“Generally speaking, there is a culture of reading in India, but it is steeped in a lot of problems of access and privilege.”
Welcome to Reading Around the Globe, a series here on Reader Voracious Blog geared at fostering a culture of understanding in the bookish community about access to books in various countries around the world. Each post in the series highlights a full interview with one international reader. You can read more about this series and catch up on previous interviews on the master post.
- What is your name? Nandini
- Where do you blog? Unputdownable Books
- Twitter handle? @dini_bharadwaj
- Where do you live? Bangalore, India
- Do you find that there is a culture of reading where you live? If not, tell us a bit how you came to be one! Everyone in my family reads and my paternal grandmother is a translator. I grew up breathing the musty smell of books in the little room in our house where my grandmother keeps her collection of books. Reading came to me naturally because of this. Generally speaking, there is a culture of reading in India, but it is steeped in a lot of problems of access and privilege.
- What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? I first fell in love with my genre of preference, fantasy, in fourth grade when we read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in English class. I very much enjoy speculative fiction as it provides the perfect escape for me. YA is my age range of choice and I’m trying to experiment with more genres such as contemporary and mysteries.
- Have you always been a reader? As a child, I had gotten books as prizes for excelling in academics, so I was always encouraged to read. As I said before, reading has been hard-coded in my genes. I started out very young, lost my way a little due to academic pressure but got back to it in college and still going strong!
- Do you also read books published in your native language/published locally to you? If so, tell us a bit about what kinds of books are published in your country! I have read very few books in my mother tongue and that’s because it’s very hard for me to get books in the language that has fantasy or science fiction elements. There is definitely a big publishing industry here in India but it’s mostly focused on adult books, so I haven’t read a lot by Indian authors. However, as of 2018, I’m actively trying to read more because there are definitely some talented Indian authors through Indian Lit Readathon, which I host yearly along with Shruti @ This is Lit, Charvi @ Not Just Fiction and Aditi @ Dreamy Reads. (You can find us via Twitter, Instagram or email.)
- Are there libraries where you live? If so, what kinds of books can you find there? Are you able to get the books that you want? My school library is one of the main reasons I’m a reader even today. It was very well stocked and sparked my love for reading fiction. Now that I’m out in the adult world, there are a few libraries in my city but it’s impossible to get the books that I like in them. They do have some popular fiction and definitely a lot of Indian fiction, especially in the regional languages. Public libraries are not that popular because there is little to no government money that they are granted and it is expensive to get books from the private ones. There is an accessibility issue for sure that needs to be addressed here, but reading isn’t a popular enough hobby for things to change for the better any time soon.
- How prevalent are English published books where you live in bookstores? (For example, books printed by HarperCollins.) English language books are really popular in India and all the popular bookstores here that sell them. India was under British occupancy less than a century ago and through that the people were introduced to the English language as well as English books. Many big publishers such as Bloomsbury, Harper Collins, Hachette, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic, etc. have offices set up in India. There is usually a good collection of Indian authors but not a lot of UK/US titles. Since I read more of the latter, I cannot obtain them easily.
- Do you use NetGalley or Edelweiss to request electronic galleys for review? If so, what kind of success rate would you estimate for you personally? I use Net Galley but have not started with Edelweiss yet. I’ve been approved for 38 books, declined for 46 and have had no response yet for 3, so my success rate overall is 44%. My acceptance rate definitely went up after I updated my bio with relevant info after reading this amazing post by Evelina from Avalinah’s Books. I also have maintained more than 80% feedback ratio from a long time, so that is definitely a factor. However, there aren’t many titles that I can request due to my location and can only wish for them, which of course are never granted.
- Do you experience hurdles or barriers to access for the kinds of books that you read? Please explain if so. Since the library system is poorly maintained, I have to buy every book I read. The exchange rates and economy of the world do play a big part in that! The reason I can’t buy 20+ books like I see many people do on the Internet is because physical books are very expensive to get here and the import rates are also quite high. As I said before, not all books I want to read are available for distribution in India, even digitally, so that’s also a burden sometimes. I also collect hardbacks as they are durable because I do re-read my favourites and want to build a collection of them. Those have to be imported from US or sometimes UK as Indian bookstores sell way more paperbacks than hardcovers. These factors severely limit my reading. However, there are a few things that have made access a bit easier in the recent past – Book Depository started shipping to India again and Audible was launched in India last year. Those will hopefully pave the way for a better future for readers in India.
- If you could make one change to the publishing landscape, what would you do? Make digital copies of books accessible all over the world! Due to distribution rights and laws in some countries, not even e-book versions of certain books can be obtained in certain places, which seems very weird in this connected age of the Internet. I think that this will help curb a lot of the piracy issues on the international scale.
- Help other international bloggers out… What resources do you use to obtain the books that you want to read? I use Net Galley to try and get new releases I’m excited about and Edelweiss is also a good platform for it, although I’m yet to request anything on there. I use Amazon to buy Kindle copies and physical books because they do have the cheapest prices. I wish I could support other bookstores due to ethical reasons, but in my current financial situation, that’s just not possible. Book Depository is another great place you can get books from with free shipping worldwide! For audiobooks, I personally go with Audible. My Indian book blogger friends swear by Scribd for e-books and audiobooks as well as Storytel app specifically for audiobooks.
- Do you have any other experiences as a reader around the world that you would like to share? I feel like there are a lot of problems that Indian bookworms specifically experience, which I’ve talked about on my blog in this post. There are a lot of changes that are required to get the Indian publishing industry to a good shape and as a bookish influencer, I want to try and do my best to not only support diverse voices and translated works, which are very important to international readers, but also be more vocal about the gems in Indian literature.
Please note that all experiences reflected in the interviews are personal and are not meant to generalize what reading access is like in each country. If you are interested in participating please DM me on Twitter.
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