Interview with Adrienne Yap about Bahaya Book Club

written by Adrienne Yap 

As an avid reader, I yearn to share quotes or ideas that come across at 3am with my closest and dearest.

So, when I found out that Liyana Dizzy started a book club which expresses that very idea on Snapchat, I was immediately on it.

The concept is easy – she shares her thoughts and notes of a more challenging read on Snapchat. Followers and readers alike get to respond to her in real time.

Plot twist: a sexting app turned academic discussion platform.

We talked to Liyana about the birth of Bahaya Book Club; which is a side project that came about from her love of reading.

Like most of us, Liyana has a lot of ideas for side projects that never see the light of day.

“They’re so easy to abandon because they would never make me money anyway. I realise the side projects that stick are the ones that complement my obligations and obsessions, instead of those that compete with my hustle time,” she muses.

When she shared pages from the books she read on Twitter, it has always resonated with her readers.

“So I thought about that for a bit, and also about how much I love Snapchat. I sent that first tweet off the moment the idea popped up! I made a point to post it with a picture of a few of the books I want to eventually cover — to gauge interest. I figured if that tweet lit up, then why not?”

When asked what’s in the name of Bahaya Book Club, and whether she thinks the ideas she’s sharing are dangerous, she says, “It’s not so much that these ideas are dangerous kan, but rather they’re both relatable yet inaccessible.”

She notes that Malaysian Twitter has a lot to say on issues and ideas that people online recognise as important and relevant to their lives.

“We want to engage with them, but there are so many obstacles working against us to understand the bigger picture. Those issues are located in censorship, education level, funds, or time. We live in a world that either distracts us with surviving in it or recovering from surviving with some frivolity. There simply isn’t enough time between those two in most of our schedules, or budgets, to make room for the kind of non-fiction reading that could expand and improve on the conversations we are already trying to have. Instead, there’s more room for us to misunderstand and hurt each other online with our ignorance. That, I think, is far more dangerous than any idea in any book.”

She feels very privileged to have developed a healthy reading habit, fully aware of the materials, time and money required to sustain one.

“I don’t want reading to be more isolating than it already is, especially when I feel what I am reading is important for a whole audience who haven’t or can’t access it. Have you heard of the bullshit asymmetry principle?”

“Also, Bahaya stuck with me better than Susah Nak Baca Book Club. Damn, though, I could’ve missed the boat on something far catchier there!”

So, how does one start reading material that is deemed ‘difficult’?

“I guess when I say difficult, I meant that the English can be complicated.”

She is well aware of the boundaries, particularly a project on Snapchat because not everyone has a smartphone or access to the app.

However, she wants to overcome the barrier that many have placed in between them and more complex readings.

“I think people find materials in English intimidating, especially academic English. Their first instinct is “I’m not smart enough for this or this is meant for other kinds of people, not me,” but as long as the material is relevant to their lives, I feel, it might be important for them to know about.”

With that being said, she intends to aid in breaking down the mentality of complex materials being out of one’s comprehension. She does so by explaining what she reads in easier terms, rojak, and even in Bahasa.

“It’s the same material presented differently,” she explains.

At the end of the day, she is interested in diversifying ways of approaching complicated material and discussions.

“Learning something new can change your worldview and preexisting biases. Being open to that experience definitely helps, albeit challenging.”

During our conversation via Whatsapp, she mentions that vocabulary doesn’t factor into the comprehension of a text.

“You can know a bunch of fancy words, but still miss what ideas they convey when strung together. The skill of summarisation is about simplifying ideas despite the fancy words. Distilling those ideas and facts, then applying them to your realities is another thing altogether.”

Her advice for tackling complicated readings is to take the initiative by being brave enough to push those barriers.

“Try reading more intimidating materials or looking up YouTube videos which explain summaries. There’s a lot of quick videos explaining the readings. It’s definitely just all starting points. I think if people want to start, they definitely need to pursue more of those starting points.”

Taking notes goes a long way too, she adds.

Now that we have hopefully piqued your interest, here are the books we can expect to see in future Snapchat stories:

“In a nutshell: Non-fiction! Lots of it. Foreign and local fiction already have an audience, I feel. So I’m more interested in truths and realities already documented. Super relevant material that starts, improves, and continues the conversations we should be having as a community anyway.”

For now, she has no plans on expanding the book club to a permanent platform, although her episodes are backed up on YouTube as unlisted videos.

“I like Snapchat as a platform because people are already using it, and a book club is possibly a little different than your other contacts.”

Liyana enjoys the platform as she gets to jazz things up by adding stickers, blending text and visuals.

“It’s also easy to keep track of how some snaps do better than others, eg screenshot numbers. So the plan is definitely Snapchat for now, just because of the demographic and the impermanence.”

The response has been great, according to Liyana. She relays a story of a guy sending her a series of video snaps.

Although the book she discussed was on Islam and the Qur’an, he as a non-Muslim had a lot to think about regarding the themes of exclusion and male-centric legacies in his own religion.

People have engaged with her by sending what they are reading, asking advice for picking out credible biographies, and more.

“It’s been really great so far. I’m not targeting quantity over quality. So a smaller engagement pool that is really focused is so my thing instead of hundreds of followers who mostly lurk kan.”

There is a reason why she decided on Snapchat, instead of Twitter.

“I think the stuff I pick can definitely fire up trolls quicker than they can think about it. It’s also more likely that stuff gets singled out and I’d rather do that singling out.”

The intention of the book club is the opposite of Twitter’s reactionary environment. “I want it to simmer and sink in. The thought buildup will be more gradual and cautious.”

For those of you who cringe at the idea of Snapchat, do not fret. She has plans on taking the book club offline.

“I think in terms of content, yes. I definitely want to engage with more analogue, old school readers with great libraries who are a little older than the Snapchat demographic and connect those two worlds.”

When asked about the future of Bahaya Book Club, she envisions visiting people with great bookshelves, reviews from guest curators, people sharing ideas and stories from books in their native languages.

Liyana co-runs @BiawakGemok distro with Nine, @supernowoczesna, where they sell and source zines that centers marginalised voices. It helps raise money mainly for Justice For Sisters, a legal fund for persecuted transwomen in Malaysia, and SEED who offer support for the marginalised in Chow Kit. She also has an interactive solo offstage poetry performance called #GeraiPuisiSegera, which started about 2-3 years ago. She has spontaneously written about 200 poems so far at festivals and bazaars in Malaysia. 

On top of that, she is also working on her first podcast series and a couple of zines, but that’s coming along slowly, because we all know the struggle of having a day job.

To find out more about her, check out her website or say hi on Twitter

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