Love of books goes online

Photo: JEEYA SHRESTHA (@meraki_reads_)/INSTAGRAM

In May 2020, in the middle of the first lockdown in Nepal, Jeeya Shrestha discovered Bookstagram, a niche community of readers on Instagram, while scrolling through Tumblr, a microblogging site. 

Amidst the gifs, short blogs and videos Tumblr is popular for, the pictures of books on a cosy blanket on top of a white sheet, surrounded by candles, flowers and fairy lights, with tea or coffee on the side, and colour coordinated bookshelf stood out to Shrestha whose love of books began in school. 

With time in hand and a promise of a community that shared the same interest as her, Shrestha joined Bookstagram posting as @meraki_reads_. 

“Think of something you adore very much. Now imagine being among the people who share the same interest. Doesn’t that sound amazing?” says Shrestha. “I didn’t have anyone to talk to about books. Bookstagram was a platform where I could talk about books endlessly with people who loved them too.”

Many book enthusiasts like Shrestha open their accounts with the hopes of finding people who enjoy reading as much as they do while documenting their own readings. Here, books become more than literature, it becomes art. Posts often feature aesthetically pleasing photos of books with short, snappy reviews as well as To Be Read (TBR) lists, and recommendations. Readers then take to the comment section to discuss the book and/or the author.

The is an international community and currently, there are over 62 million posts under #bookstagram. The Nepali hashtag #kitabloversnepal has more than 1k posts. With people staying home due to the global pandemic, there has been an uptick in the number of new accounts as well as engagement in the old ones including those in Nepal.

“Lockdown increased readers, I would be shocked if it didn't add to the numbers. Where there is an interest, there will be an online community,” says Julie Baker, an American bookstagrammer. Known as @bujo.books, Baker switched from a bullet journaling account to posting about books in July 2020.

Photos: JEEYA SHRESTHA (@meraki_reads_)/INSTAGRAM

Nepali bookstagrammer Aashruti KC (@bookwormz_review) agrees. “In Nepal, the community is finding its footing. I can see many new people joining Bookstagram, especially during the pandemic. However, compared to other parts of the world, the reading community here is still not very strong,” says KC, who opened her account in 2017.

But given its growing appeal and wide reach, this corner of the internet has not only transformed the way books, especially works of fiction, are read, reviewed, and often marketed, it has also changed the reading habits of people.

“I read a lot of Nepali literature and recently, I have noticed that a growing number of readers are interested in Nepali literature as well. I have always wanted young readers to pick up Nepali classics, as they represent our society,” says KC.

Shristi Shakya (@inspires_mez) has seen the diversity in the books and genres that people read expand over the years since she joined in 2015. “Bookstagram has given exposure to books that would otherwise not be highlighted elsewhere,” says Shakya.

Outside Nepal, those with a larger following often receive review copies of books, a perk those based here are yet to enjoy. And while those on Nepalibookstagram claim that the community has affected the sales of books by a huge margin, booksellers have some reservations.

Prem Prasad Sharma, proprietor of Nepal Mandala Book Shop in Pokhara and Books Mandala in Kathmandu says that though the exposure has helped attract more readers, it has not significantly increased the sales.

As they strive for better recognition, those in the community are happy to have found a camaraderie, especially during the pandemic. Says Shrestha: “I would continue bookstagram even when things go back to normal, I read fantasy as an escape to my real life and having someone else to talk about the book is an amazing bonding experience.”

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