Reader Interview of Veena (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in Jan 2020

Was really excited to connect with Veena.

Tell us about your book journey.

My first memory of books goes back to my school library. I still remember browsing through the aisles after school and since my grandfather was an English Professor and one of the co-authors of the IBH Kannada-Kannada-English Dictionary, his house was filled with bookshelves that I would browse through during the summer holidays. One of the books my grandfather picked out for me was Anna Karenina. That has to be the first book that made a serious impact on me. I was fourteen when I read it. Books have always been a pastime, a comfort and a source of learning.

What are you reading right now?

Well, I’m trying to read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. What inspired me to pick up the book was its beautiful cover. It was a light and nice read but suddenly it has taken a strange turn. Her writing is sheer genius at times but I need to finish the book to understand where exactly it is going.

What’s your favorite show based on a book or a book series?

Okay, so some shows I know about are The Handmaids Tale (but I haven’t read the book yet), The Game of Thrones (I watched the whole series but haven’t read it) and Hobbit (You haven’t watched the movie? Go watch). I think shows like these are good for the fantasy theme as I can’t bring myself to read fantasy fiction.

Print books, eBooks or Audible?

I don’t have much experience with Audible. I do have a Kindle but I keep going back to books. It’s easier to refer and remember and maybe I’m not too used to the technology.

You teach Math. What books have you observed your students read?

Reading is not very common these days. I’ve seen a handful of students, usually girls, hold books. Boys are usually gaming or talking about gaming or the YouTube videos that talk about gaming! The books that students read are usually part of a series. Children do silent reading in English class but it’s not a huge trend the way it used to be when I was growing up.

Do you like Indian authors or global ones?

Right now, I’m in an Indian zone. I like to read books about the milieu I’m familiar with on a day-to-day basis. Before I started reading Shashi Deshpande whose work I had discussed, I was reading Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh, a book that surprised me as it was an absolute departure from his usual serious style.

I really enjoyed talking with you, Veena. Read on!

Reader Interview of Sreeraj (The Regular) @ BYOB Party in October 2019

We spoke to Sreeraj whose taste in books covers fiction, poetry and translations.

There were always a lot of books and magazines in the house, in both English and Malayalam, as everyone in my family read. Some magazines I remember are Mathrubhumi, Manorajyam, Kumkumam. My favorite author at that point was the detective story writer, Kottayam Pushpanath, and I especially liked his detective character, Pushparaj.

As I grew older, a writer who really influenced me was literary critic, M. Krishnan Nair. His weekly column Sahitya Varaphalam introduced me and many readers back in the 1970s and 80s to world literature. He suggested many rare authors and this kind of curation in pre-internet days was beneficial to learn about unknown books from foreign countries. I was a regular library goer and I still enjoy visiting the British Council, which has a huge collection of Commonwealth literature.

How has reading books synced with your career?

I’ve worked as an editor and right now am in the technical writing space. What I’ve learned from books is that to write well you need to read really good fiction and poetry. Writers like Ruth Padel and W.G Sebald have changed the way I think and write — so much depth and beauty in their writing.

How do you discover the writers you want to read these days?

Well, this is the time of Instapoets and Goodreads. I prefer to trust the judgment of reviewers in literary journals like TLS. I gravitate toward European literature a bit more but I must confess my love for Faulkner.

Faulkner’s prose is stellar. What advice do you have to give people who are attempting to read his work for the first time?

Well, no matter whose work it is –Faulkner, Kundera or Kafka– I prefer to close read the book first and then put it into context. Google is the best to dig deep. Identifying which books to read is far harder than reading itself. Social media offers many choices but sometimes visiting curated sites like Words Without Borders throws open to you a wealth of translations that will enrich your reading experience. Non-fiction titles may be popular but if, for instance, you want to understand psychology, reading short stories and novels by Henry James is more effective.

Preferences- eBooks or print books or audiobooks?

