This holiday season, we’re embracing all things cozy — from the books we plan to snuggle up with by the fireplace to the best reads to keep us company while we travel. We’re dialoging with pals whom we admire very much — and getting their hot takes and tips on how they go Homebody for the Holidays. 📚
By Locke Hughes
Hitha Palepu is one of those incredibly successful women who’s easy to marvel at, wondering how she can possibly “do it all.” In addition to being a wife and mother of two young sons, the New York-based multi-hyphenate is the CEO of Rho Pharmaceuticals, an active angel investor and advisor to more than 10 companies, blogger, traveler, and author of How to Pack.
When I asked Hitha how she “does it all,” however, she quickly corrected my use of that phrase: “I don’t do it all,” she says. “The list of things that I don’t do is much longer than what I do do. And I have an incredible team at work and at home to help keep things running on all cylinders.”
Even more impressive: In addition to all Hitha does on a daily basis, she also makes time to read — a lot. “Reading feels very intrinsic to my day-to-day,” Hitha, an avid Book of the Monther tells Girls’ Night In. “Just like drinking water, eating, or brushing my teeth, I don’t go a day without reading in some capacity.” She calls herself a “promiscuous reader,” devouring books of every genre, including fiction, nonfiction, essays, and recently, poetry, many of which she discusses with her followers on Instagram.
We managed to find time to chat with the inspiring entrepreneur about how books have influenced her life, her current self-care practices, and exactly how she manages to squeeze in time to read in her busy schedule.
How did you first discover your love of reading?
It’s a common only child story — I’ve always been a reader. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t reading. My mom was sort of a “tiger mom.” No, she was sneakier than that — she was like a “panther mom.” She taught me how to read and write at a young age, and always made sure I had more than enough books to occupy me, probably so I’d get out of her hair.
How do you discover new books to read these days?
I’ve been a Book Of The Month member for over three years, and it’s been an incredible way to discover books that I normally wouldn’t have picked up. I adore the Bookstagram community and most of my saved images on Instagram are of books I want to read. I also love popping into independent bookstores — both at home and when traveling — and see what they have on their staff selections list.
Why do you read?
I read to tap out of my life and also to live my life in a deeper way. I would lose my mind if I didn’t read. There’s something very healthy and cathartic and necessary in suspending your reality and getting lost in a great story. Or information you never thought you’d be interested in, but can’t put down because a writer creates such a compelling story. Or poetry that washes through you and makes you feel things. Or short stories or essays that get you marveling over the good writing.
What are you reading right now?
Reputation by Sara Shepard (physical copy), 24/6 by Tiffany Shlain (on a e-reader), and The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West.
What book have you read recently that surprised you in some way?
I work in the pharmaceutical industry, which is a world most people don’t think about unless they’re getting a prescription filled or they get sick. Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban is a book about pharma that non-pharma people can equally enjoy. She does a brilliant job of going deep into the industry to talk about a specific situation — an Indian drug-manufacturing company defrauding the FDA. She weaves together a masterful story, even if parts were highly exaggerated. I was blown away that my Instagram community decided to pick it up after I posted about it.
You’re an avid traveler. How have your travels influenced your book picks, or vice versa?
Books go hand in hand with travel. For instance, I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller before we went to Greece, which really helped bring the ruins to life. I also reread Percy Jackson because I’m a child at heart.
When I’m traveling alone — even for business — it feels like a vacation, so it’s a good time for me to prioritize reading. I’ll carve out one night to stay in and order a grilled cheese from room service and read.
What’s the most memorable reading experience you’ve had while traveling?
Reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth for the first time in India. For most of my childhood, we’d go to India for two months every other summer. One of my suitcases would always be filled with books. At that time I would read for hours at a time, which sounds like such a luxury now. (P.S. A Suitable Boy is a 1,300-page book, so I had to lie on my stomach to flip the pages!)
That book gave me a deeper appreciation for my heritage and for my culture. It’s one of those masterful books that really drops you into a moment in history that was so pivotal — right after Indian independence. It covers politics, religion, and socioeconomic issues, but it’s also about love, family, marriage, culture, and tradition in 1950s India. I felt very proud to be Indian for the first time in my life.
With all that you do, how do you fit in time to read?
I make it a priority. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I listen to audiobooks as I walk to the grocery store. I read to my sons. This morning I woke up an hour early to finish a book in bed. I try to prepare a hot drink in an insulated mug and keep it on my nightstand overnight, so I have something warm to sip when I wake up. It’s a wonderful way to start the day doing something you want to do versus something you have to do.
What’s your advice for people trying to read more?
It really is about training your mind to read in snippets rather than over long periods of time, which is antithetical to how we’re taught to read. I’m juggling multiple books at any given time. I’ll read at work when I need a break between tasks. Jumping into a book, as opposed to scrolling on Instagram, is a great way to keep my mind in a creative state. You can read a lot in a 15-minute break between work projects!
Also, be open to reading a myriad of different ways — whether it’s an e-book, audiobook, or physical copy, it counts.
What’s your self-care philosophy?
There’s self-care I have to do — and then there’s self-care I want to do. Luckily, reading falls into both buckets: It’s incredibly necessary for my well-being and it’s something I love to do. I also meditate every morning (even though I don’t particularly love it), exercise every day (even though I don’t particularly love it), and eat greens with every meal (even though I don’t particularly love it). I also love to needlepoint, travel, and cook, but not in a formal way.
What’s your biggest struggle in terms of self-care these days?
I need to be better about saying no. I tend to say yes in sprees and then everything is due at the same time and I work myself into total exhaustion, so I’m forced to take some days off. I’ve been working on how I manage my time to minimize those instances. It sounds so easy to say no but it’s so hard!
Something I did this year that helped was rather than setting New Year’s resolutions, I set three priorities for the year. If an opportunity didn’t fall into one of my three priorities, it was an automatic no. This year I want to do a better job of refining my priorities, so I can create a better litmus test for saying no, and for saying yes.
1. One book or multiple at a time?
2. E-book, audiobook, or hard copy?
All of the above! I love memoirs narrated by the author, my electronic reader when I’m traveling, and physical books when I’m at home.
3. Favorite local bookstores?
Book Culture (both locations!) in the Upper West Side.
4. Three to five favorite books you’ve read recently?
Know My Name by Chanel Miller, Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, Tough Love by Susan Rice, The Palace Of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Vagina Bible by Jen Gunter
5. Four to five books you’d recommend for the GNI audience?
- Well Met
- Red, White, and Royal Blue
- Fair Play
- The Lady Astronaut series
Interested in starting a reading ritual of your own? Try three months of Book of the Month for $49.99 here.
Images by Bridget Badore.