As prescribed by Paulina Constancia
Today we listen to Singaporean Archana Patel and the story of how she transformed herself from a lawyer specialising in matrimonial law into a librarian-curator of her on-line book rental business.
How I evolved from Lawyer to Librarian
by Archana Patel of bookchocolate.com
Books have always been my haven and I’ve always loved reading. Growing up, my dream was to have my own bookstore. I’d spend hours planning the look and feel of my perfect bookshop but inevitably, the core elements remained the same: – It would be cosy, comfortable and relaxing – a place where all my customers would immediately feel like they’ve escaped, but to a second home.
It would be filled with good books that I would have personally selected. I would know my customers and would be able to recommend and chat to them about the books my shop carried – it would be like having my own book family.
I didn’t pursue it though – for me it was just a happy day-dream. I finished my A levels, graduated from law school, got called to the bar and started practice. My little bookshop continued to be a place where I mentally escaped to. And needless to say, despite hectic hours and working with words all day, I never stopped reading my books.
After about 7 years in practice, I reached an important crossroads and I found myself seriously thinking about whether law was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had been really lucky with my legal career – I was in a lovely firm and had wonderful colleagues, and was also doing well for myself. But whilst I enjoyed the work (sort of most of the time!), I never loved it. Practice was not my passion, it didn’t make me want to jump out of bed to get going (ok to be fair, v little does – I’m really not a morning type person! :p). At the heart of it, I wasn’t completely happy. More and more, I found myself wanting to ditch the safety and security of my career and take a huge risk, but it was an extremely frightening prospect.
Frightening but thrilling at the same time. You see, I knew what I wanted to do next. I was very fortunate that I had this clarity because I think what can be paralysing is the uncertainty of not knowing what to do if you quit.
So the grand plan? Well, my dream of a cosy bookshop had evolved over the years. When I started working, time suddenly became a very precious commodity and maintaining my reading habit with difficult work hours often resulted in various frustrations.
Because of the sheer volume of books I read, it was too expensive to buy them and so I generally got my books from second-hand bookstores. But when you’re working, it’s not always easy or convenient to just nip down to the second-hand bookstore to pick up a few books. Plus there were loads of occasions when I would get to the store and not find anything I really fancied reading. Or I’d end up with decepticons – the kind of books that look fabulous but turn out to be utter drivel. Same problems with the public libraries.
What I often found myself wishing for was a service which would take away the logistics and uncertainty, offer books I’d like to read and which would then bring those books to me. And it occurred to me along the way that if I found this to be the ideal service, potentially so would a lot of other people. People who had pressures on their time, and who’d appreciate getting good books put into their hands quickly and without any hassle.
And so BookChocolate became this alluring enticing vision in my head. And that’s exactly where it would have remained if it wasn’t for my incredible husband, Garry, the co-founder of BookChocolate. He sat me down all that time ago and told me he knew I was unhappy, that I had to do it and he would help and support me every step of the way.
It took us more than six years, during which, amongst other things, we had numerous setbacks with the preps and the development of the site, we made an application for a grant to IDA, and also had the best possible addition to our family (a little cutie who’s now 2.5 yrs old!). I certainly lost steam for huge chunks of that time and at a couple of points, I wanted to give up, but Garry never did. He pushed, cajoled, scolded, encouraged and worked his butt off. At the risk of extreme cheesiness, if I’m the soul of BookChocolate, Garry is the heart, and it really is our second baby.
So some of the things which I feel make BookChocolate special (apart from the fact of the free to-the-door delivery and pick-up and the super convenience): –
The books are all carefully selected. I listen to recommendations from members, do extensive research on the authors and books and handpick the ones that finally go onto the site. It’s general fiction for now (our library is now more than 1,500 titles and growing!) but we’re exploring the possibility of having more specific genres in the future.
I love engaging with my members so if a member needs a recommendation or is a little lost, I will do my best to guide them to books that I think they would enjoy and making them personalised reading lists. It’s my way of maintaining the book family I had always hoped to have. We also bring in books at our member’s requests as far as possible.
One of our unique features is that all our books are tagged so that you can search for books depending on a theme or the kind of book mood you’re in. For example, if you’re a foodie and enjoy travel, you’d search for a book carrying the tags “For food lovers” and “Armchair travel”. BookChoc members are able to tag the books as well, in addition to rating and reviewing them.
And last but not least, the pricing. It’s pretty obvious from how the plans are priced that BookChocolate is never going to make us millionaires. But you’d know by now that it was never about that for me. What I hope for BookChocolate is that it becomes the go-to book service for people in Singapore.
It’s been just over a year since BookChocolate.com officially launched and it’s been quite a learning curve. At the end of the day, my goal is simple – I hope that by making the service so simple, convenient and inexpensive, I remind people how wonderful it is to have a good book to curl up with and to bring back to them the sheer pleasure of reading.
Learn more about Book Chocolate
Check out Book Chocolate’s reading plans
Browse Book Chocolate’s library
I was born in Mumbai, India in August 1975. Apart from the 8 years that my family lived in Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia, I grew up and have lived most of my life in Singapore. My primary education was in the Kinabalu International School and after we moved back to Singapore, I attended Katong Convent and Temasek Junior College. I read law at the National University of Singapore and was called to the Singapore Bar in May 1999. I was a litigator with Tan Rajah & Cheah, specialising in matrimonial law, until 2011.
My lovely parents introduced me to the joy of books and reading – it is one of the most precious gifts they have given me. I hope to pass on a love for reading to my son :)” – Archana Patel
So do… as Archana does – read your book and lend it too :). And remember to be brave- follow your dreams!