Meet Vijai Kumar Sharma, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from B.H.U, who worked in Govt. of India, Industrial Organization for 34 years. He has also worked as an Associate Professor, Mgt. Institute, Jaipur and in was trained in West Germany. He has a great amount of technical experience and has travelled across 17 countries. His recognition in the field of writing include President of India award in 1968 for technical paper in Hindi, winner as one of the ‘writers of the month’ bonus for Jan 2007 by Shvoong.com, interviewed by Alumni Portal Deutschland on its website for its annual report of 2015 and also by 6 others from USA, UK, New Zealand and India, third prize in a contest in Nov/Dec 1998 by Raj. Patrika, Jaipur, former Editor-in-Chief, Quality Circle Patrika during 1989-91 at Jabalpur. He has also received six other major awards and several appreciation letters for his contribution in the technical field.
He has been writing and reviewing books alongside his stellar technical career. He reviews books both in English and Hindi. Many of his book reviews have been published in some magazines/journals in India and abroad including Vikalpa, IIM Ahmedabad, Management Review, IIM Bangalore and Quality Progress, USA.
Without much ado, let’s dive into this insightful interview with Vijai Kumar Sharma.
A Book that Every Human Should Read: Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Robert D Enright
Would Love to Meet: Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam
Salini: Let’s start with your early days. What are your first memories of reading? What was your favorite book as a child?
VK: There was an environment of literary activities in our family, with my revered father being in academics, as well as an author, writer and Editor in Hindi language. There were many books of different authors in our house. Thus I got good opportunities to read many books in Hindi language and of course other books too. But it is difficult to remember name(s) of books read by me at that time. As regards a favourite book, it must have been some story book in Hindi language.
Salini: How was your transition from a reader to a book reviewer? What was your inspiration to take up book reviewing?
VK: I also got inspiration from my father to write articles etc. in Hindi and English languages on various topics right from my school days. My first article was published in my school magazine in Hindi language. Later on, this was followed by article in English language in the College magazine. From that time onwards this journey with the words has continued successfully. Though sometimes after reading a book I would talk about it in brief but no thought occurred at that time, about writing a book-review. Later on in life, I got an opportunity to undergo a long term technical training programme in Mussoorie. In addition to the various technical subjects, there were some general topics and assignments also, as a part of the training, one of which was writing reviews of books. The spark for writing book-reviews was generated in this manner, at this place. Being an avid book-reader helped me further in this respect.
Salini: What’s the book that’s sitting on your reading desk right now? Or is it a stack of books?
VK: At present, I do not get sufficient time to take up book-reviewing assignments. I have been receiving books from the publishers, but generally I do not keep a stack of books awaiting reviews. I accept the books for reviewing, after careful consideration.
Salini: What are your favorite genres? Are you a fiction or non-fiction reviewer, or do you do both?
VK: I am reviewing fiction and non-fiction books, except crime, mystery, fantasy, horror, detective and historical books. Span of my review also includes technical and managerial books.
Salini: Is there any role-model for you when it comes to book reviews/critique?
VK: The guidance and exercises I got during the training at Mussoorie in this field, made a good foundation. With my experience, now I do not feel the necessity of having a role model as such, though I feel that it would have been better for me to have a role model in this field, earlier in my life. But once in a while, I do read on random basis, reviews written by other reviewers in magazines and newspapers.
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?
VK: Earlier we had only printed books. EBooks have come only recently. I am comfortable with both e-books as well as printed books. However, certainly I like the printed book for its feel and the smell. When I have a printed book in my hands, I feel that I am having something tangible in my hands. My reading time is generally in the evening and night hours. But I may read a book in the morning also, as per the mood. I find that the reading table and the chair is the best place for the purpose of reading, since then we can also simultaneously make notes from the point of view of writing the review of the book and also attend to other requirements of home as and when required. But sometimes when I want to be more comfortable, then I opt for a cane chair having arms to support the hands, or a sofa set seat.
Salini: How do you usually rate a book? Do you have any strict set of rules, or does it vary from book to book?
VK: There are my own undisclosed sets of yardsticks. But rating is given where it is specifically required to be given. Due recognition is given to the efforts put in by the author. I am also an Author and I know the amount of hard work which is required to be put in, to write a book and make it available in a proper way, in the market. One of the main points of rating a book is about its utility by the readers, in meeting the objective of the book. A management book should be able to cover and communicate the topic adequately well to the target readers. An entertaining book should do that part well. A mystery book should hold the interest till the end. Then come several other factors like style of writing, spelling and grammatical mistakes, presentation of the topics, providing of references and other requirements of the book, price of the book and above all the design of the cover of the book.
Salini: If you are given a chance to meet a writer, dead or alive, who will that be? And Why?
