I had never read an e-book until this lockdown. While I have always been a paperback person, the experience of my first e-book purchase last month helped me welcome the change. With schools closed and work from home being the new normal we have never needed reading more than we need it now to inspire hope. In fact, research found that reading has surged in many households since the pandemic kicked in.
While the businesses of brick and mortar bookstores have taken a hit, the e-reading culture has surged massively as publishing houses and readers have taken to innovating reading cultures in these times. Publishers are hosting contests, interactions and book launch virtually, enabling their readers to consume knowledge digitally. Not only publishing houses, but the avid readers have also resorted to different reading styles; some have even successfully transformed their book club meets into virtual meets to keep conversations flowing.
To get an understanding of the transition of a Pre COVID-19 book club meeting to the trending virtual book club meets, we spoke with Avkirat Chabba Dyal, who runs her book club by the name Page Turners By Avkirat.
The Pandemic Book club
For Jalandhar-based Avkirat, reading is just not a mere hobby but an intrinsic part of her life. “I have been an avid reader right from childhood and, back in school, I was blessed with the best library in town, that encouraged me further.” Calling herself a social shirker, she shares that reading helped her both to escape the realities of life and also come to terms with it. Her habit to read two books at a time, fiction and non-fiction, helps her strike a balance between her mental and emotional well being.
“Books are possibilities and also escape routes.”
Transition to virtual book club meets
Avkirat has been running her book club, ‘Page Turners By Avkirat’, since 2018 now. Amidst lockdown, the transition of bringing the book club to virtual spaces has been a great experience for her.
She started her book club to revive the reading culture and to make whatever effort it took to inculcate the habit of reading. She desired to create a space where women would spend time discussing their thoughts and learnings. With the club, she aspired to bring her tribe under one roof, where conversations would flow easily, where there would be an exchange of positive energy.
“Before the pandemic hit the globe, we met once a month at a local coffee shop and discussed the book which was read in the past month. The vibe of the book meet was always unmatchable to any other meet. One always took back so much from one another.”
The lockdown, she reflects, worked as a boon in this regard because the club members get more time to read. She is now able to host virtual meetings very frequently. “Of course, the change was new, we are now interacting virtually, in fact, more often. That’s how it is now as we need to adapt to the digital space because it has so much to offer. The plus is that the tribe has grown, women in my circle have become more open to engaging in discussions over social media.”
With virtual meets, she adds, it’s also become both important and convenient to discuss current issues more frequently and support each other with book recommendations around the same. She is gradually growing her book club. She also held webinars with popular authors in India and has been able to get in touch with a few authors from USA and Pakistan. “I’ll take that as a feather in my cap because it’s a big thing for me as a reader, and I feel glad seeing everyone looking forward to interactions with authors.”
Sharing about how books stores in her town are hardly surviving the lockdown, she says, “There’s this particular twenty-year-old local book store I would always refer the book store to everyone. Breaks my heart to see businesses shutting down. “
As the Unlock 2.0 phase has begun, she hopes to continue virtual book club meet ritual religiously even in the post-COVID-19 world. “Of course we’re going to hold book meets outside later on and support local businesses too, but at the same time, we’re going to value the digital space and use it more productively.”
Pandemic’s effect on the way we read
She acknowledges Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig, an essential book of our times. “It’s about the importance of making the most of our time and life on earth. Some books read directly to your soul. This is that book for me.”
These days, when the majority of people pick their books looking at various Instagram profiles, or book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, the book recommendations, according to her, really matter when it comes to reading cultures. Also, as a mother to a seven-year-old girl, she suggests parents must significantly engage in discussions online as to how they can provide their children with relevant content right from childhood because that’s where it all begins.
“For instance, With the BLM movement, there is a major rise in ordering books about African American history and books by them for inclusion. I also feel before putting opinions and posts, it’s important to educate ourselves on matters which are very sensitive. Therefore, it’s important to read a lot and hold healthy discussions so we understand and reflect the same.”
The rising access to e-books and audiobooks
Digital reading has become a developing trend amidst the pandemic. Even the audiobooks market has been growing rapidly with technological advancements and lockdown restrictions, as per reports. Recently, in the hope of attracting more readers, Kindle India even made a choice of titles, across genres and languages, available for free to its Amazon customers.
Importance of reading as we struggle amidst the pandemic
With UNESCO’s latest figures stating how COVID-19 has affected more than 1.5 billion students across the globe, authors, illustrators and celebrities have been coming together with digital storytime initiatives to help keep them calm and occupied. On the other hand, even adults who are non-readers have taken to virtual reading for higher productivity.
Discussing how the pandemic has hit people in different ways, she reflects, “People are suffering from anxiety and depression. I have come across non-readers who have taken to reading to help them remain positive and calm. So many have asked me for book recommendation based on self-help books.”
Avkirat believes the quote, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong”, holds great significance today, and it’s with books, and discussions around them, where we can find solace and keep the conversations going.