StrictlyBookworms – Manisha and Suman


It’s rightly said that the Indian youth is in safe hands. ‘Strictlybookworms,’ Suman and Manisha are the present generation  bookstagramers. Being born in a family of avid readers, both of them have the fetish for reading. Nevertheless, writing is a part of their curriculum. Running an aesthetic Instagram page of over 2k+ followers, they are motivating the Insta community to ‘read and breathe.’ 

See what these bookworms have to say about mental health, books, and more as they engage in a chat with team Storiyaan.


Questions and answers

Do you think that re-reading a book brings out different perspectives and insights that you previously might have missed? Have you read any book recently that made you feel so?

Suman – It does. After re-reading a book that you had read and loved when you were a  teenager, it might make you look at all the flaws it has. The contrary also happens. You may not have liked the book when you first read it, but now you can see all the complexities and start acknowledging the splendid diction and writing. The former is right in my case. A romantic novel by an Indian author gave me butterflies when I read it as a teenager; when I re-read it, I saw how mediocre the writing was. You see the toxicity in romance, and the characters were dull with little to no personality. 

Manisha – Yes, I believe it happens with all of us. As we grow and gain experience, our perspectives change. So, when we go back to a book, we might cringe over it or love it even further because of the things that went unseen when we first read it.

Many young people read as a form of escapism. Do you think this is true? What are your thoughts on it?

Suman – Reading for escapism can act as a double-edged sword. Everyday life isn’t always  exciting, so reading a thriller or fantasy novel can present some excitement. A lot of young readers do this to forget about their worries or sadness for a moment and to travel into the fictional world for a change. However, young people would slightly sink into a delightful book than dealing with their troubles. That’s when escapism becomes avoidance. I believe that reading should be about enjoyment, not escaping.

Reading is a process that many give up on as they grow up. How do you think people can get back their reading habits? What do you think are the main reasons that people don’t read as much as before?

Suman – There are many reasons for people not reading as much as they did before. The  primary goal, I feel, is their changing lifestyle. Working for long hours and obligations towards families leaves little time for someone to pick up a book and read it. Pressurized by the workload, they finally stop altogether. Some tips to get back into reading are: 

Starting slow helps. Never force yourself to read. Reading shouldn’t feel like another chore.

Start small and gradually expand your genre. Start with books you know about.

Spare time for it,  even if it is 15 minutes for the same, do it. It’s the little things that will someday grow into a habit. 

Manisha– If someone has lost the habit of reading but wishes to pick it up again, I would recommend him to pick up either a romance or a mystery. These two genres have drawn most of us into the reading community. Not to forget, the Harry Potter series has done the same. I haven’t read Agatha Christie’s books myself, but I’d suggest picking one of her books. There are millions of fans in the reading community, so you can easily discuss her books. That would be a great way  to start.

You started the #exploringindianliterature. What was the motivation behind this? Why do you think Indian literature is not so well-known?

Manisha – If I am honest, it was just a spur of the moment and nothing else. I didn’t plan or strategize. I get so many ideas every day, but I seldom ever implement them. But I acted upon this idea and put up the post just like that. And I couldn’t believe people were sharing this post! 

But this barely justifies why I started this. I understand the mainstream writers have overpowered the brilliant literary works. I know authors like Perumal Murugan and Anuradha Roy because I’ve been reading novels for a while now and the fact that I’m super active on bookstagram. Back then, when I was a newcomer, I did not recognize who they were. There’s a  considerably higher possibility of beginners picking Chetan Bhagat’s book rather than theirs. So , that’s why I feel Indian literature is not talked about enough.

According to you, how do you think youngsters can be encouraged to take up writing? What are some changes that can be introduced in the education system to encourage students to explore writing?

Suman – Things should start small, like encouraging youngsters to take part in writing competitions. Give them opportunities to write book reports or give them a book to write a review of, maybe say, “The Diary of Anne Frank” or a work of Shakespeare. Minor changes  would pique the interest of people who have a knack for writing. This will work if it’s implemented routinely. 

Manisha– I would hand them a diary. That’s the first step if you want youngsters to pick up  writing. It’s a great way to channel your emotions and has an unrestricted view. It also activates  your imagination, and with practice, you learn to articulate. I would encourage them to write  whatever they want; it is a method called wild writing. I think this is very effective. There’s also  an efficient way in case of elders, too. This is what I used to do: I would read a book, and if I get indulged, I will start writing my own stories, taking inspiration from the book. It used to be a fun session of brainstorming storylines.

In one of your Instagram stories, you mentioned that you wanted to open a library café. Why is that? How do you think these cafes encourage people to take up reading?

Manisha – Library café is the most optimal place for book lovers like us. We can hold book club  meetings. We can meet bookstagrammers and interact with readers who don’t have a  bookstagram. It would also be an excellent place to click all the bookish pictures. We all love  coffee, and we all love books, so why not?

