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Stern Hobbies: Bookstagram7 min read

As part of our new “Stern Hobbies” series, The Oppy is taking a look at off-the-beaten-path interests among some of our classmates at Stern. If you have a hobby you would like to write or be interviewed about, please e-mail the Oppy at [email protected]. Today’s feature is a Q&A with MBA student, Natasha Raskin.

Natasha Raskin lives in two worlds, one is the world of books. Whether it’s a murder mystery, historical fiction or a biography, she has always found comfort and joy in reading. 

In the spring of 2018, Raskin and her friend, Madeleine Boyce, decided to start an Instagram account dedicated to book recommendations and reviews. Friends since highschool, Raskin and Boyce were roommates in Dallas, and even though they’re now living apart, stay close through their Instagram @BookieandBougie.

Upon first scroll, their bookstagram’s page is filled with beautifully curated colorful displays of all types of books. The posts feature books held against scenic backdrops, laid open on the bed or placed next to a cup of coffee – images so visually appealing that it makes you want to grab a blanket and cozy up with a book and latte yourself.

Three years later, their love of books has become a shared experience with thousands of fellow bibliophiles. Raskin said she hopes they can continue to build on the platform and expand the community they created.

Some answers have been edited for content and clarity.

What are you reading right now and what are the top three books you would recommend?

Right now I’m reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, which is historical fiction. And it’s about these codebreakers in World War II. I’m loving it so far. It’s centered around three different women, and they trade perspectives throughout the story. 

I think one I always recommend is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s amazing. It goes back and forth between the past and the present set in old glamorous Hollywood with a big twist at the end. So it’s just like one of those books you can’t set down. And then recently, I loved Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which is nonfiction, and about a therapist’s experience with her own clients and going through therapy herself. And I think there’s a lot of really great messages about mental health, and also just about the kind of journey we all go on. Then the third book I would recommend is a fun one if you like memoirs. I loved Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It just always makes me laugh, especially on audiobooks because she reads it herself.

I’m very big on having physical books. I’m surprised you consume books on all three platforms.

I like different mediums for different things, I think, because I am such a big reader it’s just impossible to buy every book. I’m a huge ebook reader and I totally recommend the app OverDrive. You can get a library card and check out books for free and download them straight to your Kindle or Ipad. But I also love audiobooks, especially nonfiction books for audio because I find those a little bit harder to get through, so having them read to me is easier. But I definitely love fiction and physical books more.

Why do you prefer fiction?

I’m definitely way more of a fiction reader, I do like reading nonfiction as well because I feel like I’m educating myself. Especially this year, I really tried to focus on incorporating a lot of books about race and books by people of different cultures and backgrounds and colors to educate myself. Most recently, I read I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, a Reese Witherspoon book club recommendation, and So You Want to Talk About Race which both are really great books that helped me understand that conversation.

Have you read The Hate U Give?

Yeah. Yeah, I love that book. That’s what I love about fiction, especially with things like that or historical fiction, it really lets you step into somebody’s shoes and understand what they’re going through. Another book I loved was American Dirt, it’s about a mom and her son escaping from gang violence in Mexico and illegally crossing the border into the U.S. And I think no matter what your views are on illegal immigration, it is a really incredible and harrowing story and lets you understand what people go through.

Yeah, in some ways it is easier to understand through a story. So how many books would you say you’ve read so far?

Oh my gosh, hundreds. I usually read at least 50 books in a year, especially in the pandemic like when things were really bad I was averaging a lot of books a month. I think reading can be really intimidating as something to get into because I think people feel like they always need to read really smart books or books that will teach them something. I love to read things of any genre. On the bookstagram we recommend everything from very serious books to light and funny “rom-com” novels.

How much work goes behind running the account? 

I would say it is a lot of work. And I love doing it, but sometimes I take a mini break because I don’t want to ever feel like it’s a job. Sometimes I’ll be really serious about it and have a clear idea of what I want to take and other times, I’ll just kind of mess around and take something simple. I’ve also gotten really good at using Photoshop and Lightroom to enhance our photos. But I would say, once I have a photo it usually takes at least half an hour to craft the post, especially if we’re reviewing a book because I want to be able to give it real thought. We definitely trade off if my life is really busy, my friend will kind of pick up the slack, and vice versa. So, on average, I would say we probably post five times a week. 

I think what’s been easiest for me is taking a lot of photos at once so that I have a bank of content to work with. We post all kinds of different things so it could be recommendations, or full reviews, or books we’re excited to read in the future.

You guys have a decent sized following. Is there a goal or a number you’re trying to reach? How have the interactions with the followers been like?  

We love when people comment on the posts and we typically respond to everyone who comments, whether they’ve read the same book or are excited about that book or have specific questions. We get messages sometimes with people asking for a book recommendation. So that’s really fun. In terms of the goals for the account I think we’d love to hit 10,000.

You’re not that far off.

Yeah it’s interesting, we’ve grown quickly and then it’ll slow down for a while and then we’ll hit another growth spurt. And I think really in the last year, especially because of quarantine we’ve both been able to dedicate a lot more time and thought into the account, and we really experimented with different things like trying to see what resonates with people.

You mentioned quarantine. Because of this lovely year that we all went through, you got to read more books. What kind of role did reading play in your life during Covid?

I think for me I’ve always been able to really sink into a book and use it as escapism, which I guess isn’t always healthy but I think this year was really needed. It also was a way to continue connecting with friends and the outside world.  I think this has been a year for people to really get into hobbies and reading felt a little bit more productive than watching Netflix 20 hours a day.

And last question, what is your favorite thing about reading books? 

My favorite thing about reading is that moment when you find an incredible book that really is working for you. It gives you the ability to sink into that world and feel like the characters are real and be completely immersed. It’s really exciting. And it’s also rare, so it’s kind of like a continuous pursuit that I truly enjoy.

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