Short Book Review: A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

SBR: Sue Grafton is famous for her “alphabet series” of detective novels. But I got introduced to her only with the news of her death last year (because of which the “Z” novel of the series will never be written now). A is for Alibi is, predictably, the first one of the series. The protagonist of the series is a female private detective, which is refreshing for the genre. The story is fairly interesting and has enough deaths and twists and turns to keep you interested. Some plot points are unbelievable (like the initial conviction for the murder being investigated), but I don’t bother much with them. This is a genre I read for entertainment. I would have liked to know a bit more about our good detective though. There was very little in this one. But I am hoping that more about the character will be revealed in the other books of the series.
To read or not to read: Yes, if you are looking for an entertaining read and detective fiction is your genre.

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar on July 21, 2018 (Saturday)

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

BYOB Party is back and this time JustBooks Sahakarnagar will be co-hosting it with us.

Have you read a book that you are craving to chitchat about with someone? Have a favorite book that you think everyone would love, if only they knew about it? Want to see what others are reading and have interesting conversations beyond weather, traffic, and real estate?

Then come to the BYOB party on July 21 and talk away! Try to avoid a bestseller and if you have a copy, bring it along and read us a passage. All languages are welcome.

There will be refreshment and swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue:  JustBooks, No 30, Above G.K.Vale, Behind Ganesha Temple, 13th Main, CQAL Layout, Sahakarnagar-560092

FAQs

So, what really happens at a BYOB Party?

Everyone brings a book and talks about it. Conversations follow and they are good. So are the refreshments!

You can take a look at what happened in some of our earlier parties here:

Do I have to be there for the entire duration of four hours?

We aren’t closing doors or locking you in. But the party is best enjoyed if you are there for the entire duration and listen to people talk about a variety of books. Trust us, you won’t know how time flew.

Do I have to bring anything?

Nothing really. But if you have a copy of the book you want to talk about, you might want to bring it in. Other attendees might want to have a look, or you might want to read a paragraph from it.

I am an author. Can I bring a book written by me?

A good writer should be a voracious reader. It would be preferable if you brought a book you really like written by someone else.

Who are the organizers?

Worth a Read and JustBooks Sahakarnagar.

I have more questions. Who do I contact?

Shoot an e-mail to jayajha@instascribe.com.

Okay! I am ready to come. What do I do?

Join our meetup group, RSVP on Meetup, and come over!

If you are not on meetup, you can also register on Eventbrite.

 

Book Recommendation: From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra

Whether it makes you feel rambunctious, resigned or resentful, the reality is that in the modern world the only perspective on history, political discourse as well as moral imperatives that commands legitimacy has been the western one. The reason for that is not profound or surprising. It is the old story of history being written by the victors. And despite the decolonization in the 20th century and waxing and waning fortunes of individual nations, the West, as a whole, has managed to remain powerful in the world order. So has their perspective. The resentful attempts at reverting this intellectual domination shoot themselves in the foot by failing to distinguish between the message, the messenger, and the method (of arriving at that message). They disparage the message, because it came from the western messenger, and as far as the method is concerned, who cares? At least in India, we have known everything since Vedic times. These attempts also tend to be very narrow in their outlook. Their wet dream would be to replace the western domination of ideas with their own. It isn’t aimed at exploring and accepting multiple different perspectives before trying to come up with a universal theory if one is at all possible. At their core, these attempts are defensive and expose deep-seated insecurity and inferiority complex.

In this context From the Ruins of Empire is an important book.

It is Important because it challenges the western perspective by using the methods that have legitimacy in the modern world (you can call them “western” if you will). The result is a book that isn’t marred by defensiveness or any kind of inferiority or superiority complex. It doesn’t feel the need to achieve an outright victory for an alternate perspective, but it goes out and states the perspective boldly.

As far as the content is concerned, the book follows the history of Asia in the 19th and 20th century, which first saw its subjugation by Europe and then independence in one form or the other. But more importantly, it traces the evolution of Asian thought through the period. Here we see the birth, evolution, struggles, contradictions, adaptations, appropriations and suppression of ideas like Pan-Asianism, Pan-Islamism, value of Confucianism or ancient Indian thoughts, Islamic Revival and others which played an important role in resistance to the West. Many of these don’t get enough attention in the conventional narratives. Even in the Asian countries themselves. In India, for example, the desperate need of nation-building after independence has led to a flattening of the history – the creation of a simplified story starring bad foreigners and good freedom fighters. The inconvenient and nuanced thoughts, even when native, are suppressed or completely removed. We sing Tagore’s national anthem but do not know the apprehensions he had about nation states. The West has, of course, done its own whitewashing. By bringing all that out this books gives the various non-western perspective of history strong legs to stand on. Western intellect has not given us all the answers we need. At the same time, bravely, this book recognizes that the alternate perspective doesn’t really give all the answers the modern world needs either. The following quote is an important one:

The rise of Asia, and the assertiveness of Asian peoples, consummates their revolt against the West that began more than century ago; it is in many ways the revenge of the East.