You first started Instagram to help people with depression and mental health but later converted into bookstagram with your cousin Suman. Why is it that you chose it to be a bookstagram and not something else?

Manisha – Yes, this page was for mental health awareness. But our society has still not accepted mental illness. No one would talk about it, let alone share it on IG. That was a lost  cause. Then, I was reading books like clockwork. So bookstagram came to me instinctively. 

Sharing my reading journey with the world was appealing. Best Decision. Ever.

You got into writing through your father, as you said. Has reading always been in your family, even before your father?

Manisha – We are from a household of writers and avid readers. Our grandfather, my father, our aunt, one of our uncles, and Suman’s mother used to be writers. Suman also writes short stories and poetry. They also have an extensive collection of books that could leave a booklover  jealous. So, it won’t be wrong to say that it runs in the family.

What do you both do apart from reading? What is it that all of you are pursuing?

Suman – I’m working in SBI, and Manisha is a Chemistry student who is busy applying for colleges for her higher education.

Is there a book that you thought was a complete eye-opener or made you realize something extraordinarily different and changed your perspectives?

Suman – I read A Book of Light by Jerry Pinto for Mental Health Awareness Day. When we talk about mental health, we focus on the person who is suffering. And we forget about people living with them. The book focused on people living with patients of Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Autism, Depression. It talked about their struggles, their ignorance, and their regrets. It provided me a  whole new perspective on the subject. 

Manisha– The God of Small Things. This was the book that brought me into the reading  community.

Can you please tell us how you battle depression? How important is it to get back up? Something you’d like to share with the people who are fighting with it today.

Suman – My fight with depression wasn’t easy. Not for my mother or me. Depression made it impossible for me to talk about it to anyone. The thoughts that came with it were the worst part  of it. Even more scary were the parts of me that agreed with it. As the subject of mental health is  still a taboo in our society, everyone took my aloofness as sadness or some teen tantrum. 

Everyone was oblivious of my silent cries, or maybe they just ignored it. It took me a lot of  courage to get everything out to my mother. She couldn’t understand at first, but the stigma did  not cage her love for me, and I got into therapy. It took me two years to be free of the cage I  built. I had missed out and lost a lot. But now, when I look back at 2017 me, I’m glad I didn’t  listen to the voices in my head telling me to “just give up.” I have changed a lot as a person. 

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It is true. Ending it isn’t worth it. You may feel like there’s no other way, but there is, and I’m living proof of that because I used to feel the  same way. Seek the help you need. Talk to people who care about you. Continue fighting till  you come out on the other side as a winner.

How long do you take to finish reading a book? Would you like more time to read books?

Suman – It depends. If the premise of the book is interesting or if it is fast-paced, it takes around  three days for me to finish it, otherwise, around a week. And yes, more time to read books is always ideal.

Where do you uncover new books? Is it from bookstores or online? Have you joined any book clubs?

Suman – It’s a mix of both. From the bookstores, I discover the ‘not-so’ mainstream books, and I  order books that are the talk of the bookstagram world online. That way, I have a wide variety of genres to read.

Has the journey helped you to develop photography and editing skills as there is an effort put with every image posted?

Suman – Definitely. When we first started our page, we put minimum effort towards it. We didn’t know what worked and what didn’t. As our page grew, we started putting in more effort. It forced  us to be more creative in our approach. We now fuss a lot while taking pictures. It has turned into a legit exercise for us.

You have stated that you’ve taken a break from reading since June 29th. Were you saturated with reading?

Manisha – My mother advised me to save some money due to the COVID-19 crisis, which is why  I stopped purchasing books. And now that I’m running out of books already, I thought this would be a perfect moment to take a break. Also, I’m graduating this year. This is a crucial stage for me too.

Can you walk us through the process of crafting a review, from the point you pick up the book to the point you write the last word of your review?

Suman – My review process is from a critical standpoint. From the moment I pick up the book, I note down the title, author, genre, pages, and publishing house in my journal. While reading a chapter, I write the name of the character in focus and his/her personality, then jot down the writing style, the theme of the section, the facts which I liked so far, and my favorite line of the chapter. This continues till the end of the book, after which I write who I would recommend this book to, what didn’t work for me, and what did. I write all of it concisely and post the review. 

Manisha– I talk about the reading process in my book reviews. Things that I got to learn or how the book made me feel. The first thing I notice in a book is it’s writing style, so I talk about that in my reviews.

Quick 5

1. A book you wish was never adapted into a movie — Percy Jackson And The  Lightning Thief 

2. Mythology or fantasy — Mythology

3. Library or home? — Home

4. One word that describes ‘strictlybookworms’ — Diverse

5. A book you’d recommend for Beginners? — To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and  Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar