Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)
Something that I have reflected on a lot in the last few years has been the differential privileges of being a bookish content creator living in either the US, UK, or Australia and those who live outside these countries. In the last few years, book bloggers who live outside the US, UK, and Australia – which I’ll henceforth collectively call ‘international book bloggers’ – have been outspoken about the obstacles and challenges that they face.
Broadly speaking, international readers face a myriad of barriers to access books. Examples of such barriers may be the high cost of books in some countries, not having access to libraries or libraries only stocking older books and not stocking more current books. Therefore, being a reader and not being able to access the books that are meant to be for you – because they represent you, a part of you, your culture, and your identity – and are intended to resonate with you the most is understandably a frustrating experience.
Though the issue is systemic and perhaps are slow to change, in the midst of such discussions about accessibility of books, I am thoughtful of international book bloggers. International book bloggers do such incredible work, offer thoughtful and valuable insights, and are such passionate members of the blogging community; I truly value the hard work they do, which is often tenfold in the face of privileges that US, UK, and Australian bookish content creators are afforded.
Today, I have the utmost pleasure of having Ikram, as a hijabi cendrawasih (that I had so much fun bringing to life!), visiting the Pond to talk about her experiences – positives and frustrations! – of being a book blogger from based in Indonesia. But, before I share with you Ikram’s words, for the friends out there who haven’t met Ikram before, allow me to introduce you to her wonderful blog: Readlogy!
Ikram’s Book Blog: Readlogy!
If you are ever on the look out for new book blogs to follow, Readlogy is an effortless recommendation! Ikram’s book blog offers thoughtful and insightful book reviews (I particularly love her review for The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf), posts where she shares new book releases that she’s excited to read, and has even done some wonderful and really thoughtful author interviews!
In particular, I really loved reading her author interview with Adiba Jaigirdar, whose YA debut, The Henna Wars, released only last week!
Another post that I am incredibly excited to share with you all is Ikram’s amazing post where she shares 15+ books to read during Ramadan! I loved Ikram’s thoughtful responses to each of her recommendations, and you can tell how much heart and passion that went into putting this book recommendation post together. Make sure you check it out!
Ikram: ‘Experiences of Being a South-East Asian Reader‘
Growing up, I’ve always known that reading a book is my way to have fun in between school works—I still remember the first time my parents bought me a book or the first collection I owned. It wasn’t until middle school where I started saving up some money so I could buy books by myself, that I realized how expensive and inaccessible they are. When I was still a student, I depended on a library near my middle school if I wanted to read books. The owner of the library was this lovely lady that I grew fond of and she had a big collection of fiction books (from middle grade to general fiction).
Being a reader and blogger from Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, is quite an experience for me. It’s not always that bad, but it’s not a good experience either, and I’m not speaking on all Indonesian readers’ behalf, because it’s not the same for everyone. As both an international reader and blogger, the price and accessibility of books play a big role in my reading experience, also a struggle I have to face. Although I’m glad that both Indonesia’s government and bookstores provide online libraries that are almost accessible to everyone but they only provide books by local authors or translated works.
When it comes to new releases from international authors or advanced reader copies, I still don’t have much luck. Sometimes publishers only release a hardcover version of the book, which is very expensive. Most of the time, I have to wait until they’re available on paperback, they’re currently on sale or I will just buy the ebook version of it. It’s the same thing with advanced reader copy, where publishers prioritize those who live in the US/UK. Sometimes they’re not being kind either with bloggers from around the world; say they only accept ARC requests from bloggers who review exclusively on English, even if I’m an #ownvoices reviewer for the book. It sucks, but it feels like there’s nothing I can do about it.
Though, being a Southeast Asian reader and blogger it’s not always that bad! In fact, I experience so many good things as one. English is not my native language and, I admit, it’s hard to write a decent book review or article in English. For me, it’s one of the challenges of being a SEA blogger. Whenever I write a blog post, I always have few articles from other bloggers open on my browser to adapt their writing style and choice of words, then make my own articles from that. It’s always a challenge for me, to read a book and write a blog post in English. Every day I learn something new and I always improve myself, both in writing and reading.
With little access to books, I used to trade books with my friends when I was still in school. It was fun, because I found a lot of hidden gems in my friends’ collections. I could see my friend’s annotations and vice versa. The best thing about the trade was that we didn’t have to pay for anything! It was a win-win situation for everyone.
In the past years, I’ve found pieces of myself in books. Of course, Indonesian authors are doing a great job in creating stories in which I can relate, but to see some part of myself in a book that reaches a wider audience makes me really happy. So many Indonesian authors’ works are translated into English and I’m so proud of them.
I see a part of myself in Hanna Alkaf’s The Weight of Our Sky and Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire. Malaysian and Indonesian culture, although different, are similar to one another. I still remember how overproud I was when Natasha Ngan included kebaya in her books! I also see a part of myself in Ayu Utami’s Saman, where I finally have courage to discuss taboo things and controversial things in Indonesia openly. I see part of myself in Roshani Chokshi’s Pandava Quarter, because I grew up learning and hearing about Hindu mythology and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata—reading this series feels like I went back to my childhood where I visited Hindu temples in Java and watched Ramayana ballet.
At the end of the day, I hope books are less expensive and more accessible to everyone. It’s true that in Indonesia, reading a book is a privilege a lot of people need to acknowledge, including me. I hope many publishers stop side-eyeing international bloggers and start giving them the same chance as UK/US bloggers, because we deserve to have the same treatment, regardless where we live. And most of all, I wish there will be more books like The Weight of Our Sky and Girls of Paper and Fire, where it is rich in Southeast Asian culture with characters that aren’t being fetishized, where people can find themselves in books.
While sometimes I don’t feel confident enough in writing in English, or I feel like my article is not good enough, knowing that I’m not alone makes me feel a little powerful. No one’s perfect on the first try, right? That’s why, I’m going to improve myself every day, even if it’s scary.
Thank you so much CW for having me! It is a pleasure to be here!
About the Book Blogger
Ikram is a content writer and social media specialist based in Indonesia. She started blogging (seriously) since 2019 and Readlogy is her first blog. When she is not busy with her 9 to 5 job, you can find Ikram snuggling under the blanket watching fashion hauls, scrolling through her Twitter timeline or reading a book. (I mean… it’s obvious, right?)
She enjoys reading fantasy, contemporary and romance books. Her favorite books are The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf and We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal.
Thank you for joining us for another Asian Heritage Month post, friends! I value Ikram’s thoughts and voices so much and it was such an honour to have her visit us at the Pond today. Something that Ikram highlights in her post that I really loved is the importance of solidarity and uplifting each other to do better and to help one another.
Make sure you visit Ikram’s corner of the internet, and perhaps give her a follow! Her content is excellent and I cannot recommend her blog enough, especially if you’re looking for more South-East Asian and Muslim reads!