Don’t be scared of reading new writers and exploring new genres

09/07/2018

When back in 2014 Jakub Pavlovský started a project on Instagram through which he was trying to prove that (with a bit of exaggeration) you can read everywhere (on the floor in metro, on the head of a statue or even on a cathedral's rooftop), he had no idea that four years later his profile 'Book's Calling' would be having more than 13.000 followers and that he would be organizing both online and offline book clubs. We met one evening in a coffee shop in Prague to talk about his bookish journey, discussing what can make people read, if he buys books and what his friends really think about his passion. 

Some people have been saying that there is a decline of book readers.

That's not true. I know what people have been suggesting about book readers, but I have never found that to be the case. I believe that probably the biggest group of 'non-readers' can be found at the end of primary school and the beginning of secondary school among students who are 11-15 years old. But then they rediscover books towards the end of high school and at a university.

When you were starting your project 'Book's Calling' back in 2014, you were not a massive reader either. How do you perceive your reading evolution in the last four years, now belonging to one of the most informed people in the world of books in the Czech Republic?

I was starting with a clean sheet, tabula rasa. I had absolutely no idea about who was reading and what. Nowadays I am definitely more informed and I have been also noticing more people from the reading community on Instagram, although that keeps me in a certain social media bubble.

The social media bubble in which you have more than 13.000 followers on Instagram.

Having this amount of followers is also slightly egoistic because you start having an impression that you are actually influencing something! You pay more attention to the content you share so you don't end up posting something stupid or simply negative, at least that's my case. I always try to post only positive stuff. So when it comes to my short book reviews, for example, they are hardly ever negative. I don't mention things I don't like. I do the same on my YouTube channel where I upload two types of videos - the first one is with books I've just bought and I'm about to read and the second one with books I actually read. In between making these videos I go through all of the new books, find out which I like and ignore those that I find for some reason uninteresting.

In regards to our hectic online world, if someone really wants to read he will always find time to do so. 

Alongside the positive vibe, how do you make your Instagram profile stand out?

I still stick to my initial concept with photos of me sitting and reading books at completely random places, trying to prove that you can really read everywhere (if I exaggerate it a little bit, of course). But I have to admit that it is really difficult to come up with your own style that is original as well as interesting and which you can apply on your Instagram over the years! So although my profile is mainly about my perception of the literary world, overall it is a bit of a mix. I try to 'spice it up' with photos from bookshops and libraries and I have also mentioned the National Gallery in Prague or coffee shops across the Czech Republic. However, except the photo of me on my birthday I have not posted a single photograph without a book in it.

What is then your process of taking photos for Instagram?

Usually my friends take photos of me, especially the ones in which I am sitting and reading a book. Most of my them also had really good cameras so the photos were looking better. But now I got a new phone with better camera so I'm not so dependent on my friends anymore.

As you are mentioning  your friends, how do they react to your bookish passion?

I think that all of them are aware of it as 'Book's Calling' has become a part of my life now. I think about the project automatically, always planning a new content. Whenever I travel, the first thing I plan before the journey is not what I will wear but which books I should pack so I could make some nice photos with interesting background. My friends usually do not comment on it. But then I have a group of friends with the same passion for books and together we always discuss the literary world because that's how we got to know each other. When I'm thinking about it, I am actually having quite a lot of these bookish people around me!

Do you buy or borrow books?

Back at high school I used to get the books from my local library - it all started when I got my first library ID so I could borrow a book about elves and orcs. But nowadays I do not visit it as much as I used to. I also do not buy that many books, only some specific I need for my studies at the university. So I mostly get them - I either ask a publishing house for a particular book or the publishing houses send them to me directly. I think that's the most incredible thing about what I am doing - the fact that I get a book as a gift, which never ceases to amaze me. Yet, getting books from publishing houses also creates certain obligations. Of course that nobody forces me but there is the unwritten rule that if you receive a book, you will post a photo of it on your social media. Some publishing houses are more relaxed about it than others. But obviously if they send me a book I will not be able to publish its review within three days! Right now I'm having about forty books on my reading list, some of them have been there since the last year. To sum it up, if I want to have a book of which I don't want to take a photo I simply buy it myself.

How about your storage space for all these books?

Oh I have absolutely no space! Whenever I bring a new book into our flat they look at me like I'm actually crazy! Some time ago I used up the last spot in my library and now I'm just piling books on each other, which I never wanted because it looks awful! But I came across wooden boxes which are practical and look really nice at the same time. So in my new flat I'm planning to build up a library with these boxes, which will be both functional and easy to change and move around.

Based on your experience, what can make somebody read?

I think that primarily it is marketing. Because if you have never heard about certain book you will have no reason to buy it. And when you don't know what you want, even once you come to a bookshop you have no idea where to begin looking as bookshops are offering thousands of titles. Although some of them have shelves with top 10 books of the month/week, it is still quite difficult to decide on the right book that would be perfect for you. When this happens, it is handy to follow a good bookstagrammer who is close to you with his style and preferences of genres and who can then help you to navigate yourself in the literary world. Or follow directly the bookshops' profiles on social media, which sometimes post videos and share photos with the newest releases. In the Czech Republic, the online bookshop Martinus does that on its Instagram and is not biased when it comes to promoting books.

