Needed: More spaces for bibliophiles
Bookstores and reading spaces are like bloodlines for a rapidly changing society of readers and non-readers alike; care must be taken to keep them alive
The city has a new library. It's temporary but we'll take it with both hands and much gratitude. It is in the shape of a trellis-like bookworm that winds its way on the lawns of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya.
Last week, the Bookworm books pavilion was opened to kids from three to 18 years of age, but going from the feedback I have been getting so far, the adults are soaking in the fun as well. Where else will one get so much space and be surrounded by books in the same frame, right? So, when the idea about this platform was first featured in this newspaper earlier this year, we did a virtual jig because it came as a breath of fresh air. In a city where we hear news of libraries and bookstores shutting down all the time – the most recent being the once-popular Crossword outlet in Bandra – to the challenges that libraries and reading spaces face – it's not been easy reading (pun fully intended).
Any new reading space in the city ought to be encouraged and supported. Last month, we learnt of a new festival meant for readers, hosted in Bandra. And, it turns out, it received a bloody good audience throughout the daylong affair, an attendee told us. And, it all had to do with the curation. From reader quizzes for fan communities of cult literary classics or series to spoken word sessions and relaxed panel discussions (in an informal set up) about talking-point books, it cracked a formula for the bibliophile and the new converts.
Through my work, I hear about read-aloud projects, book clubs, and swap-a-book communities that are doing a fine job in engaging readers and bringing new ones to the fold, especially the young readers. But the call of the hour really is the shortage of permanent physical spaces to browse and soak in the written word. Publishers and bookstore owners, and essentially anyone who is invested in spreading the written word, will tell you that here lies the biggest challenge, especially in this city where rents shoot up as high as its skyrises.
So, that leaves us with the burning question – who will come forward with their magic wand? It's people like you and me, actually, who can make a start. If there's a new cutesy café that has a few extra square feet of space, why not convert it into a reading corner? Why not open up weekend libraries at educational institutions like colleges, where passers-by can stroll in and read at a nominal fee? The ideas need the right push from enlightened minds. A start must be made somewhere because Bombay needs its libraries and bookstores, just like its essential transport services. Both are lifelines.
As a world city, we continue to woefully lag behind in this department, and unless the its visionary minds do not sit up to take notice and act soon, we will be orphaned in ways that one shudders to imagine.
I shall take refuge and sign off with one of my favourite author's words to drive home this concern: "What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore, it knows it's not foolin' a soul" — Neil Gaiman, American Gods.
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