dangerous is available for sale on Amazon, Kate is working on the second instalment of the series.
Failbetter Games have just launched Fundbetter in order to crowdsource for the production of their smaller, narrative-drivenn games.
Peirine Press have recently announced a winner for their flash fiction online competition an will be publishing breach by Olumide Popoola & Annie Holmes in August (2016).