I became friends with Sophia from Bin Chicken Books on Insta. Never estimate the power of social media for meeting your tribe, people! Did you know that bin chickens were worshipped as the patron saint of writers in Ancient Egyptian culture? Neither did I, not until I interviewed Sophia. Read on for more tantalising and wonderful information. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I do.

Can you please tell us a little about Bin Chicken Books and you?

Hi there! I’m Sophia, creator and owner of Bin Chicken Books! I’m a Meanjin/Brisbane based Egyptian/British intersectional feminist and literature lover. I’ve been an insatiable reader all my life (my mum reckons I read a chapter book when I was two but I’m pretty sure she’s using creative licence there). I am a bilingual English and Arabic speaker and that’s really influenced my love of language and taste in literature. And yes, I think and dream in both languages! Before I started BCB I spent my career working as a copy writer in NFP and community organisations as well as doing freelance and creative writing/poetry on the side. I’m also a mum to a toddler who completely enables my love for children’s literature! My other baby, Bin Chicken Books (BCB) is an environmentally conscious, curated, virtual second-hand bookshop with a special focus on intersectional Own Voices children and adult literature from Australia and across the globe. I was inspired to name my bookshop Bin Chicken Books because as we know, Bin Chicken’s are legendary when it comes to sticking their beaks into people’s left overs, but also because in Ancient Egyptian culture the humble Ibis was actually worshipped as the patron saint of writers!

What made you open a virtual bookstore?

Like most book worms I hoard books. I can’t resist a book. I’ve always reconciled this (let’s be honest, addiction) by pretty much exclusively buying second hand books. But being on bookstagram made me see just how intense the consumption for new books is. Loving literature aside, the pressure to put out almost daily content (which in the kid’s bookstagram world means daily new books) was very intense. Some people are getting new books sent to them for free by publishers but many are likely spending thousands on new books to sustain a social media page. The environmental impact of that makes me quite uncomfortable, but also I started to feel that what could and should be a pastime that everyone can enjoy irrespective of how much they can afford to spend on books, was becoming a bit of a siloed privilege. 

The other thing that I was getting increasingly aware of was that my family has a comparatively more diverse and intersectional collection (both kid’s and adults) than what was being shared on the larger mainstream bookstagram accounts. I realised I wanted to share those books that I had long loved and collected with the community – physically rather than exclusively on bookstgram. So that the books we enjoy in our home could continue to be enjoyed by others and I could give an option to the community to read vivaciously and keep collecting what they love in an environmentally conscious and economically accessible way and in turn I could use the platform to amplify and distribute brilliant, intersectional, Own Voices children and adult literature with the community

I think for lovers of literature the dream is always to open a book shop, so I guess you could say it was a long time in the making! But the real steps started during our brief QLD lock down, when I was engaging a lot more with bookstagram, and I realised that like me there were others who boycott the large virtual source for books for various reasons, who were really missing their second-hand book shopping. So all the thoughts that I had been having sort of came together and I bit the bullet with Bin Chicken Books!

What’s the best thing about owning a virtual bookstore?

That’s easy! Doing what I am passionate about; being around books and sharing the literature I love with the bookish community! It’s been especially brilliant for me to have made connections with people, and even a couple of schools(!), in remote, regional areas who don’t have access to new or used bookshops.

What’s the hardest thing about owning a virtual bookstore?

Well it’s a positive really but keeping up with demand as a one woman show! I do everything myself from designing and managing the website and content, sourcing, researching and uploading every individual book, marketing and engaging with the community, packing and sending… and the dreaded admin. I think because of the emergence of things like Facebook Marketplace and even people selling their own stuff on Instagram (which is great!) that people don’t realise how much work goes into a legitimate business, which is much more than taking a photo of a book and posting it for sale. I often think about the difference of physical vs virtual in that I could just be putting books on the shelf and saving the backend stuff but then, I love how Bin Chicken Books has made it accessible for people to buy quality preloved literature irrespective of their location.

What specific challenges are you facing re the pandemic situation?

To be honest I couldn’t say! I started the business during the pandemic and partly as a response to the pandemic. I’ve been really lucky that even shipping has been relatively speedy which would have been my main concern. Because I do almost all my work remotely, I’ve actually seen my business grow in these strange times.

What are your favourite type of books to sell and why? 

Definitely Own Voice literature. I think the movement is growing, at least in the bookstagram circles I’m part of, but still the majority of books published are predominately by white anglo-speaking authors. Which of course means that those are the most widely consumed books and more importantly, narratives. As a person whose culture is either maligned, stereotyped or just completely ignored I really understand the importance of representation in popular culture. I want my child to see the beauty of his Egyptian, Arab culture in the books we read. I want to see that for myself in the books I read and I want to feel it for people seeking to see themselves represented in other ways; their culture, race, disability, gender or sexuality. I believe that popular culture is a contributor to social norm, how we see and say things. Literature is a huge part of that, just as visual media is. People often say ‘but it’s just fiction’. Except it isn’t! It’s the delivery too – take something like American Dirt, or Memoirs of a Geisha. Eventually, even though those titles are fiction, they become part of the general understanding of what their subject matter is and that’s problematic because neither of those books was written by the demographic they are about. So our understanding is based on how a person has perceived the subject/demographic for their book. If the loudest voices are not those speaking for their own communities, we start to see perspectives by way of interpretation rather than experience. Using Bin Chicken Books as a platform to promote voices which as not as predominately represented is one of the main missions. If I can inspire someone to buy and read a second-hand copy of an Own Voices book, and that inspires them to seek out more of that author’s work, perhaps even new work (because we do have to support writers!) rather than choosing something off the best sellers list by a well-known author with multiple titles under their belt – well that’s the dream. 

How do you source your books?

In many ways! To start off with I unhauled a lot (A LOT) of my own collection – no it wasn’t easy at all. I’m a big believer in circular economy, so I take pride in sourcing books from op shops, where I can save the books that might otherwise get overlooked because they’re not as recognisable (and end up in landfill), and be giving back to organisations doing good in our communities at the same time. I also buy books from individuals and estate sales, and quite a few wonderful book chooks have donated books to Bin Chicken Books as well. I am also currently working on an idea to source ex library books cleared out from local libraries to save them from the tip and give them another chance at love!

Can you please tell us about any outreach initiatives you might have?

Yes! As I’ve mentioned I want Bin Chicken Books to be a space that people can come to access and acquire books sustainably and economically. So I’m super stoked to be offering discounts to folks buying books for schools and day cares – in fact I just had an order recently from a Rainbow Club at a local school who were happy to find a great selection of LGBTQIA+ YA books on the website. I’m cooking something up now for regional book chooks and I’m excited to be doing my very first pop up in the next few weeks (if it goes well, I hope to do more!).  

Why do you think people should buy books, but second-hand books particularly?

Books are art. Books are reflections of us. Ideas and inspiration and wonder and empathy. Books help us slow down and connect either directly or indirectly with others and the wider world. Books have an uncanny ability to make us feel things. I am constantly in awe at how a person can move a person to tears or laughter just by the words they put together on a page. I think we should read lots and often, or as often as we can in our busy lives. I think people should read second hand books because they enable you to satisfy your appetite for reading more if you can’t fork out $30+ for one new book, they let you reconcile your goals to living more sustainably and most of all, it’s magic that the second-hand book you’re reading already made some sort of impact in someone else’s life. Second hand books are the gifts that keep on giving. 

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