I WAS introduced to Hemavathy DM Suppiah Devi a few years ago when I was doing a story on Agatha Christie. She, a fellow fan of this legendary author, also happened to be the group admin for the Agatha Christie Literary Club on Facebook, which has members from all over the world.
She also runs the Ipoh Book Lovers Club, is a very active member of KLBAC (KL Book Appreciation Club) and has helped host numerous discussions on classic books.
Hemavathy herself is a voracious reader, who has over 3,000 books from various authors and a staggering collection of Penguin Pocket Classics that she has acquired over the years.
Her love for books was something that began as a child when her father would bring home books from the Ipoh Club, and also by being a member of her local library.
Both her parents loved books and it is something that Hemavathy naturally picked up as she frequented secondhand book stores and libraries during her university days both here and in Australia.
During the movement control order (MCO), Hemavathy was busy helping Caremongering Malaysia – Community Response to Covid-19 coordinate efforts to help the poor in Ipoh.
Though she is busy with other things, her love for books and talking about them still holds a special place. In the past she has had face-to-face book discussions and posted questions for participants of a particular group to start discussions.
The recent pandemic inspired Hema’s Book Therapy. She explained that the idea came from the Unrestricted Stage platform inviting people to come on to give talks, conduct cooking shows or teach art.
“A lot of people were taking part, and they called me up to give a talk on community outreach. It is about teaching people how to set up their own community initiative. It was just the basic mechanics about how I got into it.”
She did four episodes on that and was inspired to do something else.
“You know how a lot of people are struggling with mental health issues, anxiety due to the lockdown, not just in Malaysia but all around the world. I was okay because I love staying at home but I know of people who go crazy staying at home because they love going out.
“So I thought I would do a one-off session called Book Therapy. I love the name Book Therapy because I find books therapeutic.”
Because she was in Ipoh at that time (most of her book collection is in her home in Kuala Lumpur), she had to work with what she had. The first episode was a success, and Hemavathy was asked if she was willing to come up with weekly episodes.
“The first episode was Ten Most Inspiring Books (on May 31). I always found them interesting. I love watching videos on top ten lists. It is somebody’s ranking and it is presumed that out of a vast selection they had chosen these ten.”
Since it was her show, she could focus on whatever books or genres she wanted.
“So for the second show I invited a guest. It was Hani Ahmad who came on to talk about Food in Fiction. The second week was Contemporary Romance in Fiction with Rekha Balachandra, and the third week was Top 10 Contemporary Fiction Inspired by Sheena Gurbakhash.”
She has a lot of ideas, and every month there will be one episode on the classics.
“There is no limit to what you can talk about. I find it really fun.”
She does do some research into the topic of discussion each week and it also helps that the guest is well-versed on the topic.
“So far it has been really, really fun. I realised that since I was going to turn this into a series. I needed to give it its own space on Facebook. I didn’t just want my friends to watch it, I wanted readers to watch it. We have got readers from the Philippines, India, I have got a lot of messages and comments. It is going really well.”
The plan is for a new episode each Sunday. It will be a tough task for anyone else, but for a person like Hemavathy it’s not a problem.
Speaking as a person who enjoys discussing books that I have read, these discussions can help open your mind to more than what you initially took away from the story.
“That is why book discussions are important. It is not about debating. There is no right or wrong. You read for so many reasons. As a form of escapism, to learn, to be entertained. You can’t be a reader and be insular. You must let your mind expand.
“Reading really widens the mind and allows you to see things from other people’s perspectives. Once you read with an open mind, prepare to change your perception and then prepare to change your mind again when you come for a book discussion.”