Reading target 2020: 350 books (completed 275)
Favorite Genre: All (Sci-Fi not much!)
Recommends: Any encyclopedia of human history
Wants to Meet: Chetan Bhagat
Reads: English, Hindi, and Telugu
A Few Recent Reviews: The Other Side of the Divide
Meet Swapna Peri – a full-time book reviewer, an author, and a former SAP technical consultant. She loves the simple pleasures of life – reading a book, watching movies, drinking lots of coffee and eating many apples 🙂 . She is the founder of the Books Review Café. She is one of the top 20 Goodreads book reviewers from India. In this candid interview with Swapna, I am trying to understand her reading habits and her process as a book reviewer. Without much ado, let’s dive into the interview.
Salini: Let’s start with your early days. What are your first memories of reading? What was your favorite book as a child?
Swapna: Hi Salini! Thank You so much for featuring me and my words. Reading is in my genes, I can say. My whole family is into reading. I remember as a two-year-old, my mom was always with a novel even at the dining table. Coming to me, I am associated with books since my 2nd standard. I started reading with a magazine that published for children from Chennai, named ‘Gokulam’. Later, Archies comics, Tinkle and Champak were in line. The weekly and monthly magazines in Telugu were always a part of life. I remember reading some Chandama editions in Telugu. I also attribute my reading habit to my school library teacher.
Salini: How was your transition from a reader to a book reviewer? What was your inspiration to take up this unique role of a book reviewer?
Swapna: There is a small story here. Request you to bear with me here! I was not aware of the reviewing exercise until I started buying books online. My younger sister and I used to read in parallel and discuss in person about a book. We, as a family of four, had discussions at the dinner table on stories or novels. But, the reviewing task started in 2010 when I first bought books on Homeshop18 website. Later, I began sharing reviews on books and products on Amazon and Flipkart. It was in 2017, a year after I quit working, reading has become a compulsory activity. Like a miracle, a Facebook friend, Ankit Chouhan, approached me asking ‘ if I would like to review a book ‘. I also admit honestly, and I was not sure of how a Book Review Program works. I remember asking him two questions. One being – Should I buy the book? Two being – How long must be a review written? It then struck me; one of another Facebook friend is an author. I quickly called him and informed about the book review request. He guided me, and as Guruji said, I wrote my first ever review in July 2017!..psst. I address him as Guruji for being an incredible writer! A also writes columns and book review in Telugu for a women’s monthly magazine – Vihanga.
Salini: What’s the book that’s sitting on your reading desk right now? Or is it a stack of books? 😊
Swapna: Haha! You know me. There is a stack of books; two hardcovers – 1. Patna Blues, and 2. Azadi. Two paperbacks – 1.Pornistan and 2. Knightley & Son and 1 Kindle book – Influence!
Salini: What are your favorite genres? Are you a fiction or non-fiction reviewer, or do you do both?
Swapna: Let me answer it the other way! The Sci-Fi genre is the least liked. I am both a fiction and non-fiction reviewer.
Salini: Is there any role-model for you when it comes to book reviews/critique?
Swapna: This a very tough question. I have had an opportunity to know many of the beautiful reviewers across the globe. But, yes, there are few of them whose reviews I follow daily on their blogs and Goodreads website and learn from their work. My favourite blogs are 1. Vishy’s Blog 2. thereadingdesk and 3.njkinny’s blog!
Salini: Tell me a bit about your reading habits. Which one do you like, eBooks or paperbacks? Do you have any specific reading place/time?
Swapna: My reading habits are weird! Ha-ha. Yes. Many may feel like that. To me reading is the only important aspect. I do not mind if it is a paperback or an e-book or PDF; whether I read on Laptop or my mobile phone or Kindle reader. All it matters is ‘to read!’
Salini: How do you usually rate a book? Do you have any strict set of rules, or does it vary from book to book?
Swapna: An excellent question, dear Salini!
The very first paragraph of the book, whether it is a fiction or non-fiction, or YA or Memoir, the very first paragraph must grab my concentration. But, I have to don the role of the reviewer if I am reading a review copy. For this, I keep aside my personal choices and read it with a bare mind. I make up my mind to engage myself to read the book. To review a book is a responsibility given to me. At any cost, I shall read my commitment. So the rating depends on the language, tone, and the presentation of the contents in the book. And yes, to rate a book it varies because of many things.
Salini: If you are given a chance to meet a writer, dead or alive, who will that be? And Why?
Swapna: It is definitely without a blink I say, ‘ Chetan Bhagat ‘. To me, he is the pioneer of New Age Indian Writing! I do understand many have different opinions on him, but as a reader, I can say he is the main reason for inculcating reading in young people. And one more thing, always foreign author books are shown as a status symbol. If you ask any random reader, three people out of five will reply with a foreign author name. This always appalled me. Thanks to writers like Chetan Bhagat and online stores, that introduced me to young Indian authors.
