Thirteen Instagram handles booklovers must follow


Published on 22 May in Scroll.in

insta

If you’re still looking for book recommendations and the kind of book pictures and videos that make you want to hit the ‘Like’ button (so that, you know, your friends know you’re cool that way) on Facebook, you’re so last year.

The place to be is Instagram, and the hashtag to use is #Bookstagram. But since that will mean a problem of plenty, we picked a baker’s dozen of handles for you to follow.

Just literary

@theparisreview
Every now and then, one must pause and reflect upon some words of wisdom. But not just any words. Here you’ll find snippets of previously published poems and past interviews with iconic writers, along with illustrations and their most memorable covers. The literary magazine was founded in 1953 and is one of the most-widely read journals today.

@epicreads
If you’re into Young Adult fiction – reading it for a friend if not for yourself – this is the account you should be following. A bright community for YA book lovers pin-points the hottest teen books.

@fictionnotfriends
Talia is all of 16, lives in London, and has a penchant for books and travel. She blends her reads with some of the most stunning backdrops – the ocean, the rocks, the London Eye, and more! Her perspective on books is most swoon-worthy.

Book people (who doesn’t love them?)

@hotdudesreading
He’s got the looks and he’s got the books. So, stop everything and take note of the three most interesting words for, ahem, a female booklover – hot, dudes, reading. Follow for regular images of scenes of hot dudes reading straight from the streets and subways of New York City. Could it get better than this?

@subwaybookreview
What’s the most common way of passing time while traveling in a train? Yes, we know it’s Whatsapp. But this handle goes on to prove that the NYC subway has some of the most interesting readers in the world – native Americans and tourists included. They’re constantly reading – from Toni Morrison to Greek myths, and Agatha Christie to David Foster Wallace. Best of all, each picture comes with a short review of the book photographed. This is a lovely black-and-white account of strangers reading on the subway. Wouldn’t it be great if someone archived the book-people here in India too – on the Delhi metro or in Mumbai locals?

Food and design (books too)

@bookbaristas
NYC-based college grad Natasha describes herself as “Just a book person recommending you hot drinks and hotter reads”. She’s got the combination of books and brews right, and the stylish pictures work impeccably in her favour (she’s got over 94k followers). You won’t get many book recommendations here, but you’re sure to get ideas on how to style your reads with a brew! Also, she owns super cool socks.

@coffeeandbookss
Is there a better pairing than coffee and books? Echoing our thoughts here is Tanbir Minhas, who records her book-coffee moments in beautiful rustic cafés and indie bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. And her recommends are worth watching out for. There’s an eclectic mix in there – from Jhumpa Lahiri to Haruki Murakami, Henry Miller to Voltaire, and Ray Bradbury to Gillian Flynn. (Don’t miss the extra ‘s’ in the handle.)

@imjustahuman
Anna is a Ukrainian student who’s in love with books, just like the rest of us, but what sets her apart are the creative pairings she does with her favourite reads. Be it flowers, fruits, coffee, cake, candles or lights, Anna’s got everything going great.

Pets. Yes, pets.

@ernest_hedgingway
“Ernest is a persnickety hedgehog with a love of books, antiques, and sleeping. These are his adventures.” Nikki, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma is a reader, writer, photographer, cook, creator, dreamer, believer (phew)… according to the bio on her blog. She owns a pet hedgehog whom she’s lovingly christened after you-know-who. Tiny Ernest spends his days with Nikki discovering the joy of reading. At times he’s found solving a crossword puzzle, other times he’s seen resting upon a pile of books. Oh, he has his own book too!

@catbookbclub
Cats and books. That should break the internet. Sleepy cats, inquisitive cats, bored cats, curious cats – each one sprawled and perched over one or more books.

@dogbookclub
There are dogs. There are books. What’s not to love? This handle captures all those moments when the furry canines interrupt your time with books. The captions are the funniest and in all caps because hey, “BOOKS ARE EXCITING”, right?

Bookstores

@strandbookstore
New York City’s landmark bookstore has been around since 1927. The 86-year-old bookstore holds 18 miles of books and has three floors of used and rare books on Broadway and 12th. Here you’ll find pictures of author events held inside the store (readings and signings), along with shelfies and giveaways. Every now and then, the staff post their book recommendations too.

@chroniclebooks
Chronicle Books, the San Francisco-based independent publisher, is an Instagram pro. The company publishes books on food, architecture, interior design, and home & garden, and children’s books. And they never get their frames wrong.

My bookshop won’t tell you what people are reading: A bookseller’s lament as he waves goodbye


Published on 9 August, 2015 in Scroll.in

An interview with Ajit Vikram Singh, owner of Delhi’s beloved Fact & Fiction bookshop, which has announced its closure.

