Spotlight on a creator: meet Shelah, the Gordon Ramsay of book reviews

Hi, I am Shelah Jegede. I am 25. I am a bookstagrammer who writes book reviews.

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

What is your favorite anime?

A play!

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

Laughs* Yeah, it’s my favorite anime.

So you are a bookseller. How did it happen?

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

What’s it like to be a bookstagrammer?

You 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, which only sells books, show that many Nigerians read. I saw someone walk into the store and buy 100,000 pounds like that. Not for a library or charity, just for themselves.

How much does the bookstore earn in a month?

We have different agencies: two in Abuja, one in Lagos, on the island, and I work at the one in Surulere. We also sell on Instagram, Twitter and through the website. Each store has a goal for the month. The turnover of all branches combined is in the tens of millions.

Do you hire people? Also, have you always been a big reader?

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

What kinds of books did you read as a child?

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

Then as Goose bumps? please say Goose bumps

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

Do you think these books have had an influence on you?

Well, I’m goth. I’ve always liked dark stuff like rock and horror. I used to take pictures at home dressed as a goth, but I don’t have time for that anymore. I also have a lot of tattoos and people are always surprised by them. It’s just who I am and always have been. I can’t be completely goth at work, but I always wear black. When people ask me if I mourn someone, I simply explain that I am goth and that I cannot express myself as I would like.

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

I wouldn’t survive but the universe of Six of Ravens. You can only survive if you have money. In fact, even money cannot save you. Tbh a better option would be A play. I would like to relax with Luffy and the gang.

How many books do you own?

I own a lot of books. I started running 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 problems. They don’t disturb my books.

How can you afford it? Do you launder money?

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

Does working in a bookstore entitle you to discounts?

Yes, I have discounts. I also receive proof copies. Also, one of the benefits of running a bookstagram account is that authors and publishers will contact you for book reviews. I don’t review self-published Nigerian books anymore because they don’t take reviews well. They also like to pay, and I don’t like getting paid, so I don’t feel compelled to write a good review. If your book is horrible, I’ll say it’s horrible, and I don’t want the money to tie me down.

Have you ever had problems 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 I know, I won’t be reviewing this book,” and she blocked me. What if I had reviewed the book instead?

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

How do you manage to review books by non-Nigerians?

You reach out to publishers, not authors, and tell them what you’re doing. Share your username and where you will review it. Some of them will spread your message because, who are you? And there’s this bias they have towards African book reviews. During COVID they told me that because of the pandemic they cannot send books, but they send them to other non-Africans. It’s just luck. Most of the time I just buy the book.

What other challenges do you face as a bookstagramer?

Sometimes it can be overwhelming when other bookstagrammers read so many books. I feel compelled to do the same. There is also the pressure to take beautiful photos. Sometimes I take breaks before publishing so I don’t feel pressured and can just enjoy my book. Another thing is that there is always pressure to read popular books. People ignore you when you talk about the unpopular ones except you already have a following.

How did you become the Gordon Ramsey of book reviews?

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

There was a time when I said that many writers on TikTok didn’t know how to write romance. They were writing about sex and selling it as romantic, and people started to agree with me. I love romance but it should be well written. I’m just tired of heteronormative trash in romance. If it’s good, I won’t say it’s bad. I thought people wouldn’t follow me for these opinions, but it turns out they love them.

What romantic books do you consider well written?

I will say She gets the girl, the Heart stroke series. I don’t read a lot of novels; fantasy is my favorite genre. Six of Ravens is fantastic, but some of the characters were in love and had good relationships. The Song of Achilles that’s good too, and finally, Seven days in June.

Her favorite books right now

Which do you prefer, hard copies or ebooks?

Definitely hard copies. I don’t like to read on my phone; it’s very entertaining.

Book the black beast?

Non-removable stickers and annotation books. I can not support it. Just get a notepad or something. It’s like degrading a beautiful white wall. Why would you do that? Get sticky notes, don’t just write on the nau book.

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

Please don’t fight. I don’t borrow my books from people oh. I’d rather buy you a copy. I had this book called 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 traveling. I didn’t see him for a week so I visited him and his grandmother said he had travelled. With my book! I bought a new one, but never again.

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about being a bookstagrammer?

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

Do you think you will still be talking about books in the next five years?

Even more. I will continue to read and review books. This can never change. I’m thinking of starting a Sapphic book club. The idea is nice, but I’m not an extrovert and bringing people together is difficult. It will be monthly, for people who are just starting to read and want something fluffy. No pressure to read what we read each month.

What’s your favorite quote about books?

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

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Alycia R. Lindley