Happy New Year!

It was pleasant to talk about books with Jennie Marima.

Jennie is an author of many children’s and Young Adult fiction, including “Trio Troubles” and “Just This Once.” She is an editor too. She owns a YouTube channel, “Shi Scribbles” where, in her bubbly nature, hooks her audience into the realms of book publishing and writing.

Jennie generously shares her outlook with us, from why a personal connection with books is important to her, to why she would occasionally feel that she has no authority to speak about books, and to the reading habits she is cultivating in this new decade and beyond.

NAFSI What are the three most memorable books you have read over the past decade?

JENNIE: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo, and “Drunk” by Biko Zulu. I have come to understand that books connect with people differently. How I experience a book and how someone else experiences the same book could be dissimilar. Also, a book can be popular but my personal connection with it is nonexistent whereas a book may be ignored by many but it completely moves me. With the three books, I have felt a connection with their stories, characters, and writing. These are books I will definitely read again. Usually for me the mark of a good book is one that draws me to re-read it. For instance, there were times I used to read “Americanah” in the beginning of every year.

NAFSI This is interesting to know. And this bestseller is actually adapted into a ten-episode HBO series, we believe, in 2020.

JENNIE I am not looking forward to watching it honestly. Movie adaptations, in this case a series, do not do justice to the novels. I had read “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “12 Years a Slave” before watching their movie adaptations. They do not come close to the books.  

NAFSI Novels being better than on-screen adaptations is an opinion we hear many times. Why do you personally hold this view?

JENNIE A book gives me the room to visualize the story on my own. It allows me to see the characters through my own lens. On the other hand, a movie is an imagination of a few people of how the book is. It has already made that decision for me. The characters may look like how I thought of but when it comes to how they sound, their demeanour, and how I connect with them in a movie is different compared to a novel. Other times, that personal connection is lacking altogether. It is disappointing too when the feelings evoked when reading the novel is not the same when watching the movie.

NAFSI The general argument has been that it is unsatisfactory to pack together, say, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, a 433-page novel to a 113-minute feature film since significant moments could be missing. What you have shared, we think, is a fresh perspective and thought-provoking at that. Now, other than reading, how else do you maintain a connection with books?

JENNIE Thank you. I listen to plenty of writing-related podcast, including “Grammar Girl”, “Write About Now”, and “The Allusionist”. As an editor, I read very many manuscripts. I feel like I am always connected to books through the nature of my work. I write books, buy books, wishing I had more time to read books, host videos on YouTube about books…

There were times I felt like I have no authority to speak about books because I need to read more. I do not want that voice to get loud. I came to realize that we all have different parts to play when it comes to books.”

NAFSI Wait a minute; reading a pile of manuscripts could take up so much of your time and energy. Do you have enough time to read books off the shelves?

JENNIE No. And to some degree that has made me feel like I am an imposter. My life revolves around books but I do not find time to read as many as I would like. When people ask me if I have read certain books, I find that a number of times I have not. There were times I felt like I have no authority to speak about books because I need to read more. I do not want that voice to get loud. I came to realize that we all have different parts to play when it comes to books. My role right now could be editing and talking about them, another person’s role could be selling or buying them. We should not let the feeling of inadequacy get in the way of us being in this space. Sometimes, I must say, that feeling lingers. It can be loud and other times it is muted.

NAFSI For a writer such as yourself to admit that reading can be difficult is bold.

JENNIE I have had to clear my calendar for me to finish reading a book. It was a chore. There are books that demand a lot from the reader and that is unfair. It should not be burdensome for readers.

NAFSI Do you find it acceptable, or even experience zero guilt, when you do not finish a book to its last word?

JENNIE Yes. I have put many books down. It reaches a point where I conclude that maybe it is me or maybe it is the book. There have been moments when I put a book down and it reels me in when I pick it up later. One good example is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. I think the mood I was in the first time I opened its pages contributed to my poor interest in it. Then there are books I put down never to pick up where I left off, like John Green’s “Turtles All The Way Down.” I was excited to start reading it immediately I got my hands on it only to come across a character having a stomach problem like me at the time. I did not need a book reminding me about my struggles in real life. (Laughs) When I read, I look for an escape from the reality. That said, I may go back to the book one day.

NAFSI What is your opinion about the book industry in this past decade?

JENNIE I think in the beginning of the decade there were concerns that technology and eBooks will take the place of paperbacks and hardbacks. But I think in 2019 their sales seem to be holding the forte. I do not have any statistics off the top of my head. This is from my own observation. It is also wonderful to see all these other forms of books, audio-books and eBooks, emerge.

NAFSI What do you wish to do differently when it comes to how you approach books in this new decade?

JENNIE I dismissed eBooks in this past decade. I want to give them a second chance, who knows, I may uncover some magic out of them. I am eager to explore audio-books too since I enjoy listening to podcasts.  Secondly, I have had pockets of deliberate reading through a book club and I am grateful it forced me to read more in this past decade. I want to be more purposeful in making time to read in this new era.

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