Yet this success conceals an immense intellectual failure, one that has profound ramifications for the world today and the near future.

It is simply this: no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy, even though these seem increasingly febrile and dangerously unsuitable in large parts of the world.

We need more books like these, covering more aspects of history, politics, economy, and morality of it all.

Book Description

Below is the book description from the publisher’s website.

Viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, the Victorian period was experienced by Asians as a catastrophe. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire or burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, it was clear that for Asia to recover a new way of thinking was needed. Pankaj Mishra re-tells the history of the past two centuries, showing how a remarkable, disparate group of thinkers, journalists, radicals and charismatics emerged from the ruins of empire to create an unstoppable Asian renaissance, one whose ideas lie behind everything from the Chinese Communist Party to the Muslim Brotherhood, and have made our world what it is today.

Purchase Links

Other Books by the Author

I haven’t read any other books by the author, but here is a list on his wikipedia page. Many of them have received great acclaim.

 

 

Short Book Review: Post Mortem by Peter Terrin

SBR: When a writer decides to write a novel about a writer who, in turn, writes a novel about a writer, it shouldn’t be surprising that you get a book with rich, imaginative language, but self-indulgent content. There is a father struggling with a sad tragedy in his beloved daughter’s life. But if the reader was supposed to feel connected, that just doesn’t happen. There are a novelist and a biographer with their own journeys, but in the end, I felt like I didn’t care for any of it. It’s not about not liking the characters, it’s about feeling rather indifferent towards them and bored with their story.
Peter Terrin is a Belgian writer. Post Mortem was originally written in Dutch. The English translation is pretty good.
To read or not to read: No. Unless you like navel-gazing novels.

Gender, Identity and Fishermen @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 9)

Image result for shikhandi devdutt amazonBhavish spoke about Shikhandi by Devdutt Pattanaik. This book has been the subject of a couple of our previous BYOB Parties. Bhavish appreciated the way Pattanaik explored queerness in Indian mythology, revealing how Indians were remarkably casual about gender fluidity and the entire spectrum of gender at one time. The book is a series of short chapters with an explanation that follows and illustrations to match. A lot of accepted norms have been shattered. Take the story of the king who refused to heed his wife’s advice and realized later that he accepted her advice when she had taken a hermit’s form, the moral being that the source of wisdom is not necessarily reserved for one gender only. The conversation veered to Section 377, Victorian ethics and people’s complete ignorance of examples of queerness within their own culture. “Perhaps it was glossed over as the primary narrators of the great epics that explored queerness as well were our grandparents,” Bhavish said.

Image result for identity kundera amazonSunil spoke about a book called Identity by Milan Kundera. Unlike Kundera’s usual flamboyant books, Identity is a surprisingly compact book. “To speak about this book, you need to speak about the author first,” Sunil said, “Kundera talks about abstract, disparate and paradoxical ideas like identity, philosophy, perception and friendship. He reminds you of Camus for the simple reason of what reading his books does to you. It shakes you. Take the example of friendship, for instance. Aren’t friends just a mirror? A measure of where you stand when you reminisce upon your place in the world?”

Makes you want to read the book, doesn’t it?

Image result for the fishermen book amazonI added to the list of sad and powerful books by talking about The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. Compared to none other than Chinua Achebe, Obioma is a master craftsman who does a good job of exploring the Nigerian cultural landscape using the lens of one family in particular. Benjamin narrates the story of his mother, father who is always away and his three brothers. The story speaks about a country broken into two because of staunch belief systems- one of Christianity and the other the shamanistic reality that pervades all of Africa. When the children visit the forbidden river, they meet a shaman who predicts a horrible death for one of the brothers. This self-fulfilling prophecy is enacted on the pages with so much life force. Obiama combines African folklore and regular prose effortlessly. Read it.

And with that, we finally come to the end of the BYOB Party in May 2018.

Mental Health Issues, Secrets and BRICS @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 8)

Image result for the bell jar amazonRoheet spoke about a book that has been described by many readers as chilling. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath who wrote under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas is the tragic story of a poet who loses her mental health. The book is autobiographical and this adds to its authenticity and accuracy in capturing the dark. Plath committed suicide within a month after writing this book, a cry for help. The plight of mental health patients in as recent a time as the 1960s was terrible as adequate treatment methods were still not available. Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953 and she is hopeful about her dazzling future as a writer but she slides. Plath takes a snapshot of her emotional spiral with dark humor and honesty. Little did she know that her work would become a bestseller.