Salini: Being a book reviewer, you might have come across many indie writers. Is there any new writer who astonished you with their talent?
Swapna: This is my favourite question, Salini!
I love Indie writers. The first and foremost reason is I can relate very quickly to the names used in the book. Be it the characters or the traditions, the culture and places. These all concur with India and thus connects me to the story. Indie authors seldom bore me.
The second part of the question is a very difficult one. Every one of the new writers amazes me. I cannot be judgmental here. I also agree that there are some books which were hard to read, but I respect everyone. Writing a book is not an easy task. As the daughter of a writer, I see my mom struggling to finish writing a story. The humongous brainwork that writers and authors perform is amazing!
Salini: When authors approach you for a review, what information are you expecting from them?
Swapna: When an author approaches me for a review, I initially ask them the time frame in which I can submit the review. Then, I enquire about the genre and the length of the book. This is because I set a time table to read and pen the review.
Salini: Tell us how a reader could benefit from reading your book review? Do you give any specific pointers?
Swapna: My reviews are never biased. I can assure everyone the same thing. I put down my thoughts as in how I feel about the book, the story, what I like and why I like and so on very honestly. I also very specifically mention why I don’t like and what I don’t like. Thus, my reviews help the reader(s) to pick the book and decide why to read it. I am not saying I force, but I recommend.
Salini: What are the takeaways the writer can gain from your reviews?
Swapna: There are many instances where I applaud the writer and the same time point out the flaws. The honest opinion I give will surely help the writer realize the pulse of a reader. At the same time, it is again left to the writer’s conscience whether or not accept the criticism.
Salini: On your journey as a book reviewer, what are the challenges you faced? Was it a smooth ride?
Swapna: Oh, No, dear! The journey is quite challenging. In the year 2018, I think, my review on a book by a woman author was not accepted. As said above, I did not find the book engaging and so rated it low. It was not to her liking. I had a telephone conversation with her; instead, she called me to ask why I rated it low. I told her that I could not find a connect with the book. She wanted me to take down the review from all the social media platforms which I resisted to. The least I could do was sending back the book to her, but the review is still available! Other than this, there are no such experiences.
Salini: What was one of the highest points of your journey as a book reviewer? Any unforgettable experiences?
Swapna: I will jot down the points because I have many good experiences.
- This interview! Never in my wildest dreams, I had an idea that anyone will be interviewing me unless it is for a job!
- Many authors and publicists approach me and give a chance to read and share the review. This delights me a lot. As a reader, only I can feel the joy!
- I have also been recognized by non-Indian writers and authors, and had a chance to read their books!
- I have been awarded as a ‘ good reviewer ‘ which in return gave me a chance to read more books.
- One of the eminent directors of Telugu movies and a writer himself, Shri. Vamsy surprised me by calling my number and congratulated me of my reading habit! He is now my best friend, and I suggest him to read some books.
Salini: Which is that one book you think every human being should read? And why?
Swapna: Irrespective of the personal choices, I recommend everyone to read an encyclopaedia of the history of mankind, by any publishing house. I recommend this because it reminds us our roots, our existence and our responsibility in this world and on the planet earth!
Salini: How do you juggle your day-job and book reviewing? (if you are a part-time reviewer)
Swapna: It is effortless to answer this as I am now into full-time reading and reviewing. I shall thank my mother-in-law, who is an octogenarian, helps me in sharing the household work if she sees me reading. Oh, she even at this age is an avid reader!
Salini: We all like to have a good laugh. Could you please tell me about a book that really made you laugh?
Swapna: Oh boy! This question questioned me of my mind! This made me realize I am a reader of only serious books. But, I can say children books often make me cheerful. I must work on reading the books that have humour!
Salini: Are you strictly a reviewer, or do you write too? If yes, where can we read you? (website links/published stories)
Swapna: This year, 2020 is, in a way good to me! It gave me an opportunity to write. I scribble quotes or tiny tales sometimes, but now I can say I am a serious writer too. I have had this opportunity to be a part of telling the world the lives of seven women who are warriors in their own lives. The book is now available to pre-order. But, addressing me as a ‘ Book Reviewer ‘ makes me happier! Whatever I write is on my blog: https://booksreviewcafe.wordpress.com/
Salini: As a community, do book reviewers have any groups or collaborations? Who is a fellow book reviewer (of your circle) you greatly respect?
Swapna: Yes! There are various dedicated Whatsapp groups, Facebook groups where all the reviewers reside in. Not to be modest, but every fellow reviewer is a dear friend!
Salini: Please tell me about a common point of improvement you come across in the work of new writers. From a reviewer to a writer, please give me a generic tip to become a better writer.
Swapna: I always believe, that the English Language is a foreign language, and it is to be respected. The basic ground rules of following apt Grammar is the only appeal I make as a reader, and I also will follow the same as a writer. It will also be good if too many conversations between the characters are avoided, and the same can be written in a third-person narrative for better clarity.
Swapna’s Social Media Handles:
Swapna’s Published Works: