F E A T U R E – B O O K S T A G R A M
Sharfin Islam is a prolific reader, a devoted blogger, and an ambitious writer who effortlessly juggles her job and social media. With over ten thousand followers, she is undoubtedly one of the most well-known Bookstagrammers in the community. Her account @atinyreader is a passion project that she started as a hobby, and it gradually became her favourite escape. She describes her style as being inspired by the hygge aesthetic, a concept she didn’t actually know the name of, but was nonetheless drawn to from a very young age. With mild contrasts, coffee beans, cosy sweaters, and soft-focused shots, her feed is very warm and inviting.
Check out some of her favourite go-to genres and book recommendations in the list below.
How did you get into reading?
Sharfin: I’ve been reading from a very young age, younger than I can remember, so I can’t truly point out my ‘first’ book. However, I do have a fond memory from school when I discovered the school library and all the amazing books that were at my disposal for free. I discovered authors like Judy Blume, Enid Blyton, R.L. Stine, and L.M. Montgomery in the two years that I got to visit it, every Thursday as long as school was open.
Sometimes, I can still feel how I felt when I entered the little library; the cool air from the AC brushing my face which was a relief from the scorching sun under which I had to wait for ten minutes to enter; the brown curtains that blocked the light, and the feel of the slightly damp covers of the books; and of course, the comfortable silence broken only by slight whispers as the librarian checked out the books from the students. That is the memory that I recall every time someone asks me about my first books!
What attracts you to mystery and crime fiction novels? Which ones got you invested in the genre and which ones stand out to you from the saturated crime-fiction genre?
Like most people, Sharfin’s mysterious affair with crime fiction started with the classics — Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five series, as well as Sydney Sheldon’s Rage of Angels and Best Laid Plans. Their fast-paced and engaging plots are what truly hooked her to the genre from the start. As popular as they are though, the genre becomes quite predictable to a mystery enthusiast after a certain point and it becomes difficult to find books that truly throw you off.
Hence, for this genre, Sharfin recommends the mind-boggling and atmospheric, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton as a contemporary crime fiction that stood out to her. The story keeps you on your toes from start to finish. A classic who-dun-it, locked-room mystery with an unexpected twist of fantasy mixed with science-fiction, it is written simply enough for you to keep up with the concepts easily even as the pace grows faster by the page.
Another book which Sharfin highly recommends might be known by some people because of its highly popular movie — Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The story is centred around Nick, whose entire world is turned upside down when his magnetic, charming wife goes missing, leaving only her journal behind as a clue. All of a sudden, the police start questioning Nick’s motives and wondering whether he was the killer of his wife.
Dystopia is still one of the most popular genres in the community. Can you recommend one you loved?
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is one of the most iconic trilogies which defined the dystopian genre in the early 2000s. For Sharfin, this is one of the books which really left a lasting impact on her and she still remembers it to this day.
“While the other YA dystopias felt clichéd, The Hunger Games really played with your emotions and put up a strong message in subtexts. The books are about a horrifying game of survival of young adults where only the fittest or the smartest shall survive. The more time passes, the more I realise how messed up the concept was, yet Suzanne Collins approached it delicately enough for us to not normalise it while reading the series.”
With corrupt governments, virus outbreaks, and protests against injustice, 2020 truly forced us to experience a bit of what it must feel like to live in a dystopian society. So a good fictional dystopian world is relatable now more than ever. Speaking of virus outbreaks, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is another dystopian novel suggested by Sharfin that focuses on the lives of a group of people before and after a serious virus outbreak brings about the end of the world as they know it, killing 99% of the population.
Unlike most dystopian novels, Station Eleven has little to no action and is more character-based. Sharfin adds a warning for anyone planning to read the book,
“It’s certainly not for everybody, given that it’s slow-paced but the atmosphere and character arcs draw you in inevitably. It’s not frightening or gory, but there is a sense of foreboding throughout. I’d suggest listening to the audiobook along with it for a complete experience.”
What are your thoughts on the dark academia? Which book have you read recently on this theme which resounded with you?
Seeing as how Sharfin’s current aesthetic is all about dark academia, it comes as no surprise to anyone that this is one of her favourite go-to book genres. She reminisces about how her love for dark academia started with The Secret History by Donna Tartt as she fell down the rabbit hole of looking up posts under the #darkacademia hashtag on Tumblr and learnt about this whole aesthetic which centres around the pursuit for knowledge, often an obsession with the classics, wearing overly dramatic coats, and dark gothic atmospheric (often Ivy League) university settings.