Image result for crow blue amazonPiya has been reading books from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries. She spoke about a book called Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa. The story revolves around Vanja who has lost her mother and goes in search of her biological father. The book is a timely read, what with all the headlines about immigration. Vanja is half-Portuguese, half American and she’s a teenager. ” It’s a coming of age story, very well-written and smoothly done. You could finish it in four-five hours straight. The book goes back and forth, covering the gory history of Brazil and the guerilla wars. If you are unaware of the history of that time, is a good book to read. What I particularly enjoyed were the way the author picked up generalizations that were made. For instance, Brazilians do not speak Spanish; they speak Portuguese.”

What happens in the story? “Well, all I can tell you is that this not your typical Bollywood movie ending; it’s a mature ending. It goes beyond the Indian immigrant experience and is a light book, though I wouldn’t say that it is not layered. It is and satisfyingly so.”

Image result for beyond the secret amazonChethan spoke about a book called Beyond the Secret by Brenda Barnaby. He liked the way the author dealt with the Law of Attraction and how the world and the individuals populating it could be changed. The author uses various philosophies from across the world to find solutions within the subconsciousness.

More books in Part 9.

 

Hyperspace, Flatland and Endurance @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 7)

Vatsal got a book called Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku. It explores ten-dimensional space and Kaku’s Theory of Hyperspace. The book was far too heavy to comprehend for us three-dimensionals and then a discussion began about the book Flatland, a 2D world occupied by geometric figures where men are polygons and women are straight lines. It’s a dream that leads the narrator, a square, to go to a 3D world called Spaceland.

Image result for when breath becomes air amazonAbhishek decided to end the debate once and for all by bringing up a book that dealt with a non-debatable subject — death. This led to a groan from the audience; no prizes for guessing which book is being spoken about. When Breath Becomes Air has been discussed in many previous BYOB Parties as well, making this BYOB Party a celebration of repeats. Abhishek described how the book chronicled the life of the surgeon and how his life changed post-diagnosis. He was blown away by the maturity in which the doctor and his wife conducted themselves. Dr. Paul Kalanithi was fascinated by death and this why he opted to become a doctor despite his love for literature. Some readers asked Abhishek if they thought the doctor was brave. That was a given; the beauty of the book lies in how it explains how one must conduct oneself in troubled times. Decisions can be made in spite of instability. The doctor had a child at this time. Here’s a passage that Abhishek read out; it’s one of those books that makes you cry:

“The family gathered together. During the precious minutes after Paul’s decision, we all expressed our love and respect. Tears glistened in Paul’s eyes. He expressed gratitude to his parents. He asked us to ensure that his manuscript be published in some form. He told me a last time that he loved me. The attending physician stepped in with strengthening words: “Paul, after you die, your family will fall apart, but they’ll pull it back together because of the example of bravery you set.” Jeevan’s eyes were trained on Paul as Suman said, “Go in peace, my brother.” With my heart breaking, I climbed into the last bed we would share.”

Image result for endurance lansingamazonDivya was tired of the excessive debates too and decided to present a non-controversial story, a true story about an Antarctic expedition called Endurance by Alfred Lansing. The story is astonishing, well-researched and undeniably true. Lansing spoke to ten of the survivors of the Endurance’s final trip and has meticulously recreated the expedition, where for ten months Shackleton and his crew tried to battle the odds. “A huge part of the book is technical and filled with ship terminology,” Divya said. “In spite of that, the book keeps you on edge and since it’s not a fiction, the treatment is different. No iceberg collision takes place at all when you expect it. It’s not a typical read.”

More books in Part 8.

Yiddish, Right to Education, and Elephants @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 6)

Image result for love in exile isaac amazonApurba is fond of reading remote narratives about obscure places and people. This time she chose a Hebrew writer called Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote in Yiddish.  Love and Exile is the story of Singer’s own life from his childhood in Poland until the time he went to New York. It’s the story of the birth and growth of a writer, a Yiddish one at that. Once Hitler came to power, his family fled from Poland; he finally ended up going to the US following the heels of many of his friends who had emigrated to other countries including Palestine because they had the money. Apurba identified with this Nobel Prize Winner’s candor. In his late 20s, he was as disillusioned and clueless about life as many of us are. He wrote in Yiddish, which was a dying language.  Even when he was in the US, he found it difficult to gel with the east coast Jewish population. His older brother was more established than he was. In fact, the first thirty years of his life were pretty unremarkable. This was heartening to Apurba as here was a man who lived an ordinary life and talked about, including all his failures and the alienation of displacement.

