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 woman.life.song.

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?

Always.

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.

Audiobooks?

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!

Reader Interview of Piya (The Regular) and Roheet (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in May 2018

Since we had a mother-son duo at the BYOB Party in May, we thought we would speak to both of them.

The Mother:

Tell us about your love story with books.

Piya: It started early right when I could read. I don’t remember the first book I read but I do know that I started very young. I would read anything- newspapers, periodicals, children’s magazines and books in Bengali and English, particularly my parent’s books which were not necessarily child-friendly. There was a lot of encouragement from home to read. At school, I was mostly in the library as sports was not my thing. I read Metamorphosis by Kafka in class 7.  Back then, I thought it was absurd and funny but every time I revisited the book, there was a new takeaway. I keep revisiting books I’ve read before.

I’ve been amazed by your picture-perfect memory of the plots of the many books you have talked about. How do you remember all the books that you’ve read?

It’s not that I have a photographic memory but there are two things that I remember from every book that I’ve read – one is the basic storyline and the second most important is the emotion it left with me and how I connected with the book.

Of late, I’ve been indiscreet about the books I’ve been choosing. So now I do my homework before I start a book so that I don’t invest my time in books I will not enjoy. This is what I enjoy about book clubs and this BYOB Party in particular. I get to find books that are good reads in genres I usually would not pick on my own. Book clubs expand your horizons or you get bogged down by one kind of genre. The BYOB Party is a great place to meet all kinds of readers as well. I always wondered who would read self-help books but now since visiting BYOB parties like these, I realize that there is a huge market for this genre.

The Son:

Tell us about your book journey.

Roheet: I’m a humanities student, so when I want to understand more about something I go to books, particularly historical pieces so that I have a better understanding of that time frame. This has helped me piece together things that I would otherwise have found hard to understand. Now my reading has evolved from just historical novels to writers like Murakami, so different from what I am used to.

It’s my first time at the BYOB Party and I’ve already found so many books that are genuinely interesting, so I think I would really like to come for the next BYOB Party.

What is your take on the reading habits of the student community? Is it catching up or falling behind?

Roheet: There’s a huge divide in the college space, but I fall into the category of book lover.

Favorite books?

I liked Sylvia Plath’s confessional style in The Bell Jar and Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

How has your mother influenced your reading choices?

Roheet: Initially, I used to read some of her books and I did not necessarily understand her complicated collection. When I reread the books, it made sense. She has a great taste in books.

Piya: In fact, most of our fights are about books. I don’t want him to take my books as I am very possessive about them. I don’t want a single dent in them.

So how do you arrange your books? Do you separate them on the book rack or is it on the same shelf?

Piya: Unfortunately, it is, so every time he takes my books he has to take permission.

Roheet: Even if there is a slight mark on a page, she does not take it too well. Her books are like her children; she has such a strong connect with them. So I try not to borrow her books to avoid the pain.

Piya: Fortunately, now we have a Kindle each, so that has lessened these arguments. I resisted Kindle for the longest time but then it worked for me when I was traveling; particularly when I wanted to read two or three books simultaneously, the Kindle was a good choice. And then there is the added bonus of not having to repeatedly worry about spoiling the book. Plus it good for the environment.

Roheet: But there is something special about reading a hard copy.

Piya: I agree there. Sometimes the hard copy is convenient, particularly when you want to go back to what you have read before. It’s ideal for rereading. You have the option to bookmark in Kindle if you want to go back to a certain page but it’s too much of a hassle. And the worst part is that you lose reading time if you haven’t charged your Kindle. Hard copies don’t have batteries and that is a good thing.

I also vouch for audiobooks. I was initially skeptical about how one could concentrate while listening to a voice being streamed into your head but it has been an enjoyable experience in the instances I have tried it. I would like to explore that route a bit more.

Thanks, Piya and Roheet! Was a pleasure talking to you both.

Reader Interview of Archit (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in March 2018

Tell us something about your book.

So, I knew about this book as it was a reference from a friend. They wanted me to read it so that I could gain a different perspective as I was completely into Scientific Positivity and only believed ‘Science is right’. It was only two weeks ago that I ordered this book. I wouldn’t say that it has changed my mind, I was aware of these concepts individually. However, I appreciate the effort of putting it into one perspective, kind of like a tube taking you on a journey of human history, different from how it is actually taught to us in school or university. In my head, these concepts were disconnected, wherein I could talk about these concepts individually but couldn’t really talk about them as a whole. The book gives a holistic approach to human history from one perspective. I would like to make a reference to Slavoj Žižek, who is very well known in the Philosophy world. He presented a movie called The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. I want to cite a scene where there are these glasses and when you put them on, you see the world for what it truly is, for example, you see a dictatorship in democracy. Reading this book gave me the same lens from which I could view human history about how we have screwed ourselves.

How did you hear about us?

When I moved back to Bangalore from Mumbai, it was a cultural shock for me. I was suddenly wondering what to do with my time so I downloaded this app called Meetup and found this Party.

How do you choose your books?

My introduction to reading was quite recent, during my Post-Graduation. It was here that I befriended some voracious readers who made me feel inferior to them. They introduced me to books. One thing I have realized is that I am not a fan of fiction and this seems to get me into tough spots, especially when there are literature students around. It’s scary. I started reading non-fiction, mostly science and then zeroed in on Philosophy. This was greatly due to my college professor’s influence. I like Russian literature – it’s written in a context, easy to read, and gets to the point quickly. But there are some author’s that I just couldn’t read like Arundhati Roy. I love her lectures and admire her as a person but I just could not get through more than 50 pages of God of Small Things.

If you had to recommend some books…

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, Musicophillia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks and quite a few academic books.

 

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