“The right book for the right person is not enough. It needs to be the right book, for the right person at the right time.” Johnny Uzan
This quote seems very apt for what Amit Sarin (39), the co-founder of Kool Skool, an independent bookstore in Gurugram, has been doing for over a decade now.
Always at his bookstore, engaging with customers and finding out their interests, he helps them discover books that they would enjoy; he has an excellent track record of recommendations. Amit is indeed a ‘book whisperer’!!
“I work with the belief that every person is a reader”
Amit’s philosophy is that everyone is a reader and there are no non-readers. If someone is a non-reader, it just means that he/she has not found the right book as yet. “Some readers are trickier than the others and therefore it might take one longer to find out what really gets them excited, but I work with the belief that every person is a reader,” says Amit. He also says that it is easier to help a child become a reader rather than work with an adult (but it is possible).
“Figuring out whether a child enjoys fiction or non-fiction is the key. A family walked into the store and mentioned that their son was not reading and they wanted me to pick popular titles out for him. They were looking at Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, etc.,” he says. A conversation ensued between Amit and the boy and the former soon understood that the child was interested in non-fiction — he liked reading about people, facts, opinions.
“It was just a matter of finding his genre and explaining to the parents that not all children enjoy fiction – but that does not mean they are any less of a reader,” says Amit.
“There is no straightjacket approach to recommending books”
Amit ensures that he recommends only books that he or his team reads. He says that to be able to recommend a book to someone, he needs to have read it himself. “I am often asked why I read all the books, I could very well read the blurb and make up my mind. However, that is not how it works. Unless the book speaks to me, I am unable to recommend it and therefore refrain from stocking it also,” he explains.
Speaking about all the algorithms and recommendation lists that one gets to see online, he says, “I find it amusing. Humans are more complex than that and there are only a handful of universal recommendations that everyone will like.” Curating is a very important part of what Amit does and he says that to find one gem he often reads 20 to 30 books before stumbling on a book that he can safely recommend.
There is no straightjacket approach to recommending books – it takes a lot of effort to put these recommendations together.
“As far back as I can remember, I have been interested in reading,” says Amit, whose first few books were encyclopaedias and the tell my why series of books, which his father gifted him when he was in grade 1. Since then there has been no stopping Amit, who says that it is only in 2020 that he has started counting the number of books he reads. “The count from January 2020 until now is about 179 books, excluding all the picture books I read,” he says.
Are there good books and bad books?
“No,” says Amit. “I don’t think there are any bad books. Some may not meet the standards that people have set, but as long as any of them is a starting point to get my child to read, it serves a purpose and that is a win for me.” Books come in all shapes, sizes, and forms – picture books, encyclopaedias, fiction, and non-fiction.
Amit also mentions here that those who begin with a certain genre of books will graduate to reading more and therefore all kinds of reading must be encouraged. The one mistake, according to Amit, which many parents make, is to take away the fun and joy from reading.
“There is a push to make children read, and when that happens, the natural human reaction is to push back,” says Amit.
Figuring out the skill level of the child and finding his or her interest level will help in picking the right books for children. Citing an example, Amit says, “I have dealt with a 12-year-old voracious reader who only picks books with illustrations – she does not enjoy text-heavy books and that does not mean that she is any less of a reader.”
Amit’s tips to readers
1. Power of completion
“Pick up a book which you feel you can complete reading quickly,” says Amit. For example, a 300-page graphic novel will be easier to read than even a 150-page book, which is text-heavy. Finishing a book will give you a sense of accomplishment and push you to read more.
2. Do not let the to-be-read pile grow
“Be wary of books that either remain half-read or those which gather dust and are untouched,” he says. With each book that continues to remain in the pile you fall into a reader’s block. To break that, Amit suggests you go back to reading something that puts you back into the rhythm of reading consistently. Could be a book of short stories or even a children’s book that you enjoy.
Amit’s recommendations for children aged 8-12
Amit is happy to chat with his readers and understand them before recommending books. He would like for people to pick up their books from local independent bookstores and help them grow, instead of buying from impersonal online mega-stores.
He has some recommendations for this age group, which he qualifies by saying: “Every reader is different and therefore while traditionally the books I recommend might be for a certain age-group, anyone who loves the written word might enjoy these.”
1. Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (8 and above)
2. The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer (8 and above)
3. Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens (10 and above)
Amit concludes the conversation by saying, “This is not just a business for me. Books have the capacity to change lives – they are not to be taken lightly.”
Whether you enjoy books or are someone who is looking to pick up that first book, Kool Skool’s Amit can help. He is available at +91 98997 10452 and you can also check the bookstore’s website and order your books today. They deliver pan-India.
(Edited by Nishi Malhotra)