M.L.Rio’s If We Were Villains is about seven close university friends, who are obsessed with Shakespeare: all of them are Theatre Arts majors. They always go for the same roles in every play until the last one where the casting changes, tipping the first domino to a series of events that eventually lead to death. It is dark, twisted, and full of angst, perfect for the fans of The Secret History.
Can you recommend an interesting urban fantasy?
When asked for her favourite Urban Fantasy, Sharfin responds, “There’s only one urban fantasy series that I personally loved which is the Villains series by V.E. Shwab, consisting of Vicious and Vengeful.”
The book is about two best friends, Victor and Eli, who are like-minded yet completely polar opposites in personality, carrying out an experiment that goes wrong; then right. This leads to a catastrophic downfall in their friendship. Ten years later, they’re forced to a face-off as Victor vows to seek revenge. Tropes like found families, friends to enemies, and grey morality keep you turning the pages and rooting for the characters throughout the book. For a book that’s meant to be about hate and twisted vigilantes, it is surprisingly wholesome.
Magical realism is a genre few people know about but it is extremely interesting, can you recommend any book you love for this genre?
It is a difficult task to separate magical realism from straight-up fantasy novels but once you find the sweet spot, you’ll be blown away. An ideal magical realism book won’t give you any concrete answers, but will leave you guessing till the end what is real and what is not and best of all, it will let you create your own conclusions to the story.
Sharfin: My favourite is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a book about a circus that only appears at night, enchanting its visitors (which is you) into leaving all their worries at the gates. It’s beautifully written, poetic, and vivid, with a slow pace and focusing mainly on creating an environment. Though not something I would usually go for, Erin Morgenstern’s stunning creation really kept me going and left me yearning.
Another magic realism book that I have recently added to my favourites is Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. This one is about a child who was found in the Thames, thought dead but discovered actually alive, and claimed by several different families. The writing was witty and engaging here as well, and it’s clear Diane Setterfield is a master at her work. I loved the ambiguity of the ending despite having most of the mysteries answered by the end of the book.”
Why do you love mythological stories? Can you recommend some which impacted you and left a lasting impression?
Sharfin: I think the idea of mythological retellings is so attractive to me is because there’s a lot of information on it out in the world already, and it’s interesting to see how the authors portray it in their own way. It lets you enjoy old stories minus the misogynistic and whitewashed tropes that history is so adamant about focusing on.
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series is one almost everyone knows of. Riordan brings the old Greek, Egyptian, and Roman myths to life with quirky, likeable characters who will leave you laughing till you have stitches. The series is about demigods — children of the Greek Gods — who are taken to Camp Half-Blood in order to protect them from the monsters that mortals can’t see. They go on quests in every book of the series, all connected to the war that’s silently raging to happen.
If you’re looking for a more raw and more accurate take on the Greek Gods, Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and Circe takes you on a beautiful journey. Uncensored and non-PG, Miller digs into the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in the Song of Achilles, pushing you into the abyss of love and inevitable heartbreak of star-crossed lovers. Circe, on the other hand, is the unexpected take on the Greek Gods from Circe, the witch, who was wronged and betrayed more time you can count, and her story of survival in banishment for… well, eternity. It’s slow to start but definitely worth the build-up.
And lastly, can you recommend some books for anyone who might be interested to get into reading for the first time?
For young readers who want to get into reading, Sharfin suggests Enid Blyton’s series like the Secret Seven, Famous Five, and Malory Towers. These books are filled with friendships, mysteries, adventures, and of course an adorable dog to complete the team!
For older readers though, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is the perfect pick according to her. It is a small-town story with a set of characters all connected to each other in some way or another, mainly focusing on three women, fighting personal battles while putting up a face for society. It has drama, humour, and mystery tied up in the perfect bow. This book is so engaging, hilarious, and while at the same time dark — it is all done flawlessly.
Sara Kabir is the quintessential Literature student, always finding joy in her favourite books, shows, songs, and artwork and being able to discuss them with her friends. Find her @scarletfangirl on Instagram to join in the discussion and see which new language she’s attempting to learn this week by watching TV shows and dramas.