Books and Me: On my shelves with Jayne Mushore

Jayne Mushore, Project Support Officer at Hampshire Libraries, speaks with us about empowering reads, childhood joys and the complexities of international identities.

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Where’s your favourite place to read?

I used to commute between Middlesbrough and London so a lot of my reading happened on the train, but I love listening to audiobooks in the car too – you can just put something on and drive, it’s a great way to pass the time. But for me, the best place to read is on holiday. Looking out across the sea without a care in the world, just getting completely lost in the book. I’m not rushing to get here or there I’m not rushing to do anything. There’s just that chilled vibe, knowing I don’t have to put the book down until I’m quite ready. I can just get lost in the pages.

How do you read?

I always read a fiction and non-fiction book at the same time. Sometimes the non-fiction becomes too much and I’ll need something more exciting and that’s when I’ll switch to the fiction book. With fiction, you have to conjure those images in your mind to picture how the scene would look and so I can’t read two fiction books at the same time. In an ideal world, I would love to start a book and finish it in one sit-in, but with work and home life, I really have to make time. So I take any chance I get to just sit down and read.

I love audiobooks and I use BorrowBox a lot. I would say my reading is about 50/50 between audiobooks and physical books. When someone is reading the book aloud to you, they will put the emphasis on parts that wouldn’t necessarily stand out to you. But when you read something yourself, you can pause on the parts that resonate with you personally. So while I love audiobooks I do really like to read a book myself when I can.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading Slay In Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene. It’s a non-fiction book of black British women telling the story of their experience stepping on the career ladder. It talks about the challenges that they faced and how they navigate the working world. For example, one of the women talks about how they created a lingerie line for women of colour, producing tights that work for different skin tones. If it isn’t something you think about it can seem small, and if you don’t have the option, it may not be something you think you need. But actually, being able to wear something that works with your body is great and it’s really important for somebody to have that option.

“The quest for good is a marathon and not a sprint; it is measured over years, not fleeting moments; over failures and missteps and, of course, successes.” – Slay In Your Lane

The other book I’m reading is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s quite out there and the cover really caught my eye. It’s about a girl who is communicating with spirits but is cursed by her community as her conception was from rape. It’s set in Africa and over the last year a lot of the novels I’ve been reading are Africa-based. I love reading about Africa in fiction, it’s always brought to life so differently each time, particularly in Who Fears Death. It’s quite different from any book I’ve read.

Reading patterns

I don’t really follow a genre or author in particular, I usually pick my books by going onto the library’s online catalogue to see what’s new and what catches my attention. Book covers really do grab me, they make me curious and tempt me to find out more. That may sound like a weird way to pick what you read but I always find something interesting by just having a browse. My friends and I always make recommendations to each other when we’ve read a really good book too. Slay In Your Lane was one that was a recommendation, I think it stood out because it’s such an empowering read for young black women.

I tend to read with my mood so if everything is going well, I will read quite uplifting books but if I’m going through something they’ll take a darker turn. Last year with the pandemic I was in the headspace of questioning a lot of things in my life and I couldn’t really be in “the now”. My friend recommended The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and it really kept me going through lockdown.

First love, best loves

I’m from Zimbabwe so most of what I remember reading at a young age was in my native language. When I started learning English, I remember I used to read a lot of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series. Fantastic Mr Fox is the book that really stands out from my childhood. A talking fox sneaking around being mischievous was hilarious to me. The world in the story was so different from our way of life in Africa I found it so intriguing. When I was a bit older one of my school friends had the Harry Potter books, I remember we read a few chapters of the prisoner of Azkaban and started asking ourselves “should we be doing this?”. With my African background and the Christian culture I grew up in, reading about witches wasn’t really acceptable. It shows how different attitudes can be as well because that was quite a big thing and we felt so wrong we didn’t end up finishing it!
The Devil Wears Prada was one of my favourites too, I remember being really excited to get a hold of the second book when it came out. The Hunger Games series was another big favourite of mine as well, but I remember reading a lot of John Grisham novels too. He was a lawyer before he became a writer, and The Firm is one I really remember enjoying.

The series of books I used to really love was The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – I used to read the books over and over again, I think I know them by heart! Reading about this strong African woman who’s doing exciting things was really thrilling. They hold real sentimental value to me, I remember thinking “I want to be that woman who’s out there getting stuff done!”

A book I really connected with recently was We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Bulawayo is from Zimbabwe too and reading the book brought back so many memories. In the book, she writes about being playing ‘countries’ outside as children like I used to growing up. I can really understand the perspective she writes from. The main character, Darling, witnesses the violence happening in Zimbabwe as she’s growing up and doesn’t really understand what’s going on and then she moves to America. Something that made me quite emotional when I was reading the book is when she’s in America and calls a friend back home. The friend says that Darling can’t say ‘our country’ when talking about Zimbabwe because she decided to leave. I can relate to that because the friends and all the things you used to hold dear that built your friendship are no longer there. You don’t belong in Zimbabwe anymore, but you don’t feel as if you belong in this new world yet either. You’re in limbo. You’re very grateful for the opportunities you’ve found in this new world but trying to fit in parts of your old life with it is really hard. Then when you try to connect with the people back at home to say, “I’m one of you still”, they reject you and so you don’t know where you stand. It was very bittersweet to read about that through the story of Darling in We Need New Names. Everyone I know who has read the book and has migrated has agreed that this book perfectly tells the story of how it feels.

Overlooked Delights

Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter was extremely endearing and touching to me. I think the message of teaching a girl-child to be independent and themselves. That message of keeping going and finding your strength really resonated with my upbringing and some of what I witnessed as part of my cultural background. Reading a book like this, where somebody is really holding out their heart and saying, “things happen and life is hard but you do need to keep moving because there is light at the end of the tunnel”, is just so powerful to me.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Letter to My Daughter

Jayne Mushore is the Project Support Officer for the digital initiatives of Hampshire Libraries, working to deliver services such as the publicly accessible computers and the procurement of audiobooks. Jayne was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

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