We talked books with bibliophile Varun.
Tell us about your reading journey.
I picked up reading because of my mother. She’s from a Hindi medium school but she ended up doing a Ph.D. in botany in English. Overcoming the Hindi to English barrier was difficult for her as she came from a family where education was promoted but getting into an English medium school was not that easy. She was a completely self-taught reader.
My most vivid memory of childhood was of her cooking while I stood at the door reading and listening while she corrected the words. It is very similar with how my wife and I spend time with our daughter. Over the last few years, we have spent a lot of time reading to her. We don’t have a television at home and it does get depressing at times but we’ve stuck with this schedule. In the US, the library culture is pretty good. My daughter ended up reading one thousand books at a young age.
Have you read as many children’s books when you were young?
No, but my grandfather had a kirana store with a library next door, so I had the privilege of borrowing books whenever I pleased. I read a lot until I was sixteen, after which the pressure to focus on academics was high. There are many voracious readers in my family and I’ve seen the benefits and perils of reading too much, so I have tried to maintain a balance at home. I buy less books now and focus more on my daughter’s reading.
Tell us about your online reading habits.
I’ve moved to reading blogs where I can get piecemeal information. Audiobooks are extremely useful but I’m too stretched for time. I really enjoy podcasts, which veer to the non-fiction side, though the podcast scenario in India is non-existent almost. I enjoy fiction but there is not enough time to invest in it. I divide my time between digital vs physical books. If the book is small, I prefer ebooks. If it’s fiction, I prefer the hard copy.
Any book or author you would recommend?
I love Ayn Rand’s books as I’ve found them eye-opening and introspective. I’m slightly dissatisfied by the new breed of Indian writer like Chetan Bhagat though he does appeal to many people, even my wife. I wouldn’t say all commercial writers are not good enough. I quite enjoy reading writers like Vikram Chandra.
What’s your take on Book Clubs and BYOB Parties such as these?
I used to be one of the organizers of the Bangalore Book Club, so I really enjoy book gatherings, this one included.
Since you were in the US, tell us about whether the reading habits of both communities are different.
Well compared to the urban middle class in the US, the high-income group in India reads a lot less. Post academia, people just drop off and talking about books is a faux pas. Netflix is a much better conversation starter.
Thanks, Varun for talking about books with us!