Tomi Adeyemi Hates Assigned Reading
“The vast majority of American classics were ruined for me because schools made me read them too young,” says the Y.A. fantasy novelist, whose new book is “Children of Virtue and Vengeance.”
What books are on your nightstand?
“All the Stars and Teeth,” by Adalyn Grace; “Ninth House,” by Leigh Bardugo; “The Last Arrow,” by Erwin Raphael McManus. I always have an itch for great fantasy, which Grace and Bardugo provide. And I’m always interested in self-development and books that feed my soul like “The Last Arrow.”
What’s the last great book you read?
“Daring Greatly,” by Brené Brown! I was really moved by her Netflix special, and listening to her audiobook came at the perfect time in my life. She has a way of perfectly describing some of the most intimate human emotions and experiences, and she provides concrete, actionable solutions. She gave me a new level of self-awareness that’s helped me navigate my life in a meaningful way, so I’m a big fan.
Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?
Recently, no. The vast majority of American classics were ruined for me because schools made me read them too young. If I remember correctly, I think I had to read “Self-Reliance,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, in seventh grade. I remember reading “Death of a Salesman” in high school and hating it, but when I read it in college I loved it. I was blown away by what Arthur Miller had created. Because of that, I’m saving my reread of the classics for a time when life isn’t too crazy and I can focus. I want to make sure if I don’t like what society has deemed a classic story, it’s because I don’t like the actual story, and not because I didn’t understand it when I was 12.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
My ideal reading experience is on the beach, under an umbrella, with my Kindle, and with a tasty drink and snack by my side.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
I don’t think I have one? I’m a pretty basic person. I’m not even cool enough to like niche anime. Everything I gravitate to is pretty well known because they are such amazing stories.
If I had to pick one, I’d say most of my younger readers probably aren’t familiar with “The Souls of Black Folk,” by W. E. B. DuBois, and most of my older readers probably aren’t familiar with “Six of Crows,” by Leigh Bardugo.
What book should everybody read before the age of 21?
“The Poet X,” by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a stunning story told in verse about a young Dominican poet learning to use her voice and take up space. I think as we grow up and start to discover who we are, we also have to discover what we want to say. Then we have to get comfortable saying it. I think this is the kind of story that makes you feel strong when you’re reading it, and then you can lean on that strength when you need to use your voice and take up space in your real life.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
For novelists, I’m a forever-fan of Sabaa Tahir. Her debut fantasy — “An Ember in the Ashes” — was the epic tale that inspired me to write “Children of Blood and Bone.” It moved me in ways a story hadn’t moved me before and gave me a chance to imagine a fantasy world with characters I’d never gotten to see before.
For journalists, Shaun King. The work Shaun does for the black community is incredible. I respect his strength, tenacity and passion, and I admire him deeply for the commitment to getting our stories out.
For critics, I think YouTubers like Cosmonaut Variety Hour and Alex Meyers? I get a lot of entertainment from their television and movie reviews, and also get refreshers on good storytelling.
What writers are especially good on adolescent life?
Angie Thomas, Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds!
How do you distinguish Y.A. books from adult fiction?
Honestly, the main difference to me is how quickly I’m captured and transported into the story. I find the best young adult novels have all the best parts of adult fiction — the extensive world-building, the complex characters, the beautiful prose — layered over a fast-paced, exciting plot. Most of the adult fiction I read takes its time building to the climax.
Which young adult books would you recommend to people who don’t usually read Y.A.?
I always recommend “An Ember in the Ashes” and “Six of Crows” after one of my readers has finished “Children of Blood and Bone.” I find those three fantasies crossover really well and help hook people into reading other young adult books.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
That you’re not supposed to fight your anxiety, you’re supposed to fight the things that are causing your anxiety by setting better boundaries for yourself and for others. That’s one of the golden nuggets in “Daring Greatly.”
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I love a good romance! I’m always game for young adult fantasy and sci-fi. I want to read more adult books, contemporary books and poetry. And sadly, I avoid nonfiction. When I read, I like to go somewhere else in my mind with stories that touch our real world without taking place in it.
What makes for a good fantasy novel?
I think the most magical fantasies will always be the ones with a world you want to live in forever. For example, I think we loved Harry Potter, but we were in love with Hogwarts. We all wanted to go to class with him. We all wanted our own wands. I think great worlds are important because they allow readers to play in that world with their imagination long after the book is done, but a great world isn’t complete without a great protagonist.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
Acts of love. Be it familial, friendly or romantic. A beautifully described, tender act of love destroys me.
How do you organize your books?
ORIGINAL STORIES: I have a lot of the stories I wrote when I was young on my Kindle — they are hilarious and incredible and always funny to read.
BOOKS ON WRITING: I always want to be a better writer/storyteller than I am now. I love books and YouTube videos that break down the art of story.
FICTION: Most of my library is Y.A., so this is where my “I’m an adult” fiction goes.
SCI-FI: Though I’m a child of fantasy, my interest in the stars and spaceships is growing.
FANTASY: Includes all the great franchises of the past and all the exciting, diverse stories that are being published today.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
Antiheroes: Zuko, from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”; Logan, from “X-Men”; Kaz Brekker, from “Six of Crows.” Villains: Light Yagami, from “Death Note,” and Magneto, from “X-Men.” I guess my Slytherin is showing, because I love my antiheroes and my villains more than my heroes.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a voracious reader when I was young. I lived for the summer reading challenges where I could read 50 books and get like three Airheads at the end of August. The authors and books that worked themselves into my heart were Mary Pope Osborne and her Magic Tree House series, J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Masashi Kishimoto and “Naruto.” I consider myself a creative child of fantasy and anime.
How have your reading tastes changed over time?
My Kindle is loaded up with several of the stories I wrote as a girl and as a teenager. It’s wild reading them now because I vaguely remember the nights and weekends I stayed up writing these tales, and I see the plots and character types that I’ve loved reading about and imagining since I was young.
I’ve always loved sweeping romances and magical fantasies. I’ve loved headstrong, determined female protagonists and epic battles. I still like to read the same things. I think the difference now is that I get to read all the things I like with characters who look like me. My childhood stories didn’t give me that. Even in the stories I wrote myself, I was only writing white characters and biracial characters. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that erasure was painful and damaging to my sense of self. So getting to create and read stories that fight that erasure and build on my sense of self is the only significant change in my reading tastes.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Oprah Winfrey, Octavia E. Butler and Toni Morrison. I would be extremely uncomfortable in the midst of all that greatness, and I probably wouldn’t speak. But while stuffing my face with little lobster rolls, I would get to learn from and be inspired by those three incredible women.
Whom would you want to write your life story?
Honestly, me, because I’m a perfectionist. But I don’t think I’m the best person to write my story because while I have a unique take on my story, I also lack a lot of necessary perspectives that would be needed to write an accurate life story. I’m going to cheat this one and say I would like Shonda Rhimes to do a highly dramatized mini-series of my life story.
What do you plan to read next?
“Blood Heir,” by Amélie Wen Zhao. I’ve heard really great things. I’m excited to check it out!
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