From Blossom Book House to mobile libraries, this is how Bengaluru motivates itself to read more
Despite being home to several startups, Bengaluru is also home to a number of iconic brick-and-mortar book retail stores. From Blossom Book House to Cubbon Reads, this is how the city’s readers are get their book fix.
For those who are familiar with Bengaluru, Blossom Book House is a staple sight. Rooms stacked with books to the ceiling, it is almost the equivalent of a paradise for book lovers.
A commonly-held belief lately is that people have left books behind and have moved on to other digital entertainment platforms. However, within the nooks and crannies of Bengaluru’s lanes, a reading community continues to not only grow but thrive, passionately disproving that theory.
Readers, bookstore owners, and library managers in the city suggest that despite tech advancements, reading continues to be popular habit.
Blossom Book House, where Bengaluru’s readers have thronged to for over two decades, began as a small store in 2002 on Church Street selling fresh and second-hand copies. It recently expanded and opened its third outlet in the city, just a stone's throw away from its other two outlets.
YS Life reached out to avid readers, bookstores and libraries in the city to understand the evolution of readers and their reading habits.
Bengaluru’s book stores attempt to reel in readers
Despite growing up with gadgets, when it comes to reading, GenZ prefers the traditional form.
For Mayi Gowda, Founder of Blossom Book House, one of the most memorable experiences with a customer was when a mother and child visited the bookstore to celebrate the latter’s birthday. “When the mother asked the girl how she wanted to spend her birthday, she wished to visit Blossom!” said Gowda.
Blossom Book House has seen reading habits change among Bengalurians. “Currently GenZ are the key audience who have just begun and their tastes change constantly,” says Gowda.
Walking around the store, 11-year-old Vaishnavi places the Percy Jackson series among others in her basket. “I love reading fantasy and Greek Mythology. My reading habits have remained constant. I’ve just moved to advanced levels," she said.
Libraries and bookstores attract those like Vaishnavi owing to its large collection and exposure to different genres.
As I browse through the various sections of the store, the excitement around it seems palpable. From the smell of aging parchment to the enchanted look onlookers bear as they paw through the shelves—there seems to be a corner for almost any reader. This is also when it becomes apparent to me that this experience cannot be recreated online.
That being said, these stores or libraries simply cannot run on nostalgia or a feel-good factor. “While reduced readers is one of the reasons, in my eight-years of experience here at Malleshwaram, I have faced challenges running the library too. Some outlets closed since the people who began as part of Just Books started their own libraries. And simultaneously they weren’t familiar with the process of running one,” said Santhosh B, a Branch Manager at Justbooks in Malleswaram.
In a situation where several bookstores across the city had to shut shop for reasons including decreased customers and changing preferences, Blossom Book House's expansion can be seen as a good sign for the city's brick-and-mortar book retailers.
“It has been good all these years, and while the number of people coming here reduced during the pandemic, it is now gradually increasing. The weekends are especially crowded,” say Venkatesh and Asha, who have been working at the store for over 15-years.
“We research, stock and display the books that sell more at the store. And at every opportunity possible, we host events too,” says Gowda. Rather than falling prey to technology, Blossom Book House has used social media like Instagram and Twitter to promote its outlets and offerings.
Library culture is thriving in Bengaluru
Within Karnataka, there are approximately 7,000 libraries. The state’s e-library service is seeing good reception too, “There is a separate audience for libraries,” says Satishkumar S Hosamani, Director of the Department of Public Libraries, Government of Karnataka, Bengaluru. “In Bengaluru, 1.25 crore people have registered on the digital library portal.”
“Libraries are a great place to meet fellow readers,” says Priyamedha, a 24-year-old journalist who recently moved to the city. “It is sad to see many local libraries shutting down. It is high time that we come together as a community and revive them once again.”
For others like Santosh libraries were a source of inspiration. Sitting in a library for two days owing to shortage in staff was the starting point to start his own venture despite his parents' protests. “The interactions I had with people during this time made me realise that I wanted to start a library myself,” he says. “People realised the value of relationships and time. Similarly, I'm waiting for the time when people realise the value of reading books.”
While Just Books offers home delivery, most readers prefer visiting the library and browsing for themselves. This not only helps in the discovery of new authors and titles, but also allows them to interact with fellow readers, Santhosh tells YS Life.
As of June 2023, 3.46 crore readers had registered onto Karnataka’s library. Its mobile app—e-Sarvajanika Granthalaya—has about 1.73 crore e-content that includes career guidelines, story books, literature, science, and e-newspapers, in English and Kannada.
“We have also launched the digital library in Karnataka, a first of its kind in the country,” says Hosamani. Besides digital libraries the Karnataka government also issues mobile libraries–vans filled with books, are made available for children in areas that lack functional physical libraries.
“I prefer the overall feel of a hardbound book in my hands rather than a device. I guess it's a psychological thing as devices turn into distractions, but the book allows me to focus on just that,” Poushali, a 25-year-old post graduate Student from Bengaluru says. “The first thing I look for is the nearest library!”
The library in Cubbon park, Sheshadri Iyer Memorial Hall (State Central Library) is often filled with students huddled with their notes and preparations, besides patrons of all ages looking for a break.
The unsigned treaty of co-existence
Despite the advancements in tech, users of e-books as well as those who buy physical books continue to increase. And while this readership grows, it also throws open to separate types of readers for both formats.
Anna, a 21-year-old who recently moved to Bengaluru, was initially against e-books as they felt inauthentic. However, her opinion has now changed as she saw them as a way to save time and money.
“My first eBook was Wonder and I loved it so much that I realised I had to get the physical copy just to keep in my collection as a reminder of how a random book can become one of my favourite books,” she adds.
While convenience and tech advancements are pushing many e-books, it would be wrong to say that physical books are losing their relevance and significance. At least not in Bengaluru.
On June 17, the 22nd edition of Cubbon Reads—a quiet reading community who regularly meet in Cubbon Park on Saturdays between 9AM and 2PM—saw more than 600 attendees.
“Books transport you to a different dimension, once you start reading, you forget any anxiety or tension that you had,” says Priyamedha.
(This story has been updated to correct the name of a person quoted in the story in one instance.)
Edited by Akanksha Sarma