DSC_0934It is around five in the evening when I reach Fact & Fiction, one of New Delhi’s oldest independent bookstores, whose owner, Ajit Vikram Singh has announced his decision to shut shop. For every booklover in Delhi, it’s a time to mourn, however briefly.

There was a time when I too, like many others, used to frequent the bookshop, at times to buy books, and at others, when I ran out of money, to simply hang around and browse. Today, as I sit across the table from Singh, poking him with questions that he is probably tired of hearing and answering, I am amazed the irony of my own much-delayed visit. We have all delayed so much that the shop has to close down. Over to Singh.

Response to stimuli
“Running a bookshop is a very organic thing,” begins Singh, “you don’t stuff it full of books that you like. I started Fact & Fiction back in 1984 with very few books. When those books sold, I put more of the same kind on the shelf. It was a response to stimuli and that’s how it grows. You put the best books on the subject that works. This wasn’t the mix when I started – it kept changing over the years.

“It’s been a long time coming. I didn’t want to lose interest in books till the very end; I was still ordering books and I was still trying to stay engaged, I mean I can’t think of it as the end. It’s not a business, it’s my life. I’d hate to bid adieu but I don’t know, I don’t see any space, I don’t see any other avenue.

“The book trade doesn’t seem to want bookshops like ours. Since all these e-tailers have come in, the book trade has just gone their way. They’ve extended all support, all help to them, put all their focus on them, and they’ve just let booksellers like us be. Let this event be a reminder to the trade that they’ve got to include and support everyone the best way they can.

“After thirty years, I think it is bad news for me too. Earlier, going to the bookshop was a regular affair. Obviously things have changed over this period of time. But till the shutters come down, I’ll keep ordering books.”

I urge him to begin from the beginning.

Starting point
“I loved books and I wanted to do something with books. I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged reading. My father was an omnivorous reader. He read everything – from Batman comics to Chandrakanta, and from science fiction to philosophy. He was a great role model for me. My mother too was an avid reader and she read in Hindi.

“Buying books as a kid was one thing that I will always cherish. Personally, I went through several phases of reading. At times science fiction, other times occult, and a lot of non-fiction and history books too. People who start a bookshop think that they’ll spend all their time reading, but unfortunately, after being at the bookshop the whole day, when I go back home and pick up a book to read, I realise that sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”

Where do old books go?
“Books in India are cheaper than anywhere else in the world. If price was such a big concern and the readership was so motivated, why isn’t there a second-hand book trade in India? This is a question that I’ve been asking myself for so many years now.

“Real estate prices are higher in New York and London, but all of these cities have a very healthy and thriving second-hand book culture. Here, either the book goes to the pavement or to the rag-picker, or – worst case scenario – gets pulped. There is no system of retaining the books.

“I’m told Calcutta has a College Street, but it’s all largely textbooks, and same is the case with the Daryaganj market. From among a thousand books you might find a handful of classics or contemporary fiction or non-fiction. Basically, the reading culture is not there. The education system in India does not promote reading as a thing of enjoyment. Reading shouldn’t be an ordeal but maybe it’s made to appear so.

“The kinds of books most Indians are buying are either related to their professions, motivational books, or quick reads. Or they keep oscillating between the seven or ten most-hyped books. They don’t have the time to discover or pursue other books.”

What triggered the decline in demand?
“Some of it is because retail sale in the area (where Fact & Fiction is located) has suffered collectively. Many shops have shut down, so there’s a general decline because of this. Secondly, parking has become chaotic and people don’t like to come here. The Vasant Vihar area in itself has become very a problem because accessibility has become very limited thanks to the new flyovers. It’s a combination of a lot of reasons.

“The presence of e-tailing has really grown leaps and bounds in a short time. They’re now advertising on television and newspapers. They create this uncertainty in the market, so that you always feel that something is available at a cheaper price, even if it is not. The psychology has changed, as a retailer you don’t feel confident. Consumers may not get a discount here and they may not get a discount online as well, but the attitude is such that they’re always looking for that elusive lower price.”

Change in buying patterns
“One cannot make out the trend of what everybody else is reading by looking at my bookshop, because it has a slant towards certain kind of books and I’m attracting those kinds of people. I have nothing against the new crop of authors, clearly people are reading them and therefore they sell, but the unfortunate part is that they don’t lead you to reading something else, something better.

“For example, the good thing about the Harry Potter series was that people who read Harry Potter went on to read books by JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and a whole genre of such authors. It dispelled a myth that children can’t read 600-page books, that they’ve got Attention Deficiency Syndrome.

“These books elevated the genre of fantasy fiction, and I am truly grateful to the Harry Potter series for that. But a lot of these contemporary Indian authors don’t seem to be leading readers anywhere else. They don’t get you into the process of discovering other new writer or of going after something else. They have a fan following and they just make their readers wait for their own books.”

