Reading in the Age of Social Media: Bookstagrammers

The social media boom has undoubtedly greatly facilitated the reading community. There has been an unprecedented increase rise in the number of readers, owing to social media. A lot of these numbers are influenced by Bookstagrammers. Bookstagramming is a niche where users post content related to books, merchandise, and comments about the literary world in general. Pakistan is no stranger to such a community, and we at Daastan wanted to get to know it a little better. We recently got in touch with two individuals with a penchant for all things bookish, Ozy (@papercielings) and Hammad (@hamreads). We probed into what caused them to begin their journey and were left thoroughly delighted by their responses.

In Conversation With Bookstagrammers:

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into reading?


I’m 21 years old, currently in my second year of medschool. My enduring love affair with reading started when I was very young. My elder siblings read a lot and were always sneaking books out of their school libraries even when their borrowing limit had been reached. I think, at first, I wanted to be like them, which is why I started reading (goes to show how much of a child’s personality is shaped by the examples that the adults around them set). The first full-length novel that I read was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl at the age of six and I remember finding it impossible to pronounce Violet’s surname, Beauregarde. My little brain refused to believe any word could be so difficult to read! The rest is history. I’ve been obsessed with reading ever since.


I am a 20-year-old law student. I initially went to the US to acquire a Chemical Engineering degree but upon exploring the subject of jurisprudence and legal theory, I decided to pursue a career in law instead. I am a trained civil/commercial mediator as well. I had been reading throughout my childhood before I was burdened by my O/A Level subjects. Recently, I got the chance to read a lot due to the pandemic situation (I read around 116 books in the lockdown period), and especially as a result of my decision of switching careers, I had a lot of time at hand.


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A post shared by HamReads (@hamreads)


What inspired you to become Bookstagrammers?


For one, it was the fact that I had so much to say about so many books with no real outlet. I wanted to be part of a reading community in which I could discuss, recommend and receive recommendations from like-minded individuals. There isn’t a lot of reading groups or discussion pages in Pakistan, which was something that I very much wanted to be a part of. I also always wanted to write, professionally and I felt like discussing books with readers and authors online would be good research.


I was very disheartened at the fact that I could not find anyone around me who enjoyed reading as much as I did. As a result of this general lack of interest in reading, I was not able to find some books of my choice. Apart from that, nobody was really interested in reading so I just had this idea of somehow influencing my friends and family in order to create a reading community around myself which I could engage with.

Where did you derive inspiration from, for your handle?


For any woman who’s ever achieved anything extraordinary, the ‘breaking the glass ceiling‘ metaphor is a very common one. In Pakistan, I felt there existed a glass ceiling for all ambitious women that prevented them from putting pen to paper— in terms of education, working, equal opportunities, etc. Since I considered myself a part of the reading community in Pakistan that was intent on talking about books in a country that wasn’t particularly listening, I considered it my version of breaking the glass ceiling. Tearing the paper ceilings!


To be honest, the Instagram handle was suggested by a dear friend of mine and it sounded good to me so we just went with it.

As Bookstagrammers, do you feel the pressure to read a certain number of books each month?


I used to, as a newbie bookstagrammer. When your entire feed is filled with people who are constantly reading and reviewing books, one does tend to be a bit hard on oneself for barely meeting your reading goals. Which was why I quit bookstagramming for a year in between. However, this year, I realised that with all the turmoil in our country and around the world, my voice— the same as every forward-thinking individual’s, was needed. So I decided to stop chasing reading goals and instead expand the scope of the things that my account covered to include my medschool journey, my writing and my opinions on social justice as well.


Absolutely. So during the lockdown period when I had a lot of time at hand, I was reading a book every 2-3 days. But when life started normalizing again I was not really able to keep pace so the pressure started building. However eventually, I was able to curtail that pressure and reduce the number of books I read every month to about 5-6.

Tell us about your favorite books! (or series)


My favourite books change almost every year. But some of the books that I think really made me feel something are: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (wonderfully witty book about two female spies in WW2), Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (vividly descriptive tale of a 70s music band’s rise to fame and all that it entailed), The Hating Game (a hilarious chicklit romance novel about two sworn enemies working together in an office) and of course, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, which we all know and love.


My favorite book is ‘A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrick Backman. It is a story of a husband living every day in the grief of his wife’s death, taking the reader through his suicidal tendencies and his process of finding meaning in life once again. The message of empathy and the genuine emotions that emanate from this book make it stand out.

Did you have any role in developing a reading culture or community around you?


A lot of people DM me to tell me that they read the book that I recommended on my feed and loved it, which is an intensely gratifying feeling. So, while I don’t think I’ve had any large-scale effect, I do think my bookstagram has been a helping hand in shaping people’s perception of reading and what it means to not always be chasing after your reading goal, but rather be in pursuit of the next book that touches your soul.


I would want to have a greater influence but till now I have been able to inspire 5-6 regular readers who read my recommendations and share their thoughts on books with me from time to time which is a great source of growth for all of us involved.

Does your gram have a specific niche? What themes do you seek inspiration from?


It started out as a bookstagram which has now metamorphosed into a page in which I post everything. From book reviews to how my MBBS exams are going to how social justice is a fight that every person with a conscience should take up. I seek inspiration from a lot of career women who use Instagram as a place to educate and inspire, all the while balancing everything from challenging careers to fully-fledged social and family lives.


I try and cater to all genres but at the same time, I also try to recommend readings that have important messages with regards to our current social and political situation. I do not just want people to read but want to inculcate in them much-required tolerance towards conflicting ideas and opinions which is the need of the hour in Pakistan.

Lastly, is there anything you would like to say to our readers?


If there is one thing that this year has taught me, it is to be kind. Being mindful of people’s private struggles. Of their mental health. Of all the sufferings that they don’t advertise. An offhand remark from a stranger can shape a person’s life in ways no one can imagine. Make sure that remark is kind.


I just want to say that it is important to read as diversely as possible because it helps us shape a wider perspective of the world as a whole. I recommend reading about different cultures and religions in order to have clarity with regards to one’s own spiritual and religious perceptions while at the same time clarify long-held misconceptions that fuel religious extremism day in day out.

We at Daastan thoroughly enjoyed conversing with Ozy and Hammad about their experiences. These Bookstagrammers show us that bookstagramming is not only immensely fun, but also contributes to a greater good. If this is something that interests you, we highly encourage pursuing the activity!

Daastan is a literary forum working for revival of literature in Pakistan. We connect writers with opportunities for career growth.

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