Here’s a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer if you want to get hold of his fantastic prose right now. Click here.

Image result for dear mrs naiduAbhaya got a children’s book this time, a delightful read called Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian.  The story revolves around Sarojini whose best friend moves out of her basti. She now wants to go to his school which is better than hers; the Right to Education Act then makes its appearance and using the story of a friendship and letters to the freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu, Mathangi Subramnium creates a very informative and educational book with the message that good intentions alone are not enough for implementation. Comparisons of the book with the Bollywood movie Hindi Medium were made. Although the book is for children, Abhaya found it well worth a read to make sense of this controversial act.

Image result for swimmer among the starsamazonSwimmer Among the Stars, a collection of short stories, by Kanishk Tharoor did not disappoint. Sowmya looked forward to yet another Tharoorian waft of prose. and she was delighted. “He’s a master with words,” she gushed, ” His stories are simple but very different. In fact, my favorite story is one about an eyelash.” His stories are diverse featuring elephants, cooks, space and armies. His historical epic take of the world is punctuated by myth and folklore and influences of Italo Calvino and Borges appear from time to time.

Click here to read an interview with the master craftsman.

 

More books in Part 7.

Strange Loops @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 5)

Image result for i am a strange loop amazonWaseem got a book called I Am a Strange Loop: 0. It is Douglas Hofstadter’s first book, a cognitive scientist’s mathematical look at consciousness. The idea is that the idea of the self is, in fact, the result of an abstract feedback loop within us. The book is about abstract calculable stuff and so it would be far better to quote the reader’s views.

“This book gives you an understanding of consciousness. You are a self-referential loop. Everything you think you are is the result of what is happening around you, so you are dependent on external circumstance.  You can’t evolve on your own. This is the basis of evolution- from the human eye to everything else. The self is the result of various interactions. It is the highest form of abstraction there is and a manifestation of downward causation- there is so much going on to prop up the ‘I’. You exist because a bunch of cells prop you up and what you call ‘you’ is built over it and over it and over it ad infinitum in a paradoxical loop, so you are constantly imbibing what you see around you and you are a reflection of what you have learnt. Over a period of time, all these instances create symbols like fear, for example. The role of external stimulus is undeniable and the image becomes highly complex.  The more you interact with others, the more loops are created.”

The book is confusing but by using analogies that relate to biology and mathematics, the author succeeds in making you think very deeply about abstractions. The one takeaway that Waseem had from this book was the necessity to invest in other people as the image of ourselves is a reflection of everything we take from others.

It’s the kind of book that deserves an entire blog post to itself. More books in Part 6.

Sapiens and Da Vinci Diaries @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 4)

Image result for sapiens amazonSapiens by Dr. Yuval Harari is an extraordinary book. We’ve seen the book surface several times during our BYOB Parties and each time the book elicits a different response. Dhruv found Sapiens inspiring unlike the doom and gloom that the book evinced for many readers; he was piqued by the reasons behind European colonization of the world. Abhaya thinks that Jared Diamond’s book called Guns, Germs and Steel does more justice to the theories behind European colonization. He didn’t find Hariri’s book scholarly enough though the aim of the book was primarily to introduce lay readers to theories and important questions, which he has succeeded in.

Image result for Extraordinary Voyages jules verne amazonVishal spoke about Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages, a compilation of novels that he found remarkable. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the sea was just one of the many novels this prolific writer had written. Another book that Vishal chose to speak about in detail was Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. What Vishal found compelling about this magnificent biography and Verne’s voyage stories was the way ordinary people who were not necessarily experts remained curious throughout their lives and made great inventions and discoveries on the way, a luxury in today’s automated world where curiosity leads you to Google and not beyond.

Image result for walter isaacson leonardo da vinci amazonDa Vinci was not everyone’s favorite painter. He may be held in great esteem now but back then during the Renaissance, he had a bad reputation when it came to deliverability, engaged as he was in conversing with mathematicians, building bridges, applying science to painting and learning for the sake of learning. Da Vinci was a visionary – “illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical”.

“There is such a saturation of tech nowadays that we miss out on this exploration,” Vishal said. “His notebooks describe a woodpecker and he asks questions like why the sky is blue. He didn’t limit himself. The fields of specialization were all nascent and there was room for curiosity.”

A noisy debate ensued on the problem with experts, the necessity of curiosity, and how experiments are conducted.

More books in Part 5.