Meet the three Indian writers in the running for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize


Published in Scroll.in on 11 April, 2015

Going by the numbers, this year is India’s best chance at winning the prize.

It isn’t often that thee Indian writers feature in a shortlist for an international literary prize. This year, these three writers are competing with 19 others – from 11 different countries, including India – for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

The 2015 edition of the prize attracted a record 4,000-and-off entries. The jury is chaired by Sri Lankan born British author Romesh Gunesekera, the other members being Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela, British-Guyanese poet, novelist and playwright Fred D’ Aguiar, Canadian novelist and short story writer Marina Endicott, the New Zealand-based Maori writer Witi Ihimaera, and Pakistani writer Bina Shah.

Established in 1996, the prize goes to five regional winners, each of whom wins £2,500 and competes for the overall prize, which carries a £5,000 tag. The last Indian winner was Anushka Jasraj, who won one of the regional prizes in 2012 for her short story Radio Story, set in 1939 in Bombay. Meet the three writers who’re in the running this year.

Meenakshi Gautam ChaturvediThe Death of a Valley, Meenakshi Gautam Chaturvedi
Mumbai-based Meenakshi Gautam Chaturvedi is a copywriter by profession and a writer by passion. Her short-story, The Death of a Valley, is an allegory about the problem of terrorism engulfing Kashmir for many years now. “Religions are man-made, highly subjective and open to interpretation,” she said. “Diverse religions are practised in India and these have led to conflicts in society for over decades. But wars and acts of terrorism cannot change basic human values. That’s what I try to highlight in my story.”

Chaturvedi writes across genres. She is also the author of two children’s books – Tales from Bushland, and Tales of Phoolpur. A grudate in zoology from the Institute of Science, Nagpur, she won a UGC Junior Research Fellowship and took up research for two years, but dissecting bats wasn’t really her thing. While in college, she wrote her first piece of fiction, which was published in a local newspaper.  She relocated to Mumbai and began her copywriting career with Lintas.

Having written across varied media – from 30-second television commercials and radio spots to 80,000-word novels, Chaturvedi considers the short story a means to drive a message home directly, unaided by visuals or verbosity.

This is How the Ecosystem Works, Shahnaz HabibShahnaz Habib
“I remember composing a very long poem in my head when I was seven and forgetting it all the next day and realising that things have to be written down. So that’s probably when I began writing,” said Shahnaz Habid, who grew up in Kochi and studied English literature at the Delhi University. Her story, This How the Ecosystem Works, is about a girl who wins a writing competition and how she navigates people’s responses to her. She learns of the loneliness that writing brings and what it’s like to give your stories to the world.

This How the Ecosystem Works is part of a collection of interlinked short stories, set in a village in Kerala, that Habib is currently working on. Each story has its own protagonist and plot, but the collection is about the place – what happens as it turns into a tourist destination. “This is very much the story of many places in Kerala and the rest of India, where tourism is triggering a certain kind of transformation,” she added.

Habib writes both fiction and creative nonfiction, and has mostly been published in literary journals. But the short story holds a special meaning for her. “Short stories are perfectly suited to capture the mini-epiphanies of daily living, the small reversals and renewals here and there that might otherwise go unmarked,” she said.

Besides writing book reviews for the Briefly Noted column of The New Yorker, Habib has also begun translating the a Malayalam novel into English. At present she is a 2015 New York Foundation of Arts Fellow and lives in New York. She is also the founding editor of Laundry, a literary magazine about fashion, and freelances for the United Nations and Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

Siddhartha-GigooThe Umbrella Man, Siddhartha Gigoo
Born and raised in Downtown Srinagar, Kashmir, Siddhartha Gigoo was 15 when militancy struck the valley in 1990, forcing his family to migrate to Udhampur, a small town near Jammu. His story,The Umbrella Man, is about a man living in an asylum chancing upon an umbrella and making it his prized possession.

“All he yearns for is rain,” said Gigoo, reluctant to reveal the ending of his story. Short stories, he says, are difficult to write because, unlike a novel, one can’t go on and on. “One has to make the story do everything (and create a wondrous impact for the reader) in not more than three or four pages. But then, writing a novel has its own challenges,” he added.

As a student, Gigoo wrote numerous poems between 1991 and 1994, which were published in two books – Fall and Other Poems and Reflections – by Writers Workshop, Calcutta in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Later, he joined the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi for a masters degree in English literature, and, ironically, lost touch with writing.

“I resumed writing essays, stories, and poems in 2009 and it was then that I wrote my first novel,The Garden of Solitude ,” said Gigoo. “It was set against the backdrop of the militancy in Kashmir and the exodus and exile of the Kashmiri Pandits.” His second book, A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, was released in March.