VK: Having read and reviewed some of his excellent books, I would have liked to meet Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, former President of India, for his role as an author.
Salini: Tell us how a reader could benefit from reading your book review? Do you give any specific pointers?
VK: The job of a book reviewer is that of a bridge between the author and the reader. He should read the book carefully, examine other parameters of the book and give an honest and unbiased assessment, about the usefulness of the book. Reviews done by me are unbiased and generally balanced, give general idea about the contents, bring out salient positive points, the main shortcomings in the form of constructive criticism and also give clear pointers about the type or category of persons, the book is useful for.
Salini: What are the takeaways the writer can gain from your reviews?
VK: This has been partly answered in the answer to the last question. But still to state once again the review provides an honest and unbiased assessment from the utility point of view, details of the coverage of topics and their adequacy, broad overall view and the type of target for which the book is considered useful.
Salini: What was one of the highest points of your journey as a book reviewer? Any unforgettable experiences?
VK: I have been writing reviews and other scripts, for a long time. I would like to mention two unforgettable experiences. With my experience in Quality in my work life, I have been in touch with American Society for Quality Control (ASQC). Many years back I had sent to its famous journal “Quality Progress”, one of the book-reviews written by me, as a specimen. There was no formal request for its publication in their journal. But no comment/reply was received from them. However, after a long time, I got a message from one of my friends from U.K. saying that “one of your book reviews has been published in ‘Quality Progress’, Journal of American Society for Quality Control”. I was pleasantly surprised, since I had neither received any communication from ASQC about the acceptance of the script, nor about its publication. Then I obtained a copy of the journal and saw that the book-review sent by me had indeed been published by them. It gave a feeling of delight. In the American parlance, ASQC really gave me a pleasant surprise.
Further, we went to USA around Dec 2006 (that was our third visit to USA). At that time I came to know about an Israeli website viz. http://www.shvoong.com which was dealing in book reviews and abstracts etc. I joined it and started writing and posting book reviews. Since I was free at that time in USA I was able to write book reviews fast and post on this website. The website authorities were so happy with the quality of my contributions that they declared me as “Winner as one of the ‘writers of the month’ bonus for Jan 2007 by Shvoong.com.” This was an unforgettable experience & a big motivating factor. I wrote almost 1200 book-reviews and abstracts during the period 2006-2018, but more abstracts. But unfortunately around 2018, the web site was suddenly closed down. I also came to know about it later on.
Salini: Which is that one book you think every human being should read? And why?
VK: Firstly I would like to say that we should be involved in reading of books of our interest. But for your specific question, I could think of the following book: Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope– by Enright, Robert D.
In the world we all have differences of opinion and for some reason or the other; we are having quarrels and fighting at individual, group and international levels. There is no point in damaging each other’s property and/or destroying each other. Idea should be to live, to let live and to forgive others. This book demonstrates as to how forgiveness, when approached correctly, gives more benefits to the forgiver. This book is considered useful for those persons who have been deeply hurt by others and have deep feelings of anger, depression and resentment.
Salini: How do you juggle your day-job and book reviewing? (If you are a part-time reviewer)
VK: I have all along been a part time book-reviewer. When I was in full-time Industrial/Managerial Government service, it was difficult for me to find sufficient time for the writing work. However, after my retirement, I could get more time for writing work, in spite of my other engagements in several fields/areas. But, I am not taking my involvement in reviewing and other writing works as a job. Since I have some free time, I have found the work interesting and it makes me happy, so I have been continuing this work.
Salini: Are you strictly a reviewer, or do you write too? If yes, where can we read you? (Website links/published articles)
VK: I have never been strictly a book-reviewer, as I have also been an author and a writer, besides having a full time technical-managerial job earlier. My Six technical/managerial books have been jointly published. About 175 (out of which 146 are in English) articles/case studies/book-reviews/interviews (in Eng. & Hindi) published in India & 10 abroad, mainly connected with Management & Quality control, 24 Radio talks broadcast over AIR Pune, Jabalpur & Jaipur. Abstracts/book-reviews of about 1200 books & articles of magazines and newspapers posted on a web site & 60 blogs posted on other web sites. It is interesting to note that some of my book-reviews are in Hindi for the books in Hindi language reviewed by me.
Salini: From a reviewer to a writer, please give me a generic tip to become a better writer.
VK: Besides the writer, several other persons are also involved in this field like editor, proof reader, cover designer, marketing manager etc. For a reviewer turned writer, either in addition or just a writer, his responsibility becomes more. He is now expected to incorporate his experience of reviewing the works of other authors, in his proposed book. It is expected from him that supposing he would have reviewed his own book, what would have been his observations (self-criticism) and he is expected to take care of these observations, beforehand, while writing the book. It is well known that to criticize others is easy but to actually do a thing is very difficult.
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