Print books, hands down, though I have noticed that the paper quality of books seems to be compromised these days. I’ve never been able to read an eBook that runs into hundreds of pages. Too much trouble. I’ve noticed that when poets read their poems aloud, it is far more impactful.

Thank you for sharing your book story, Sreeraj!

Reader Interview of Akanksha (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in August 2019

We spoke to Akanksha about her love for books.

Tell us about your book journey.

I started reading books when I was very young. It was my go-to thing.  Even as a child, I would pick up whatever book I found interesting that was lying around the house. My parents also encouraged me as they knew about my interest in books.  I practically grew up in libraries.

English or vernacular?

I primarily read English- very little Gujarati though I was intrigued by the poetry of the land, particularly the poetry from the Bhakti era. I come from a remote area and got to see many performances by Dayro. They enacted a story as plays and musicals. Some of my favorite poets include the Gujarati Vaishnavite fifteenth-century poet Narsinh Mehta and twentieth-century social reformer poet Jhaverchand Meghani.

Fiction or poetry?

Oh, I read a combination of both.  Though I don’t read much English poetry, lately, I’ve started reading David Whyte’s poetry. I connect with his style– his poems are conversational, emotional,  intimate and personal.

Do books help you professionally?

Since I work on documentation, reading helps.

Any favorite author?

Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I even started an online reading group featuring her book Women Who Run With the Wolves. We deal with the book sequentially. First we pick a chapter and a story and then discuss. You must watch this YouTube video with the power-packed ladies Toni Morrison, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Maya Angelou and Jessye Norman chatting about the making of

Is it books that led you to feminism?

I don’t think so. Many things could lead you to feminism – injustice, abandonment, a sense of belonging or not….

Which writer would you recommend for readers who would like to understand more about feminism?

Toni Morrison.

Which book format do you like the most?

All of them- I’ve been reading print books the longest time but I also like the emotional intimacy of the audiobook. Right now I’m listening to the works of Robert Augustus Masters. Soothing stuff!

Thanks Akanksha! It was great talking to you. The books and videos you recommended were fantastic.

Reader Interview of Ralph (The Regular) @ BYOB Party in May 2019

We spoke with our regular visitor Ralph, an introvert who loves books.

Tell us about your reading journey.

I didn’t read much as a child and it’s when I entered my bachelorhood that I realized that my closest companions were books.

Favorite genre?

Anything in the non-fiction section. I need to read real stuff. I’m not a head in the clouds kind of reader and I don’t want to see the future either.

You have a unique taste in reading material. How do you come upon these books?

I have friends in their caves who send me books they can’t finish. Their recommendations, however, don’t always work for me. Once a friend recommended The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but it just wasn’t for me. I  like to read about real people and their ups and downs. I don’t mind self-help but I firmly believe that without a guru/coach, it doesn’t make sense to follow advice.

Do you recommend books to people?

I do but the general feedback is that my taste is far too heady.

How do you navigate through the very factual books you pick out?

I enjoy it, especially navigating passages filled with difficult words. It never puts me off. I’m the word resource person for most of my extended family, though my friends not so much as they don’t think the vocabulary I have can be collectively shared or understood. I highly recommend the Wordweb app. It helps you create a treasure trove of words. I like to encourage my children to indulge in vocabulary building as well.

And has that led to your children reading more?

Not really. I ask the children to note down any difficult words I come across so that subliminally they have a list in their mind.  They only read what is prescribed in school and that’s a bit of a disappointment.

What about your reading habits?

Reading is an essential part of my daily life. I read for an hour every day, be it hard copy or paperback. if it’s on the computer I can finish faster. I like reading PDFs…very convenient for me to read on my laptop as the screen is fairly large and I can simultaneously take notes as well.

I’ve been meaning to ask you about your habit of compiling notes.

Yes, I compile notes all the time and I use those notes in my email as citations. It’s better for everyone to know where those profound ideas came from. I need citations so that other people are convinced.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

I haven’t tried yet.  Though I must say that book readings have always stayed with me. It is something else when the author reads her own book.

So you often frequent book readings?

Yes, several. I prefer serious face to face events rather than online streaming. Like this BYOB Party for instance. It’s so much better to hear live opinions about books and not as some kind of virtual reality.

How was your experience at the BYOB Party this time?

Well, it was peaceful. We had a fairly homogenous group and a subdued experience. Very few eruptions this time.

Thanks, Ralph! Enjoyed talking to you!



Reader Interview of Ayush (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in May 2019

We spoke to Ayush, an avid reader.

Describe your journey as a reader.

I used to read a great deal of children’s literature. In fact, I was gifted books for any achievements I made at school or at home. So because of this encouragement, reading became a staple in my life. I spent a great deal of time during my formative years in the library reading different genres. It was when I started reading literary fiction that I realized that I could partake of a huge palate of ideas. I write and my inspiration has always been fiction.

Your favorite genre.

I have a soft spot for crime fiction.  And I am guilty of reading cheap romantic literature.

Why is it bad to read romantic literature? 

Well, the stories have no realistic premise whatsoever.

eBook or Paperback?

I don’t mind either though the benefit of reading a paperback is that you can gift it to someone once you read it!

Favorite literary fiction author?

Undoubtedly, Virginia Woolf.  I love her writing- In her book To the Lighthouse, she describes transitions. I still get the chills thinking about it. She is relevant even today, particularly her feminist work. Another writer I admire is Amitav Ghosh.

Reading habits?

Erratic. Luckily I get a chance to read a great deal even at the workplace. So I juggle reading multiple books and multiple genres at a time on my Kindle and paperbacks.

Do you finish the books you start?


Even if the books are bad?

Particularly if they are bad. I can’t start a new book until I finish the ones I started.


Haven’t tried them yet although my friends have recommended the audiobook experience.

Favorite books?

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barret Browning

Thanks, Ayush! Was really great talking to you.


Reader Interview of Poonam (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019

We talked to Poonam, a voracious reader, about her book journey.

Tell us about your reading journey.

Well, that’s a long story that is hard to do justice to now. I started reading early on and I was particularly obsessed with the mystery genre-  Agatha Christie and Nora Roberts. I have really not found an Indian author who is that good. Anita Nair has tried her hand at this genre as well.

Do books help you professionally?

Yes. As I am a trainer, the component of storytelling is essential.

Kindle vs Print book?

This depends on various factors. Sometimes I think that Kindle is good when it comes to searching out the notes that I have made. Also Kindle is great for fast reads though I’m fast accumulating a tsunduko pile in my Kindle as well! Comics and coffee table books and more serious fiction is best read in the physical print version. Another determining factor is price.

Thanks for talking with us, Poonam!


Reader Interview of Varun (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018

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!


Reader Interview of Anshuman (The Regular) @ BYOB Party in Sep, 2018

We spoke to Anshuman about his readerly experiences.

Tell us about your book journey.

I started young. Somewhere along the way, I started collecting comic books in Hindi and English. When it got too far, my parents had to put their foot down as too much reading was affecting my studies. At IIT Kharagpur, we had an immense library with some 25,000 books. I became addicted.  Now with office hours that drain my time, it is harder to read at the speed I once did. I’ve only managed to read two books since the last BYOB Party I attended.

Is technology helping when it comes to pursuing reading or is it a deterrent?

Kindle has helped me as I can carry it everywhere- at the office, the station, the airport…. Flipside- I’m uncomfortable with the format. I love the feel of the page much more.

What about the reading habits of your children? You had brought them here the last time.

My daughter especially loves listening to stories. I keep encouraging her to read every day. I try to stop my son now as he reads copiously and he has his lessons to focus on. Gaming has affected his reading but we keep strict curfew hours.

Are you into fiction and non-fiction?

Totally into fiction- especially historical fiction like Empire by Devi Yashodharan, Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin and Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita. Although I love facts and figures, my reading is more inclined toward story-telling.

What about internet reading or listening to podcasts? 

