Sunday, February 08, 2015

Where Books Go: Crowdsourcing the Travels of Hotel Arcadia (and Other Books)

So I had a crazy idea this morning and am reaching out to see if you can help. It hasn't been terribly well thought through but it just feels great to launch right into it. It's a crowdsourcing plan to figure out where books go and who reads them. It isn't about reviews or reactions, but a simpler - and for me - a little fantasy I have clung to since childhood. 

You can probably guess that I was a rather bookish child - or a kitabi-keeda (bookworm), as was the term in my family. I also had a hyperactive imagination which meant I got into constant trouble for daydreaming (letting the milk boil over while I was 'watching' it was a particularly regular crime), had regular and terrifying nightmares (though I blame my father's military exploits for that one), and came up with way too many odd, whimsical ideas.

Early on I realised that the books I read - or at least the stories in them - came from far off places in the world - Mumbai, Delhi, London, Paris, New York, Moscow.  I wondered constantly if the writer knew I had their work, if they knew I held a piece of them. And yes, I was pretty clear quite early on that a book was a piece of the writer, perhaps even a little shiny bit of their heart, a visual reference I probably picked up from Mera Naam Joker

In those pre-internet days, and growing up in a small tiny town in India, it was pretty impossible to find out much about authors, or to get in touch with them. And even if I had tracked down an address, my pocket money wouldn't have gotten far enough for the postage to America or Soviet Union or Britain. Especially not with trying to buy more books at the same time. 

Regardless, I wrote many letters to my favourite authors, in the back of my school notebooks, or in the many diaries I started and never filled, and in my head. In some precocious cases, I offered them advice - mostly about not having sappy women/girls, or expanding parts for the characters I loved, or writing me into the narrative (an early recognition of the lack of nonwhite characters and stories, I guess).  In those letters, I explained how I hid under the bed to read because my grandmother worried I didn't play enough, that I covered them in brown paper to resemble text books so I could sneakily lose myself in the pages during a boring school lesson, and how much I loved the weight of them in tucked into the sash of my dress. But for most part, I wrote the letters just to tell the writers how much I loved the stories, and in doing so, let them know that at least one little piece of their heart was safe - and cherished. With me. 

This is why I always wondered about the people who pick up and read my books. Not only for feedback and reviews, but those little glimpses into their lives and homes. To wonder if they read the books in the park, or by seaside, or tucked into a favourite chairs. In my mind, each reader is a story, and stories are always magic. So I am constantly wondering how to share in a little bit of that magic.

Fortunately, internet - and social media - have made that magic a little more possible. I realised earlier in the week, when I received the first copies of Hotel Arcadia, that I may be able to figure out where some of the copies would go. I posted a snap I took at my publisher's office, and later from home as we toasted a copy with bubbly.  And this morning, I logged on to twitter to be informed that one of the first - if not the very first - review copies had arrived. Dave Hardy had kindly posted a photograph on twitter for me:

Suddenly, someone I don't know in real life, and have only recently met on twitter, had given me a little glimse into their life. The edgy, night city-scape backdrop to their twitter account, the monochrome bed-linen in the photograph, and the careful, thoughtful framing of the correspondence - the addresses of all concealed, but the compliments slip just peeking out - evoked an entire life and character in my mind. And to me, that's magic! 

And from that comes this rather whimsical idea. I am starting a hashtag for twitter and instagram: #wherebooksgo. I will also use it for my FB page posts to upload, RT and share photographs that readers send me, and hopefully at the end of it, there will be a big shiny, magical, red heart that all of us share - one that holds the magic of reading, and writing, stories. 

So may I please request anyone reading Hotel Arcadia to please send in a pic with the #wherebooksgo hashtag? Tag me or the book and I'll find it. If you want to share another book, by another author, simply tag them instead (makes it easier to find).

If you are author, please feel free to use the hashtag for your own books and readers. It would be so wonderful to create a big celebratory magic that comes from sharing stories and our love for them.