November 21, 2015

From The Archive of Interviews: The Pakistani Bookstagrammer

Syeda Urooj Fatima is a bookstagrammer, a blogger who uses Instagram as a platform to showcase her love for books and her eye for detail.

When did you start bookstagramming, and more importantly, why?

I started it back in February 2015. For me, it was more like an escape from reality because at that particular moment I was going through a very rough patch in my life, emotionally and physically. I had made some wrong choices about my studies and that basically led to a lot of mental torture for the first few months of this year. Bookstagramming was something that I liked to do but it was also something that made me forget the reality of my situation. Also I have always been a fan of photography and well, bookstagram seemed like a pretty option to nurture the bookworm in me along with my creativity.

So how does it work? What’s your schedule for uploading pictures?

Generally I upload daily, sometimes with a 2 day gap, depending upon my schedule. At the beginning I used to post thrice or four times per day but people can get irritated if they keep seeing the same person posting again and again, so that was something I learnt through experience.

What’s the one most important thing you’d say you’ve learnt about Instagram?

Well that website is basically like eye candy. People don’t generally read long captions; they’re more interested in the pictures, so for the books whose pictures I post, I usually write personal captions, I give feedback to the book, and then provide a link to my blog for a full review. I don’t try to sugar coat it if I didn’t like the book, cause I know words have power. If 50 people buy a book I recommended which they didn’t like, they won’t trust me the next time.

Do you have a pattern you follow for the books you take pictures of?

Not really, it depends upon my mood. I have pictures of Not Recommended stuff, but there’s also pictures of my latest book hauls, what I’m currently reading, random book tags (where people tag you with captions like ‘rainbow’ or ‘fall’ so you make arrangements of those colours) or just different combinations of books with beautiful covers.

How do you go about promoting your blog?

I don’t do anything in particular. Look, frankly I think that if you focus on the quality of your work, your audience increases automatically. Instagram is a place where everyone gets equal exposure and everyone is judged by their content. 

Tell me about the bookstagram hashtag trend that you started.

I basically started that to create a community for all the Pakistani readers we have on Instagram and I think the response has been pretty good. We have reached over 1k posts under the hashtag in one month and so many people started bookstagramming after that.

There’s this another project that I also started, since we’re on the topic. It’s called ‘The Peregrinating book of Pakistan’, and the basic idea is that one book circulates across cities in Pakistan, covering every place from Peshawar to Karachi. Almost 70 people are currently a part of it and they all read and mark and put in a letter at the end of the book and pass it on with presents and stuff. Everyone who signed up is added to a Facebook group and they all co-ordinate through messages and post about their package when it arrives and talk about it in the group. No one knows each other personally; it’s just a book connecting us all. 

So have you ever become actual, real life friends with someone through your Bookstagram account?

Oh God, yes! I was actually reunited with a very old friend through bookstagram and now we are the best of friends. Also many people that I became friends with and met because of bookstagramming are now good friends of mine. I have made some really good friends across the globe as well, so it’s a pretty solid community.

What would you say the bookstagramming community like? Is it very exclusive?

I’d say it’s unlike any other. It is a gem; everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is supportive and loving and so positive. It’s like everyone is a family. Even if we disagree at a point about some book we usually begin the comment with a compliment about the picture and then proceed to how we disagree with the caption. I think this is pretty telling.

Personally, I usually follow back every Pakistani bookstagrammar because they need a confidence boost. Generally though I follow people with either beautiful or witty captions or good photography skills regardless of their popularity. Also I tend to follow active accounts, people who are keen about posting. I’m so not interested if someone’s posting only once a month and that too with a super dry caption. Life is already too dull to have another boring person adding to it.

What would you say the readership base is like in Pakistan? 

The readership base is quite strong! I love the fact that there are so many readers out there and that Pakistanis are naturally blessed with an aesthetic and literary taste, be it English or Urdu. I love the fact that they enjoy and savour words and, you know, actually prefer books over movies (which is huge, really, if you think about it) but I also sometimes feel that when it comes to young adult or fantasy books, the taste is very constrained. It’s like they have restricted themselves to certain known authors and that needs to change. And I’ve also noticed that many of the young readers avoid classics when in fact reading classics is a basic rite of passage for any reader. So basically the trend of book reading in Pakistan is very cliché: lots of Elif Shafak and John Green and Khalid Husseini, but if I ever put up a picture of something by, say, Haruki Murakami, barely any Pakistani follower comments on those.

Are you part of any reader clubs in Pakistan?

Unfortunately no, I’m not a part of any real-life reading clubs, but yes, I do read along with people from time to time and it’s always fun.

So have you ever had a read-along through Instagram? Which one was the best one? 

I have had quite a few read-alongs with people but the one that still makes me chuckle was with this girl Erika from the US where we had decided to finish four books in a week. Erika was a follower and she and I became friends after she commented on a picture of mine. That week was CRAZY.

How many indie writers do you know? Do you actively encourage Pakistani writers?

I know of very few Indie writers. The problem is that it’s just so hard to reach out to them because most of them have no Goodreads or personal pages and they don’t really show up on Google as well. I recently reviewed this poetry compilation called Beyond the Desire by Irum Zehra, she’s more indie, and recently I received this book by Kanza Javed who got her book Ashes, Wine and Dust published in India. So I do as much as I can but there’re just so many more mainstream writers I need to get through, my TBR pile is huge! As for the mainstream Pakistani writers, my support depends upon whether I feel that the content is worth it, and personally I feel like writers in our country don’t really care about bloggers much, which is really sad.

Have you ever been paid to feature a book on your blog?

No, I have never been paid. I don’t even know how that works (laughs) I’d like to know though.