No way. No blogs, facebook. And though I have listened to podcasts, the tech-phobic reader in me doesn’t enjoy it.

Favorite book?

(Laughs) Never can be a favorite though I do keep going back to the Mahabharat in all its versions. LOTR, Asterix and Tin Tin are my comfort reads.

Thanks Anshuman. It was great talking to you!

Reader Interview of Indira (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018

Indira has been to book readings but this was her first time at a BYOB Party. We asked her a couple of questions about her relationship with books.

Tell us about your book journey.

I was an early reader. I have memories of reading the newspaper and not understanding a word of what I read. I think I owe a lot to my father as he introduced us to the world of books, starting with Enid Blyton. He also introduced us to the classics by reading just enough to pique our curiosity and then telling us to read the rest on our own. We lived in Jharkhand back then and we had a library in our colony, which I loved.

English or vernacular?

Not vernacular, mostly English and translations in English, probably an accident of our upbringing and education at English medium schools.

What do you think of children’s reading habits nowadays?

The trend looks very encouraging. There are a lot more books available than there used to be. In fact, I pick up such a variety of interesting books for my granddaughter. All my children read and we discuss books. Children are definitely reading more. There are some parents who are discerning and there are others who prefer overly moralizing books. Schools are encouraging children as well. The library movement is picking up in a big way; many NGOs work in rural areas to maintain active school libraries, not just libraries that collect dust.

Which is your favorite book?

Tough question.  Recently I read a non-fiction called  The Growth Delusion by David Pilling, illuminating in its message that GDP is not the only indicator that tells the story of the economy. I’m a big fan of Isaac Asimov. And yes, a book I particularly love is Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.

Print or eBooks?

Frankly, I prefer print books. I never took to Kindle although I must admit I managed to read Sir Terry Pratchett’s work on my phone. It’s advantageous to read books this way as there are no hassles of remembering to carry the book and you can read anywhere any time, even while waiting for a bus.  It’s harder to read on devices as you grow older.

I still buy books though and then feel guilty about it. I love libraries too.

Thank you, Indira, for sharing your thoughts!


Reader Interview of Aditya (The Regular) @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018

Aditya Sengupta has frequented a couple of the BYOB Parties that we have held. He had lots to say about his voyage with reading.

Tell us about your book journey.

I’ve always been a bookworm. My grandmother used to read me a  book every evening when I was just a few years old, not old enough to read. I didn’t even know which way the book would face, as it was with children. I could apparently narrate the same story and turn the pages at the right moment of the narrated event even if the book was facing upside down! My family is a very bibliophilic family; my grandfather was a literary critic. All the presents I received were books. I honestly believe that if I had been less of a bookworm, I would have done better in my studies.

Do you read Bengali literature?

Not when I was young but I taught myself Bengali much later. Bengali novels were read to me initially as I could not read them on my own. As an adult, I started reading and there was a vast amount of Bengali literature available. My exposure was primarily to books in English and translated works.

Being a scientist, what do you prefer to read- fiction or non-fiction?

Frankly, I don’t read much these days. I do order books, the latest one by the author of Big Shot, Michael Lewis and another book by a friend about the economic liberalization in India in 1991. I enjoy fiction much more.

Besides this BYOB Party, do you frequent other other book clubs?

There used to be a book club in Bangalore called We Read Therefore We Are. Abhaya had been to one of these but the club disbanded. Both these book clubs have different formats and differ from the traditional book club formats, something that I prefer.

Do you prefer reading eBooks or print books?

I prefer print books though I do read digitally as well if I must.

What books do you recommend for young people?

It depends really;  they must discover on their own. It’s really a question of inclination. If they are into the sci fi genre, then they should pick up Asimov. If they are into science, I would recommend Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman or James Watson’s The Double Helix. In case it’s humor, I would advise one to read P. G Wodehouse. I have often been asked to recommend good titles and it ultimately depends on the choice of genre that appeals to you.

Thanks Aditya. It was great talking to you!

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