Creator Spotlight: Meet Shelah, the Gordon Ramsay of Book Reviews

September 22, 2022

Hi, I’m Shelah Jegede, a 25-year-old bookstagrammer who writes book reviews.

I like rock music. I read a lot and work at a bookstore as a buyer/procurer. For fun, I watch anime. I don’t really think I’m interesting.

What’s your favourite anime?

One Piece!

See, I don’t know why I asked. Your Twitter name is “Luffy’s wife”

Laughs*  Yeah, that’s my favourite anime.

So, you’re a bookstagrammer. How did that happen?

I have a friend, Uche, who ran a bookstagram account two years ago. I read a lot, and I’d tell him how good I think a particular book is, so he asked me to open one too. I was so confused about what a bookstagram account was. He showed me his page, and I saw that the people he was following and his followers were all book accounts. I opened mine in 2020. 

What’s it like to be a bookstagrammer?

You get to meet many people and work in the book industry. It’s always funny to hear people say, “Nigerians don’t read,” because working in the book industry has shown me that’s a lie. The sales we make daily at the bookstore where I work, selling only books, show that a lot of Nigerians read. I’ve seen someone walk into the store and buy ₦100k worth of books just like that. Not for a library or charity, just for themselves. 

Have you always been a big reader?

Yes, I’ve been a big reader since I was a child. I always make sure to read 100 pages every day. 

What types of books did you read as a child? 

When I started reading, I didn’t read children’s books. I was reading thrillers and horror when I was like seven.

So like Goosebumps? Please say Goosebumps

Yes, I read those, but I started with the gory ones. It got to a point where my mum started burning my books when she noticed I was buying and reading stuff like that.

Do you think those books had any influence on you?

Well, I’m goth. I’ve always been into dark stuff like rock music and horror. I used to take pictures at home dressed as a goth, but I no longer have time for that. I also have a lot of tattoos, and people are always surprised by them. It’s just what I am and what I’ve always been. I can’t go full goth to work, but I always wear black. When people ask if I’m mourning someone, I just explain that I’m goth and can’t express myself how I’d like. 

And you said you’re not interesting. If you could live in a fictional universe, what would it be?

I wouldn’t survive but the universe of Six of Crows. You can only survive if you have money. Actually, even money can’t save you. Tbh a better option would be One Piece. I’d like to chill with Luffy and the gang. 

How many books do you own?

I own a lot of books. I started to run out of shelf space, so now, they live in boxes. They should be up to 300.

What! How do you handle rodents? 

I don’t have rodent issues. They don’t disturb my books.

How can you afford that? Are you laundering money?

Laughs* I’ve been buying books since I can’t remember. Plus the old ones and the ones I’ve been given. If I have a book I don’t like, I read and sell or give it out. 

Does working at a bookstore get you discounts?

Yes, I get discounts. I also get proof copies. Also, one advantage of running a bookstagram account is authors and publishers will reach out to you for book reviews. I don’t review books for self published authors in Nigeria anymore because they don’t take criticism well. They also like to pay, and I don’t like getting paid so I don’t feel obligated to write a nice review. If your book is horrible, I’ll say it’s horrible, and I don’t want money to tie me down. 

Ever had issues because of a bad review you wrote?

Yes, two of them. I didn’t even give bad reviews. I have a reputation on Instagram as the Gordon Ramsey of books because I’m always honest. The  first author sent me a review copy, and the book was awful. I had to force myself to finish. When I was done, I took a picture and said, “For reasons known to me, I will not be reviewing this book”, and she blocked me. What if I had reviewed the book instead? 

The second author  wrote about queer people condescendingly, and it had nothing to do with the plot. It was even Christian fiction. I had to call it out. Then she wrote a blog post saying how she was not homophobic. I told her to write her Christian fiction and go away, abeg. 

How do you get to review books from non-Nigerians?

You reach out to the publishers, not the authors, and tell them what you do. Share your handle and where you’d be reviewing it. Some of them will air your message because, who are you? And there is this bias they have towards African book reviewers. During COVID, they told me that because of the pandemic, they couldn’t send books out, but they sent them to other non-Africans. It’s just luck. Most times, I just buy the book. 

What are some other struggles you face as a bookstagrammer? 

Sometimes, it can be overwhelming when other bookstagrammers are reading a so many books. I feel pressured to do the same. There’s also the pressure of taking nice pictures. Sometimes, I take breaks from posting so I don’t feel pressured and can just enjoy my book. Another thing is there’s always the pressure to read popular books. People ignore you when you’re talking about the non-popular ones, except you already have a following.

How did you become the Gordon Ramsey of book reviews?

There are these popular books people on TikTok always say are interesting, but when you read them, it’ll be the worst thing you’ve ever read. No plot, just heterosexual sex. I started doing this thing where I review those specific books, dissect and tell people how trash it is. 

There was a time when I said many writers on TikTok don’t know how to write romance. They’d write sexual connections and sell them as romantic, and people started agreeing with me. I like romance but let it be well written. I’m just tired of the heteronormative rubbish in romance. If it’s good, I won’t say it’s bad. I thought people would unfollow me for these opinions, but it turns out they like them.  

Which romantic books do you consider well-written?

I’ll say She Gets the Girl, the Heartstopper series. I don’t read a lot of romance; fantasy is my favourite genre. Six of Crows is fantasy, but some of the characters were in love and had good relationships. The Song of Achilles is also good, and finally, Seven Days in June

Her favourite books right now

Which do you prefer, hard copies or ebooks?

Definitely hard copies. I don’t enjoy reading on my phone; it’s very distracting. 

Book pet peeve?

Unremovable stickers and annotating books. I can’t stand it. Just get a jotter or something. It’s like defacing a beautiful white wall. Why would you do that? Get sticky notes, don’t just write on the book nau.

No. Let’s fight because I annotate. Let me guess, you don’t lend people your books, right?

Let’s not fight, please. I don’t borrow people my books oh. I’d rather buy you a copy. I had this book titled Knots and Crosses, a series about an alternate universe where white people are oppressed. I borrowed this boy, but he didn’t tell me he was travelling. I didn’t see him for a week so I visited and his Grandma said he’d travelled. With my book! I bought a new one, but never again. 

What’s your favourite and least favourite thing about being a bookstagrammer?

Just discussing books with people is what I love most about it. I love when I post about a book I’m reading, people reply, and we have the most interesting conversation. I don’t like the arguments and when people are snobbish with books that aren’t even good. 

D’you think you’ll still be talking about books in the next five years?

Way more even. I’ll still be reading and reviewing books. That can never change. I’m thinking of starting a sapphic book club. The idea is nice, but I’m not an extrovert and gathering people together is hard. It’ll be monthly, for people who are just starting to read and want something fluffy. No pressure to read whatever we’d be reading monthly. 

What’s your favourite quote about books?

A book is a gift you can open over and over again. I don’t know who said it. 

READ ALSO: Creator Spotlight: Itohan Uses Her Love for Amebo to Document Stories

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