Jen Campbell is known widely for her book, Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops and its sequel, More Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops, but her fan base extends far beyond the page these days. Jen runs a popular channel on YouTube's warmly regarded bookish corner of the Internet, called BookTube by its many viewers. Jen's unique taste for fairy-tale retellings and seldom-seen works of magical realism from small presses has taken over my Amazon shopping cart more than a few times (yes, I am one of those people who buys things from Amazon, which is part of why I asked Jen for advice on supporting bookshops and independent publishing houses). Basically, her taste is impeccable. And her writing isn't half bad, either (it is, in fact, full good).
Jen recently completed the 100 Poem Challenge, where she wrote 100 poems within 48 hours to raise money for charity. I have probably read each poem twice by now, because I can't stop returning to her gorgeous verse. Here is my favorite of them all:
Things Fairy Tales Have Taught Me
1. Wolves are problematic.
2. My parents were wrong.
3. We need a new Eve.
4. My soul is a blackbird.
You are both a reader and a writer. Do you consider reading part of your daily writing practice, or are the two things separate activities for you?
They feed into each other, definitely, though I need to be in a different head space for each. I'm a firm believer that reading makes us better writers.
How do you go about finding lesser-known or independently published books? What advice would you give to someone trying to support independent bookshops and publishers while also being on a tight budget?
I spend a lot of time researching small presses — and if you go for chapbooks (pamphlets), those aren't very expensive. A lot of US publishers produce beautiful poetry pamphlets for about $6 plus shipping. As for supporting independent bookshops, often — though not always — it's about perspective. As a bookseller, I see customers sometimes complain about paying £7.99 for a paperback, whilst holding a Starbucks coffee that cost them £3. A book stays with you for much longer than two cups of coffee. Though of course not everyone has the £3 for coffee either, so if you'd rather buy online for price, then that's up to you (and Hive is a good way to buy online at a slight discount whilst still supporting bookshops).
At the same time, if you have a good bookshop near you that you want to support who offers great service, interesting events, and an eclectic stock, then see if you can use both online and offline for different things. Online is great for buying things you already know about, but bookshops are great for discovering books you never knew existed. They're actually quite different shopping experiences, so use them depending on what you're after.
Can we have Lola? She's kind of the cutest thing ever.
Afraid not ;)
You talk about living with EEC syndrome on your channel and the importance of books helping people learn to be more empathetic and look outside of themselves. I know you've shared many titles through tags and recommendations, but is there any recent book in particular that you think would help our readers "be better people"?
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Hands down.
A lot of people "don't have time" to read, but you manage to do it in the middle of tackling a million other things. A lot of reading is less about having time and more about making it, which is easier said than done. I think the main key to reading each day is loving to read, but do you have any practical advice for those looking to amp up their reading lives?
Turn off your phone. Be conscious of procrastinating.
You've written nonfiction, poetry, and are currently writing a work of short fiction. What about writing in so many genres appeals to you?
They each do different things, and each offer a different way of telling stories, so I like to play around with genres depending on how I want to frame a certain tale.
The BookTube community is filled with SO MANY awesome ladies! There are men, of course, but why do you think the majority of people making videos on BookTube are women? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or just a normal-no-applied-value-necessary thing?
I honestly think it's because most people discover BookTube after watching beauty videos (it's certainly how I discovered it, and I know that's the case for many others, too). So, I think the gender balance will rectify itself over time as BookTube becomes more widely known. I think it's also because a lot of BookTube is dominated by teenagers and — statistically speaking — teenage girls read more than boys do. So, as the age range increases on BookTube, I think we'll see more men vlogging, too.
What is it about fairy tales, especially modern retellings, that appeals to you so much?
I think fairy tales are the heart of storytelling; they're the tradition of passing tales on and adapting them for our time and I think it's that adapting (sort of like a game of Telephone) that I love so much.
If you could only have Austen or Brontë(s) in your reading life from here on out, which would you choose?
Brontës — without a doubt.
And we don't limit fabricated competition to female authors! How about between Dickens and Hardy?
I'm not a massive fan of either, though I guess I'd go for Dickens. I'd rather have Wilde or Thackeray, though!
And since this interview series is titled People We Love, who are some people you're loving at the moment? What hidden writers should we be looking out for?
Some writers I'm loving right now: Kirsty Logan, David Eagleman, Alan Lightman, Lauren Eggert-Crowe, Kjersti A. Skomsvold...there are so many! I've made a couple of videos on my channel called "10 Books You Probably Haven't Read."