The Not-So-Quiet Book Club Mania Sweeping Indian Cities

Consider this. You like to read books, and you despise leaving your house. All your friends have moved out. What do you do? Or you move to a new city, know no one, and you really like your Kindle. What do you do? You scroll through various events on Facebook, click ‘Going’ on some of them, but you never really go. Now, what if there was an event that involved meeting people and listening to them talk about books? and maybe occasionally contributing?

Yes, those book clubs for old women in languid English towns in your novels can now be found in Bandra West. And no, not all their members are old women. In fact, most members are young students and professionals in their 20s with some older and some school students joining in, though they are open to all age groups.

But why do people really join a book club? Is it the books, is it the venues, or is it as one person tells me, ‘Tinder but for readers’? Turns out most people have different – and surprising – reasons.

“I joined because I was just reading the stuff that I had heard of, and not discovering as much new literature as I’d like. I believed a book club would help grow how and what I read,” says Farheen Raaj, a member of Bring Your Own Book (BYOB), Mumbai chapter. BYOB started in Delhi (later expanding to other cities), as a book club with a twist. Unlike most clubs, where everyone reads the same book, at BYOB everyone reads the book they want to and then they speak about it individually. There is also a library for members to lend and borrow books from, which is also a reason why people join BYOB, though they end up staying for other reasons. As Utkarsh Bansal from BYOB Delhi says, “I joined for the crowd-sourced library, but kept going back because of the recommendations, and the discussions, but also because it gave me a friend circle.”

Another popular book club in Mumbai called T.A.R.(who).D.I.S started, co-founder Sanaya Fernandes says, “as a group of Doctor Who fans who like books, joked about starting a book club, and actually did.” T.A.R.(who).D.I.S is more traditional in terms of format, lets its members pick a book of the month and hosts the meet on the last Sunday of every month. Speaking of her own experience, Fernandes says, “Having members pick their own books and letting them run wild with ideas on how to celebrate that book has widened my own scope of reading, because there’s nothing that can pique your interest more than watching people talk about something they love.”

Contrary to popular perception, book clubs are not just limited to the metros. They are branching out to cities across the country. Shivani Sharma from Surat, while speaking about being a part of a book club says, “I started reading books that I otherwise wouldn’t have, I have learnt to tone down my paranoia about lending books, and most importantly, I have made some meaningful friendships that I keep going back for.”

It’s not just book clubs that have taken off. Suddenly, there are more platforms for readers, or even non-readers with a mild interest to find engaging people and content. There is Books On Toast, which have started off as a Twitter account and a book sale. It now does regular BoTCasts (video podcasts) which feature popular celebrities, and also many book-related events. It has started a new series on Youtube called Unlikely Pairings, with its latest episode featuring Rohan Joshi interviewing Vikram Chandra (Nerd max, go watch!)

Sadly, as the libraries and beloved bookstores of our childhood disappear to make way for the next mall, book clubs are our ray of hope. They are proof that there are still readers out there, and give us the space to mourn the death of our favourite fictional characters. As Fernandes puts it, “What we’re trying to cultivate  a close-knit community of people who love to geek out about a plot point or story because it reminds them of their own experiences and makes them want to talk ‘book’ with other people like them. And we hope that having a space to relate with others  whether they’re characters in a book, or people who want to discuss that book with you  is what keeps bringing people back!” A fitting endorsement of book clubs if there ever was one.

Where to locate the book clubs in your city:

  1. Bring Your Own Book on Facebook
  2. T.A.R. (who). D.I.S on Facebook
  3. Broke Bibliophiles on Facebook
  4. Books on Toast on Twitter
  5. The Reading Social on Facebook
  6. Book Deals for Broke Bibliophiles on Facebook

Jayanti Jha, 23, is a former TV producer, who is currently trying to navigate life in the capital with her cat, all the while reminiscing about Bandra. She tweets @JayantiJha7.

Featured image credit: Ankush Saxena/Broke Bibliophiles Bombay Chapter Facebook group