October 6, 2022

Why does Nepal need more book clubs?

A photo from Chakati Bahas, a monthly book review session organized by Bookaholics.

On August 27, around 20 people gathered at a private residence at Sukedhara in Kathmandu. They were excited to discuss their learnings and reviews of a recently launched book, Hiti Pranali by Padma Sunder Joshi.

They call this meeting a book club, named Chakati Bahas. Bookaholics, a social media-based readership network, hosts this club monthly.

Bookaholics claims it is a platform that brings together authors and literature enthusiasts in one place. Apparently, there are more benefits to having book clubs, but readers and other stakeholders complain that there are very few such clubs in Nepal.

Beneficial book clubs

bodhi books and cooks cafes in kathmandu with books
Photo courtesy: Instagram/Bodhi Books and Bakes

Mohit Joshi, a recent engineering graduate, has been an active participant in the Chakati Bahas for about two years. “The sessions were very fruitful for me. They helped me know more books whether I read them or not. Moreover, the platform has also helped me network with other like-minded people.

Bookaholics, established in 2011, has over 23,000 members in its Facebook group. Members are in constant communication with each other, recommending and reviewing books.

Joshi also reviews books frequently and is seen recommending books to other members in the comments section. Recently, he saw Ram Lal Joshi’s Ba-Aama again.

There is another book club named Aahwan which has been in operation since 2016. Authors Kumari Lama and Uma Subedi say they started this club with the aim of creating a culture of reading in Nepal. Moreover, he has a feminist agenda. Aahwan organizes discussions on books of various genres, with an emphasis on the role of women in them.

This club is not limited to Kathmandu; members travel outside the valley at least once a year to hold discussions. Their last tour was in Palpa, western Nepal.

The founders say their club has helped educate readers, women in particular, about their rights in different contexts.

Book clubs promote the culture of reading and reading makes it possible to travel to different places by sitting in a corner and enlightening about various cultures, politics, religions and societies.

Shah says, “Reading also brings about changes in thinking and makes you think critically.”

These clubs also help passive readers or non-readers. If only they are involved in such forums or events, chances are they will become curious. Shah says, “They get to know various perspectives on a similar topic from these platforms and they might be interested in reading books to know their own perspective on the topic being discussed.”

Inadequate platforms

cafes in kathmandu with books
Photo courtesy: Instagram/ BIA cafe

Joshi feels the same. Happy with Chakati Bahas, Joshi now wants to be part of more platforms like Bookaholics. But, he says, there are very few book chat platforms in the capital that would put him in touch with similar events.

Author Saguna Shah, the founder of Bookaholics, also echoes Joshi. Shah says, “Such a small number of book clubs cannot satisfy a large number of people. They are insufficient for the development of the culture of reading.

Similarly, Lama, one of the founders of Aahwan, also feels that the platforms for discussing books and literary issues are inadequate. “Their numbers must increase,” she says.

Amrita Ban from Kathmandu, a journalism student, also feels the need for more book clubs. According to her, book clubs play a crucial role in promoting the culture of reading. Ban is also an active participant in Bookaholics book review sessions. She credits the space and the discussions with helping her stay consistent with her reading habits.

“My reading journey could have ended so far, but somehow the book club environment and discussion sessions motivated me to pick up the book and read more. “, she says. She believes she has become a better person after participating in book discussion events.

Silver lining

Photo: Unsplash/Jason Sung

Prior to forming Bookaholics, Shah was part of other book discussion forums, participating in book review sessions. But, later, as their founders became busy and were unable to manage time, the frequency of such events decreased or even stopped.

Nevertheless, Shah, with her determination and the immense support of the band members, has been able to continue the platform so far. But, she is constantly worried about following his lead, as maintaining book club regularity has been quite difficult in the past.

Still, she started noticing a few silver linings. In recent times, Shah has found academic institutions initiating book clubs. She also visited some of them. Lately, many schools want to start a book club and many of them have asked Shah for help.

But, to make the club effective, schools need to impress upon students the importance of reading, Shah says.

Meanwhile, some organizations have also started organizing book tours to different parts of the country. These events bring together personalities from the literary sector and organize debates on books and different fields of literature. Shah says this is helpful in making book clubs popular.