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Bookstagramming: Profiling Books that Need More Attention, Read with Samia

Instagram is now featuring a rising star: books. Bookstagramming, or having an Instagram account centered around books and book reviews, gained popularity during the last decade.

As bookstagramming becomes more popular, bookstagram accounts also have gained stardom. Since the beginning COVID-19, access to bookstores has become limited, and more and more people have resorted to looking online for their next read. These accounts provide simple solutions to the search for a new read. Some Bookstagrammers also offer an insight into books that are not as visible in the mainstream literary world.

We talk to Bookstagrammer Read with Samia about her passion for bookstagramming, reading authors from under represented communities and reviewing books that deserve more attention.

What made you start Read with Samia?

I started the Read with Samia page on Instagram because I was keen to connect with other readers. I have always had a love of books, and my reading has changed significantly over the years. I have been trying to read more, and conscientiously particularly in recent years, and was really keen to find a community where I could discuss my reading experiences. I discovered there was a huge community of readers on Instagram, from all over the world, reading a huge range of books. I felt I had finally found a space where I could share my thoughts and have some deep and meaningful conversations around books.

You mainly read authors from under represented communities and review books that deserve more attention. Why is this important to you?

Minority communities are often sidelined and quietened when it comes to public life, and this is no different when it comes to the literary space and publishing industry. I believe it is incredibly important that we are able to share our stories so we can inspire, learn from each other, teach and become better versions of ourselves. So much of our lives, our history, roots and politics are often glossed over or hidden, but these are integral in understanding ourselves and the world around us. I think there are many important books being written that more people need to read to learn more. I would like to see people become better equipped to discuss issues regarding race, class, faith, colonialism and political ideologies.

Do you think the mainstream literary world needs to be more diverse?

Absolutely. We still see that the books being published today are overwhelmingly by white men, many of whom are of a middle-class background with an array of privileges. While there are definitely more writers from different backgrounds being published, the spaces and budgets received for marketing and publicity are significantly lower, meaning they still do not reach as many people. It is important that people, especially children, see themselves and their experienced reflected in books. Over the last 24 years, only 13% of all childrens books have included multicultural content, including black and Asian characters. Not only does this mean that black and Asian children do not feel represented, but it also sends a message to white children about what society looks like. It can be alienating and divisive.

What do you do when you’re not reading?

I am a freelance writer working in the charity sector. I spend my day times producing a range of content for international charities. In my spare time, apart from reading, I enjoy walking and cooking.

How many books do you read in a year, and how do you choose your books?

I aim to read at least one book a week, but my average is usually 2 or 3, depending on how busy my week has been! I find many book recommendations from friends on Instagram but I am largely what is referred to as a “mood reader”. This means I tend to choose books depending on how I am feeling and what I am particularly feeling inclined towards at that moment.

Do you have a list of absolute must-reads? Could you give us your top 5 all-time favourites?

I find any question about my favourite books super difficult, but here are five books I think everyone should read:

1. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

2. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

3. The Mountains Sing by Mai Phan Que Nguyen

4. Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn

5. The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain

Do you have a personal reading list and a different work-related list of books you’d like to read? Also, how do you balance between books published in the past and those that are new releases?

I don’t have separate reading lists, and find that my work interests are things I like to read outside of working hours too. I find balancing new releases and older books one of the most challenging things to do, especially as because there are so many books available! I try to ensure I am reading a good balance between new releases and older books by trying not to buy too many new books! It can be so tempting to buy books as they are released, but I try to keep calm and wait until I have read more of what I currently own. This helps me to read a significant number of books previously published too.

So, how does one become a ‘bookstagrammer’?

Becoming a ‘Bookstagrammer’ is very easy, and I think there are no real rules one must abide by. A Bookstagram account is simply an Instagram account that is dedicated to books. I use my account for some general musings and thoughts too, while I focus on literature. Most Bookstagram accounts include updates on what books are being read, book reviews, reflections and a range of pictures.

Is Instagram your preferred medium to discuss books?

Yes, Instagram is the only place I discuss books online. I find the community to be warm, interesting, insightful and very open. I have met some wonderful people and have learnt so much from so many people around the world. I have also been able to connect with authors and publishers which has been brilliant.

Your pictures on Instagram follow an aesthetic. Do you have any tips for aspiring book lovers – for example the kind of camera, lighting and set up involved?

Some people have incredible aesthetics, and I’m afraid I’m not particularly good in this department! I think photos can be taken on any smart phone, but good natural lighting is key. I tend to take my pictures during the day against a plain background. I also use props, which are usually items I have lying around the house such as candles, cups, pot pourri or items of jewellery. My biggest tip would be not to worry. I think in time people develop their own styles, depending on what they are comfortable with.

What kind of books does your audience love more? Do you see more readers respond to a particular kind of title you’ve recommended or put up?

I focus most on sharing book reviews, and have found that people seem more interested in those books that are less well-known. I think it is interesting for people to hear about books that fewer people are talking about, especially if they are about important issues such as race, class or history.

Would you like to see more Muslim writers and Muslim stories in the mainstream literary world?

Yes, of course. I believe Muslim communities have some incredible experiences and stories that need to be shared and told more widely, and I hope writers find courage and the spaces to share these.

Which books are you anticipating the most this year?

There are some incredible titles coming out this year, and I’m really looking forward to reading as many as I can. I am particularly looking forward to Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim, and Sunny by Sukh Olja.

What does the future of Muslim literature look like to you?

To me, the future of Muslim literature certainly looks bright. We are seeing more and more Muslim authors writing in a range of genres including memoirs, fantasy, adventure and crime. I am excited to see what other incredible work is brought into the world.

For more information check out @readwithsamia on Instagram

The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.


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