My Life With Books: Marco D’Souza

Based in Gurgaon, Marco is a career journalist who jumped to corporate communications and now works for Google. A consummate geek and a fan of eBooks and the Kindle Paperwhite, he loves rediscovering the wonders of life with his nine-year-old daughter. We talk to Marco about his love for reading and his favourite books and authors.

Did you read a lot when you were in school and college? What books do you read now?

I did quite a bit of reading in school and college. Ever since my early days, my parents surrounded my sister and me with all kinds of books – from encyclopaedias to Hardy Boys, classics to Famous Five et al. By fourth grade I was hooked on Tom Sawyer; fond memories of idyllic summer days sitting on the stairs outside our home, devouring Hucklerberry Finn! Reading about animals also led me to James Herriott – immensely comforting memories of going through his series. My first real novel, I remember, was Jack London’s Call of the Wild. It’s the one that sparked it for me – the storytelling, the depiction of the Alaskan wilderness, and the telling of the wolf’s story that made it sound so human.

These days I read a range of genres: my mainstay is Sci-Fi (from robotics to genetics to nanotech, and of course space), fantasy (warlocks, djinns and the like), and a sprinkling of fiction (spy/crime thrillers). The evolution of my reading preferences has largely led me to now reading what I’m fairly certain I’ll enjoy. Life’s too short to slog through books that don’t ‘do it’ for you. 

What are you currently reading? What are the two or three most remarkable, memorable books that you’ve read in recent years?

Currently reading The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker. It’s the second in a fantasy series; a luscious telling of a tale of two creatures (a Jinn and a Golem) who meet in NYC of the early 20th century. Beautiful, sweeping storytelling, and also an absolute treat for anyone who loves New York City. Some of the most memorable books I’ve read over the last few years are, one, The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet. Sci-fi like I’ve never read before – not so much about space battles as it is about the interplay among a diverse set of intriguing characters, with especially sensitive focus on the diversity and emotion. Two, Born to Run, A beautiful story about running that’s not only for runners – speaks to the immense potential of the human spirit. And three, A Gentleman In Moscow, a richly-told recounting of an aristocratic era, with particularly endearing characters and prose that just sparkles. 

Who are your favourite authors?

For Sci-Fi – Becky Chambers, John Scalzi, Martha Wells, and Daniel H Wilson are among my go-tos these days, but it all started with Asimov. For fantasy, it’s Helene Wecker, Jonathan Stroud, P Djeli Clark, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tolkien, George R R Martin… too many to list. Every so often I’m bitten by the bug of mindless fiction for which I turn to Stephen Hunter (his description of ballistics and weaponry is unparalleled) and the regular time-wasters including Dan Brown, Baldacci, Matthew Reilly etc.

You’ve worked as a tech journalist for many years. Any favourite tech-related non-fiction books? 

I’ve loved Feynman (Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman is a delight!). Also Stephen Hawking’s works. I know, they’re science, not tech. I guess the only tech-related non-fiction books I read were the ones in engineering college.

What’s your take on podcasting? Any favourite book-related podcasts, which you listen to regularly? 

IMO, podcasting is a pretty awesome way to consume content alongside other ‘autopilot’ activities (driving, cleaning, walking etc.) I think there are some amazing podcasters who really do justice to the medium – who marry narration and storytelling to brilliant effect. There is one book-related podcast I enjoy called Inside the Writer’s Studio, which interviews many of the authors I follow, discussing new books, inspirations etc.

Any favourite bookshops in Bombay and in Gurgaon?

My favourite bookshop in Bombay has to be the St Paul Book and Art Centre in Bandra. A satisfying selection of all kinds of books, knowledgeable staff, and a very calm an unhurried ambience. I visited a few Crossword bookstores in Gurgaon but haven’t particularly visited other bookstores in the city. Although Faqir Chand and Sons at Khan market was a treat – love the history and nostalgia there. 

Ever tried reading eBooks and tried using devices like the Kindle?

I think it’s been about seven years now that I’ve moved to reading eBooks almost exclusively. I think it’s a no-brainer: they’re cheaper, unquestionably more portable, and interactive (word lookups, X-Ray etc). Most of my reading happens on my Kindle Paperwhite (picked up the 11th gen version earlier this year). The fact that these devices use screens that are functionally similar to paper means eyestrain is virtually eliminated, and being single-purpose devices helps do full justice to any spell of reading as there are no other pings and distractions. I know many still swear by the visceral experience of reading a physical book, but I think the advantages of eBooks and their devices do outweigh the nostalgia. Also, they’re more ecofriendly. 

Your stand on movies/television vs books?

For a while some years ago, my reading dropped drastically. I didn’t realize that I was spending way too much time binge watching streaming shows and movies, which ate up all of my available me-time during the day and week. eBooks changed that – I now make it a point to at least read a few pages a day before bedtime, and more when I can. Also, eBook apps on the phone are a game changer, where I can now dip into a book whenever I have a bit of free time. Getting a haircut, waiting 10 mins for family to finish shopping at the mall – perfect for diving into my book!

The continued act of reading, and more importantly discussing what we read, plays such a positive role in maintaining an open and inquisitive mind, and in connecting with others. From pressure-testing beliefs, to being presented with an all new perspective, reading is what makes us progressively better versions of ourselves.

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