In Spotlight, we interview people who’ve popularized books on different social media platforms. With irresistible pictures, intelligent conversations and book recommendations, these bibliophile social media masters are the best kind of influencers. Today we’re in conversation with Resh Susan, whose Instagram handle The Book Satchel has nearly 30,000 followers. She also has a blog with the same name.
What made you want to start The Book Satchel?
I was under some stress and was actually looking to distract myself. I thought a hobby would help me take my mind off things. That led to ‘something-with-books’ which led to the website and later to the Instagram world.
What do you do when you’re not reading?
I love watching movies but last year I watched very few of them. I am currently hooked to some TV shows and trying really hard not to binge watch them.
How many books do you read in a year, and how do you choose your books?
That would be something between 70 and 100 for the whole year. But the numbers would really depend on the genre, the size are and the difficulty level of the books.
Do you have a list of absolute must-reads? Could you give us your top 5 all-time favourites?
That list always keeps changing. But here are three of the books that I think are absolutely stunning – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Blankets by Craig Thompson and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
Among last year’s releases I would vote for Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra and What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Leslie Nneka Arimah as must-reads.
Do you have a personal reading list and a different work-related list of books you’d like to read? Also, how do you balance between books published in the past and those that are new releases?
Managing my reading pile is something I have always struggled with because the new books would always try to dominate my reading list. I go through the new releases by reading a few chapters at first so that I can get an idea of the book. That helps me to prioritize which books I think would best fit me, which can wait and which ones I wouldn’t enjoy at all.
I don’t have a specific challenge list for my personal reading but I have some books I would love to read and I slowly work my way through them as well on the side. It is tricky but it has worked so far.
What’s your preferred medium to discuss books – your blog, Twitter or Instagram?
That is a very hard choice to make because each platform is very different from the other. I might say I love the long rambles on the blog where I can totally dissect a book and discuss it while I like Instagram for the quick chat about books.
You’re immensely popular on Instagram. So, how does one become a ‘bookstagrammer’? Your pictures on Instagram follow an aesthetic, and see a lot of viewer engagement too. Do you have any tips for aspiring book lovers – for example the kind of camera, lighting and set up involved?
Bookstagram is the coolest gang on Instagram for books. Anyone who reads or posts anything bookish is a part of this community. Instagram gives you an excellent outlet to explore your creativity and passions. And I might add this place has the friendliest people and the warmest friends in my opinion.
As for tips to those who want to have a Bookstagram account, I’d say start it. You wouldn’t know how it is like until you take the plunge and see if you like it. Or if you find out you don’t want to take pictures but just be part of conversations of others, you can do that too; no pressure. There is a place for everyone. For those who already have an account I’d say keep at it because only practice can make you better.
Figuring out how to take photos and explore your creativity is a series of failed attempts and blind darts of trial and error. You don’t need anything fancy. Just click a picture, post on Instagram and use a few hashtags. During editing, play with the various settings of exposure, contrast and other details of the picture. Or simply use a filter for all your photos which will be less time consuming. Try to take pictures when there is plenty of natural light. Play around with the scene in the frame by changing the props or the angle. Also meaningful conversations with fellow Instagrammers and consistency (twice a week is always better than four pictures in a day and nothing for two weeks) go a long way.
Moving on to other tips, try to understand how the sunlight comes through your windows and how the shadows fall on your set up. I once lived in an apartment where I could not figure out how to get around the light problem. But I know that right now if I lived at the same place I could. So that brings us back to my earlier point – keep clicking pictures and keep at it. Slowly you will get better at understanding it.
What kind of books does your audience love more? Do you see more readers respond to a particular kind of title you’ve recommended or put up?
Not sure about the kind of books my audience loves because as a reader I read across the genres and I believe my audience take the recommendations best suited to their taste. I had the biggest positive response from readers who read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, a fantasy novel, upon my recommendation and loved it. But I also had a lot of people talking to me about North and South by Gaskell, which I thought was a brilliant classic. So I think the base line is good books are always going to be a hit.
In the context of Indian publishing, what kind of books would you like to see more of?
I would love to read more of translated fiction from Indian languages. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag was a brilliant novel that I read last year. It is translated for Kannada and incredibly ‘Indian’ to the core. I think we need such books, whether originally written in English or translated, where the Indian essence in the novel is true at heart and doesn’t feel forced.
Lastly, tell us about the books you’re anticipating the most this year!
Some of my best bets on the early releases of the year are on Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi, Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenwan and The Toymakers by Robery Dinsdale.