This is so crazy, I’m geting the strangest sense of deja vu. Perhaps it’s because we’re back with another Bookstagrammer of the Week—a series in which we feature one Bookstagram account that we’re in love with at the moment! We reach out to the lovely account and interview them about anything and everything bookish! This week, we’ve reached out to Saeda of @readwithsaeda to talk about her Bookstagram account. Plus we’re talking Arabic representation and self-publishing in this week’s Bookstagrammer of the Week article!
Saeda M. Shalhout
Bookstagram (اقراء مع سائدة) | Goodreads | The Girl Who Lived
When it comes to Bookstagrammers, they make a career out of sharing their passion for reading. And every Bookstagramer has an origin story, so we’ve got to ask about the beginning.
When did you first get into reading?
I was about ten years old when I began reading, I quickly fell in love with getting lost in different worlds and being able to escape for just a bit. I remember begging my parents to take me to the library on weekends and taking home about 10 books a week and just reading.
As a content creator, there are quite a few milestones that deserve to be celebrated! And recently, Saeda has reached 10k followers on her Bookstagram account! Over that time, I’m sure that you’ve learned a few tips and tricks that could help aspiring Bookstagrammers!
What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned throughout your journey as a Bookstagrammer?
Thank you so much, it still feels surreal that people want to actually follow me. One lesson I learned is to always be honest with how you feel about a book and to always be as transparent as possible. People want to follow accounts that are honest, authentic and just fun.
You recently did an interview with Prose Before magazine that focused on the difficulty of moving from America to Palestine. You said, “At the beginning of our move to Palestine I felt out of place and disoriented. I simply did not belong, but pieces of me didn’t want to return to America just yet.”
What was it like transitioning from a life in America to a life in Palestine? Did that move have any impact on your reading? What was it like handling such a great change as a young adult?
It was hard, I won’t lie and pretend it wasn’t. The cultural shock hit me hard and I felt lost. My Arabic wasn’t as good as it is now but I kept to myself and I think that was what made it really hard at first. I couldn’t bring all my favorite books with me, which made me really sad and it was hard to restart my book collection, but I took “my favorites” and they comforted me. Books are my comfort and brought me peace when I didn’t have any. It took about a year or two for me to finally allow myself to open up to Palestine, and it was easy to fall in love with the city, the people and the world but it was heartbreaking all at the same time. But books till this day have always saved me from the thoughts and it will forever be my comfort zone and safe place.
It’s incredible how books are able to offer us solace during turbulent times. We’ve heard through the grapevine that you’re working toward self-publishing a novel! Perhaps your book–The Girl Who Lived–will offer that same solace to your readers.
Please tell us what you’re hoping readers take away from your novel!
Self-publishing is beyond tricky and scary. I was meant to release my debut novel in 2022 but I wanted it to be perfect so it will be out in 2023. It’s a fantasy romance novel that has demons, angels, and a morally grey character named Zain that I absolutely simp for. Camila Richelieu is a girl who returned back home for one mission and one mission only—to find the person that killed her parents. In the process, she rekindles a childhood friendship with the one and only Zain Cheru. Zain Cheru is your typical morally gray character but with one solid twist—he’s the King of the Underworld and promises to help Camila Richelieu find the person that killed her parents and bring them to justice…or his version of justice.
You’ve said before that if you were to start talking about the treatment of POC in America, you wouldn’t be able to stop. I wonder if this also applies to popular literature and how we deal with and talk about POC cultures.
What are some changes that you hope to see in regard to proper representation of Arabic culture in literature?
It’s been a while since I picked up a book with Arabic representation and I would love to normalize using Arabic words in books. Being able to talk about our culture, our food and being able to be people and not have to force any stereotypes into a book is something I long to see. I try to insert Arabic representation in my own book, and I can only hope that I did some justice. I didn’t want to “force” the representation, but I wanted it to be natural. In book 2 of the series (which is already in the works ha) there is way more Arabic representation and that makes me really excited for the world to read/see.
Now that we’re on the subject of proper representation, do you have any books that you’d recommend for their accurate and positive representation of their Muslim characters?
It’s really sad to say this, but there are only a handful of books that I’ve read with Muslim characters: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali, Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, and Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin.
Like all good things, our time with Saeda must come to an end. We’re so sad to see her go, but not before we ask one final question!
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
I really hope whoever reads this one day, supports me when my book does come out because all I have ever wanted to do is to write, to create a safe place and to create a world where people can escape just like books were for me.
Want more Bookstagrammer of the Week articles from me? You can check out last weeks feature here!