Reading is no longer an isolated act. Through online and offline platforms, book lovers are connecting with fellow literature enthusiasts to make reading a social activity.
In July, Sharin Bhatti (33), an entrepreneur, went to the Mockingbird Café and Bar, Churchgate, for a Broke Bibliophile (BB) offline meeting. A Facebook group with over 900 members, BB is a virtual platform where members can discover deals for book purchases on e-commerce websites such as Flipkart and Amazon.
“There were 20 to 25 people aged 18 to 25. We were asked to introduce ourselves, and speak about the books we’ve read, or are reading, and why we picked them. It was like a speed dating session, but about books,” says Bhatti.
While others discussed Murakami and Salman Rushdie, Bhatti chose to speak about The Black Tower, a crime fiction novel by British author PD James. “The genre is thrilling and allows for easy conversation. It’s like an ice-breaker,” she says.
Turns out her choice of book was perfect – there were people who hadn’t heard of James or her works. “That’s the whole point of book clubs, isn’t it? You meet new people, discover new authors, expand your reading circle,” says Bhatti.
This has been truer than ever over the last few months. Reading is no longer an isolated act. Through online and offline platforms, book lovers are connecting with fellow literature enthusiasts to make reading a social activity.
Sure, book clubs are hardly a new concept. Traditionally, members read a pre-decided book, and gathered around to discuss the writing, themes, characterisation, and takeaways.
Even today, the fundamental purpose of these book clubs remains the same. What has changed, however, is the method of networking, thanks to social media. For instance, originally, BB functioned as a Facebook-only group. In April this year, they first went offline with a multi-city meet-up (Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai).
“The decision to meet in person was taken through a spontaneous online discussion. A few of us took the initiative to make it happen. Eleven people showed up at the first event in Mumbai. Now, we see 20 to 25 people,” says Nirav Mehta, host, BB Mumbai Chapter.
BB’s transition was only the beginning. Books on Toast (BoT) , which started as a city-based book donation drive in 2011, too, converted to a club. Previously it was a Facebook page that notified members about a location in Mumbai they could visit to donate books.
It was during these sporadic meetings that an idea was born. “Every time people came together to give away books, they would always hang back and discuss the ones they were giving away. That’s when we realised the dearth of a dedicated platform for enthusiasts to come together,” says Bhatti.
Yet these clubs retain an online presence. This helps them reach a younger audience. BB’s core demographic varies between the age group of 18 to 27, and sees students and young professionals. “We get all kinds of people – even those who’ve read just one or two books in their lives and are looking for avenues to expand their reading,” says Mehta.
Evolution is key
Keeping in mind the young audience, the clubs have evolved over time. None of them stick to the one-book policy. As a result, members have access to more books, and conversations are freewheeling. You’re free to obsessively praise your favourite author, recall which book changed your life, even bring up the dreaded Chetan Bhagat.
This freedom to choose any book, in turn, has these meetings doubling up as book swap platforms. This is a huge draw for bibliophiles whose salaries can’t keep up with their reading habit, or who don’t have the space in cramped Mumbai apartments.
Moreover, meetings are often thematic – from popular series like Harry Potter to serious themes like Holocaust literature. BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) Bombay, for instance, always has a theme - books written by female authors and Indian authors, among others.
The biggest draw, however, remains the collective motivation to read as often as possible - an increasingly difficult pursuit in the age we live in. As an experiment in this direction, 28-year-old Sandeep Malhotra co-founded The Reading Social - a series of events where people get together to sit and get some quiet reading done.
The first edition, held last month at AntiSocial (Khar), saw 18 people with books and reading devices. It was ticketed at Rs 450. “We’re trying to build an audience now and see if we can hold reading fests later,” says Malhotra.
It’s not only book clubs that are promoting a reading culture. Eateries, too, are doing their bit. Bombay to Barcelona (a café in Andheri) and Mockingbird Café and Bar (Churchgate) are encouraging people to grab a book with their bite. The latter has a collection of over a thousand books to choose from.
Amin Sheikh, owner, Bombay to Barcelona says, “We have collected over 350 books [the cafe opened on August 15]. Patrons can pick up any book and take it home. When they return it, we ask them to write down their reading experience and a short review for others to refer to.”
If you’re someone who used to be an avid reader and lost the reading habit, now is the best time to get back to books. If millennials can choose literature over social media, anyone can.