June 17, 2020: This Week We're Wild About... Adiba Jaigirdar
I'd planned to go to Ireland this April-a second chance at a trip I'd missed when studying abroad in London. One I'd fantasized about for over ten years. Then the pandemic happened and that was that. But as an obsessive reader I've always known that if you can't walk into a place by stepping off a plane, train or automobile, you can do it by walking into a book. I don't know when I'll get my third shot at Dublin, but that's where Adiba Jaigirdar lives and all of us can travel there by reading her new book.
The Henna Wars hits a unique sweet spot-a story that offers both escapist fun and food for thought. It's a romantic comedy about a Muslim girl named Nishat who competes with a beautiful girl over who is the best henna artist at school. In the past few weeks, books on race and antiracism have sold like hotcakes across the country. As a librarian and book believer, I love that so much. But many of these books are the type of fiction that will make you cry or the type of nonfiction that will make you feel like you're taking a class (no shade, I love crying and I love school). We need to read those books, but as a woman of color, I also think it's important to learn about other cultures and backgrounds by reading their joy. A book like The Henna Wars can offer us the escape of a cute, sweet romance while also exploring issues of race, homophobia, and identity. And, like Adiba says, queer teens of color deserve to read happy stories about themselves.
I hope you enjoy Adiba's interview below. She has eloquent and inspiring thoughts about reading to escape and to learn and the role of publishing in Black Lives Matter.
- Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
What's the title of your upcoming book?
What book should readers go to for an escape from reality?
What book should readers go to when they want to face reality?
What was your reading life like before the pandemic?
My reading life was pretty active pre-pandemic. I usually read quite a lot, about 50 to 100 books a year ranging a lot of different genres.
What has your reading life been like since the pandemic?
A lot less active than before. In the 4 months since lockdown in Ireland, I've read significantly less. I've also been less varied in my reading. Most of the books I've found myself picking up are either romance-centered, or thrillers. Both of those genres are a form of escapism for me. I've found it increasingly difficult to pick up any book that has heavier or darker themes. Or even when I have picked them up, I've found it difficult to actually finish reading them.
Why should people read for pleasure? Is that any different now?
People should read for pleasure because it can be a way to escape into another world during a difficult time. Reading can definitely help manage anxiety. I also think at this time so many of us are in lockdown. We don't have many opportunities to venture out into the outside world, or to even communicate in meaningful ways with our peers. Reading can sometimes be about living vicariously through different characters, and can help us experience some of the things we're currently missing out on because of the pandemic. Of course, right now there's also the Black Lives Matter protests going on in the U.S. but also around the world, to get justice for the Black people who have been murdered at the hands of police officers. Because of that, I think it's also important that non-Black people are reading to educate themselves, to learn, and to confront the reality of something that they may not have to deal with. I definitely think reading is different now. Whether you're reading to educate yourself or for escapism, it feels a little more deliberate somehow.
What do you hope your book gives to readers?
I hope that when readers pick up The Henna Wars they can have some form of escapism. At the end of the day, it's a rom-com and it's all about all the different types of love in the world, whether this is the cute girl in your class, your family, or your friends. I also hope that readers can learn more about race and racism, and how actions like cultural appropriation can be deeply harmful and dehumanizing. I hope that queer readers of colour can see a reflection of themselves in the pages of my book and realize that they deserve happiness, support, and love.
Should book lovers worry about the future of publishing during the pandemic? If so, how can they help?
I think they can worry about it, because publishing will inevitably change because of the pandemic, and it should change because of the BLM protests. Book lovers can help by supporting independent bookshops whenever they can. They are going to be hit hardest by the pandemic, and they have also been doing so much to support authors during this difficult time. Book lovers should also ensure that they are pushing for diversity in publishing. That they are specifically buying and reading books by Black authors - not just the ones that will educate them about police brutality or racism, but the books about Black kids going to prom, falling in love, going on adventures, coming of age, celebrating who they are as Black kids. Make sure publishing knows that you want books about Black people by Black writers, and you want them to be about everything, the good, the bad, and everything in-between.
If you could imagine your dream virtual library, what would it be like?
It would be really diverse, and all of the books would be by writers of colour.