I always try to post only positive stuff. So when it comes to my short book reviews, they are hardly ever negative. I don't mention things I don't like. 

The owners of Czech publishing house Albatros, the Horákovis, say in an interview for the magazine Forbes that people do not read less, on the contrary, they use books as a way of slowing down in this hectic online world.

I think they definitely have a point. A great example of this fast-paced age is Instagram itself. Whenever I share a photo there, I only add a short description based on an upside down pyramid that is often used by journalists - you write everything important on the top of your post and the less interesting details can be found in the end of the caption. But in regards to our hectic online world, if someone really wants to read he will always find some time to do so. Besides, nowadays there are more possibilities that can make reading easier for you.

Do you mean e-books?

Personally I'm against e-books, but if they help some people to actually read then I'm glad. In the end it is still the same book just in a different form. However, recently I have noticed a new trend, audiobooks. I tried my first one last summer when I was in a gym on treadmill, but that was not a big success. Then I came across Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, which was read by my favourite Jiří Hromada, an activist in Czech LGBT community and an actor with a brilliant voice. I don't think that I would have enjoyed the plot in the same way if I had only read it as a paper book because it isn't exactly an easy read. But listening to it was great! From my own experience I think that audiobooks are easier to absorb and can actually help you to devour literature which you would otherwise struggle to read. Thanks to their fluidity they are also easier to 'digest'. But it is also about who reads them. Once I was trying to listen to an audiobook but the voice was too annoying that I gave up on it. So I think that when it comes to audiobooks, it is mainly about the voice of the person reading the book and then about the actual plot, rather than the other way around.

So now you are not reading but listening to books?

Well, not exactly. But I listened to the audiobook The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishigura, Saturnin by Czech writer Zdeněk Jirotka and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which was the longest I have listened to so far. And I just finished listening to Stephan Hawking's A Brief History of Time

I think that audiobooks are easier to absorb and can actually help you to devour literature which you would otherwise struggle to read. 

How long is an audiobook?

Usually about ten hours. In the beginning I was struggling to find time to listen to it because I don't drive a car or go to the gym anymore. But in the end it all happened rather naturally, so now I'm listening to audiobooks when I'm walking on a street or when I'm shaving my beard in the morning. I also used to listen to music in the shower, now it has been replaced by audiobooks. You need to try it and not immediately give up on it.

You have created an online book club on Goodreads, but you also organize its offline version in Prague, when each month you invite a group of readers and a writer to discuss his/her book. What is its goal?

The idea was to put together people so they would not only know each other online on social media but offline as well. And I also wanted to promote Czech literature because a lot of people who are coming now were barely reading Czech authors before. And it has been thanks to this book club that they have realised that the literature published in their own country is just as good as any other.

In general, I think that Czech literature has become much more popular among Czech people in the last couple of years.

I believe that could be true. And that's exactly the point of my offline book club - to show that our literature has something to offer to its readers. Besides, the reader who comes to my offline book club will also appreciate the chance of meeting the actual author of the book. Many times people came to the book club just to tell the writer that they had not enjoyed his book at all. But in the end this is exactly what starts an interesting debate! Plus sometimes, if you are not convinced by the plot but then you get to meet its author who explains to you why he decided to write in this and not that way, in the end of the night you realise that after all the book is a good read! That is to say, getting to talk to the actual writer makes you experience the plot from a whole different angle.

The original idea of your project was to promote books and reading online, and now you are trying to get people to meet offline to discuss the books.

You are right, however, the idea remains the same - share my passion for books and promote reading on social media. But that naturally leads to meeting people offline. Because without Instagram we would never get to know each other and I would never have an idea to invite a bunch of booklovers and a writer for a soirée. So I'm still showing people the beauty of reading online, but at the same time I'm running from it into the real, offline world.

Right now I'm having about forty books on my reading list, some of them have been there since the last year.

Alongside Czech authors you also invited some foreign writers to your book club.

We got the chance to talk to B. A. Paris and discuss her thriller The Breakdown or to Denis Thériault and talk about his book The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman. This was thanks to the publishing house Albatros, which can afford inviting such big names to Prague. But one evening we also had two book translators, which was absolutely brilliant.

I believe that the importance of translators is still quite overlooked.

I think that their work is not valued at all! There are barely any translated books into Czech that would have on their covers both the name of the author as well as of its translator! Only the publishing house Paseka has been doing this for some time now but still, that is not enough.

So after giving more credits to book translators, what else would you recommend to book lovers and readers, to both those who are online and who are offline?

I would like to conclude by saying that you should expand on your literary bubble by reading a variety of books. Do not stick only to one literary genre and instead try to read a genre that is completely new to you! Don't be afraid of discovering new writers whom you would not normally read just because of stereotypes. Right now I'm catching up, really slowly, on classics but I have also tried reading some Young Adult, The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid to be precise, and I really enjoyed it! That doesn't mean that I will be focusing only on Young Adult from now on, but sometimes it is nice to read it for a change. Or I have been discovering manga, the Japanese comics. And comics in general. But my problem is that I keep reading the newest releases and I'm only slowly getting through all the essential classics. Which actually made me start the online book club on Goodreads, where I try to put classics like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and another books that have been on my reading list for a long time but I've been avoiding reading them.  


Note: All the photos were kindly provided by Jakub and downloaded from his Tumblr profile