3 Readers On How Books Changed Their Lives

February 19, 2019

Ispend a lot of time on Goodreads and Instagram, both of which indulge, nourish and satiate my book-loving soul. The highlight of my social media feeds are the posts by some truly prolific and obsessive readers. These readers don’t read books as much as they inhale them! A few of them work in the book industry (publishing, retail, literary fests), but most of my book buddies hold regular jobs in accounting, technology, and chemical engineering. They are defined by their love for books and read between 60 to 100 books every year!

books change lives

Bhavna Anil, a former chartered accountant gave up a seven-year career in finance to pursue a Master’s degree in English Literature in the United States in order to get closer to her dream career in publishing. She says, “I spent most of my time at work counting down the number of years to retirement and reading books on the sly. Books were the only thing keeping me sane at work and with every passing year, I became increasingly desperate to get out and do something meaningful. Switching careers was—and still is—terrifying but it has been magical so far.”

Working with books may be a great choice for a bibliophile to be able to put food on the table, but for those who chose other career paths, books can influence who they keep company with, including spouses and friends. As a 20-year-old, I couldn’t imagine a serious non-platonic relationship with someone who wasn’t Harry Potter-literate. Even today, 20 years after I discovered the Potterverse, I tend to express my frustrations and joys to my partner using a lot of Potter references.  Friendships and kinships built over books are quite special -they are forged by trading unforgettable book recommendations, gushing over protagonists and obsessing over loose endings and illogical plots. Preethi Vemu, a software engineer based in Redmond, Washington, fondly thinks of the friendships she has cemented through books. “Almost a decade ago, I met two of my closest friends because we were all readers and were interested in the same genres back then. We were all in the same place in our respective lives, and we enjoyed each other’s company a lot. What started as a gathering to just talk about books turned into friendships I cherish very much.”

Bhavna Anil

Preethi Vemu

Nandita Lakshminarayanan

If love for books can inspire a new career path and who you choose to spend time with, it can certainly influence other life decisions as well. Nandita Lakshminarayanan, a Chemical Engineer who lives in Oregon, says she bought her current house because “it had a room and built-in shelves that would be perfect for my books!”

Since Vemu and her husband moved to the U.S. a couple of years ago, the public libraries that abound in the country have been a highlight of their relocation. “Public libraries have been one of the best things about this country for me. Living in the U.S. has definitely been better for me as a reader – the ease with which books are available to me is a strong reason for this. I do not rely solely on Kindle anymore and have moved back to paper books, and it feels amazing,” Vemu says.

Lakshminarayanan and Vemu both say that books are a significant part of their vacations and travels as well. While many of Lakshminarayanan’s vacations have been to places she became fascinated with after she read a book about them,  Vemu seeks out bookstores and libraries to visit at her vacation spots. “I like getting lost in a stack of books and I have visited the Atlantis bookstore in Oia, Santorini, the gorgeous library in Prague and the overcrowded Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris,” says Vemu. While Lakshminarayanan feels grateful to be living in a city with several great independent bookstores, she says, “I do feel sad that finding a good bookstore has become a rarity in many parts of the world.”

There are certain books- whether they are deemed classics or not– that become central to our lives and worldviews and become the foundation for our thoughts and personalities. For Lakshminarayanan, these happened to be classics for young girls written in Protestant settings and espousing Protestant values. “Most of my moral compass was calibrated by books by L. M. Montgomery, Susan Coolidge and Frances Hodgson Burnett, and their heroines played a huge role in me learning about empathy, friendship and how to treat people,” she explains. A powerful protagonist can be a huge cultural force and a positive role model, even if fiction. In Vemu’s case, this was Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind, whom she aspired to be when she grew up.

As timeless as certain books are, growing up, becoming an adult and various circumstances can change how one feels about some books. In fact, there may be entire genres that you may have read in your 20s, but won’t in your 30s. “I used to enjoy mostly plot-driven books when I was younger but over the years the plot has become insignificant in comparison to the overall enjoyment of the book for me,” Lakshminarayanan explains. Vemu, like many others, outgrew a once-favourite author, Ayn Rand. “When I read Atlas Shrugged, I was 18. It had a considerable impact on my thinking. I have evaluated this every few years since then, and I have found that while I still like the book, I no longer agree with a few of its concepts. Similarly, when I tried re-reading The Fountainhead in my 20s, I couldn’t even proceed past the 20% mark- I couldn’t agree with anything from the book, anymore,” Vemu reminisces. Anil whose taste in books hasn’t really changed says that her childhood trinity of favourites, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling and Enid Blyton, continue to be immensely readable for her.

Being connected to genuine book-lovers on the Internet has been a revelation and brought hundreds of rewarding reading moments, not to mention enriching discussions and memorable recommendations. Learning about the way people look at books, the role some of them have played in shaping their personalities and life journeys has been satisfying and soulful and contributed, in no small part, to my own journey as a reader. It has also helped me to appreciate how people perceive the same authors and books differently because of their respective worldviews. Reading books, as part of virtual communities like Goodreads and Instagram, while not being bound by a book club or anything as formal as that, has made me appreciate constructivism and that one size does not fit all. It’s important to incorporate diverse viewpoints and perspectives, and books and fellow-readers have really helped me do just that.

As a child, Hamsini Ravi, would read books all day and well into the night even after her parents switched off her lights in her bedroom, she also used to read as she walked on the road to visit her grandparents, who lived a few doors away. Both have prepared her to read on the Mumbai locals everyday, as an adult.

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