Stars and Strangers @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 4)

Image result for the city and the starsEveryone’s favorite sci-fi author Arthur C. Clark’s book The City & the Stars was discussed.  The city Diaspar was destroyed by invaders and it became the last refuge for human beings. A man called Alvin is the first human in the city and he has no memories whatsoever. All he has is curiosity, not the fear of newness that his compatriots have.

Watch Arthur C. Clark talk about A Space Odyssey here.

 

Bindu spoke about Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. The anecdotes are painstakingly researched and have the usual Gladwellian flair.  As I found out on Amazon.in, the book talks about all kinds of questions: How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true?

“But though the anecdotes were fantastic, the conclusions he draws from these were not relevant to me at least.,” Bindu opined. “There was great storytelling value but I didn’t really learn anything that I didn’t know already. I mean there is no second-guessing what strangers think; I can’t even tell you what my family members think!” You can read a similar opinion about the book here.

“Of late, I’ve started to listen to more quality online lectures. A much better investment of time.”

The entire discussion shifted to the 10,000 Hour Rule mistakenly attributed to Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell used Ericsson’s provocative generalization and somehow the idea of 10,000 hours became the touchstone of learning. Listen to this Ted Talk that disputes this idea- you need just 20 hours of deliberate practice to get started on something. You could also take this idea of ‘less is more’ to another extreme- take the expert capsule courses that last for 20 minutes a day and give you certification. That’s dangerous too, especially if it’s certification for something like machine gun expertise!

Some more 10,000-hour trivia— the Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a walking man and 10,000 step goals in Japan.

More books in Part 5.

Economics and Economists @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 3)

Fasih spoke about probably the only book he’s seen that makes economics appealing The Undercover Economist

“This book is less theory and more anecdotal. Tim Harford is an economist, journalist and podcaster. He likes to look at the big picture. So he takes you through the simple consumerist act of buying a cup of coffee and then he asks you where the money goes. How much does the barista make? What drives the costs of running the cafe? What kind of information do you convey when you buy a cost-effective cuppa or a pricey latte?

“He then moves onto the economics of supermarket displays. Have you ever thought about why an organically grown lemon is never kept side by side with the regular lemon? It’s obvious- it’s not economically viable to keep two highly differing rates together.”

So Harford talks about the Mafia, immigration, China’s economic revolution and makes us think about how each of our financial decisions creates an impact in the world.

“You might want to check out the second part of the book too The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run–or Ruin–an Economy He talks about the ideal economist as man of the world. Check why economists should be more like plumbers.”

Jaya continued the economics discussion with the book called  The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers by Robert L. Heilbroner. Economists like philosophers frame their principles based on the times they live in. The book gives you insight into the lives of economic thinkers from Adam Smith to Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. Through their ideas, the book makes an attempt to understand the workings of a capitalist society.

“The book is good for an overall understanding of economics. Why does economics start with Adam Smith? Until capitalism came into being, there was no need for any economic theory. The monarch called the shots. Economics came from making sense of society and society came into the picture when capitalism came into being.  This was a revelation to me. Initially, we had philosophers; now we have worldly philosophers. The book puts things in a historical perspective and for that reason I recommend it.”

Other books about economics? The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000 by Niall Ferguson and Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (or the Chetan Bhagat version of economics as one reader said) are good places to start. The economic discussion ended with the well-intentioned but problematic Midday Meal scheme. You can read about it here.

More books in Part 4.

 

Habits, Personality and Corporate Culture @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 2)

This time we had a wider range of non-fiction. Rohan spoke about a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change by Charles Duhigg. This book talks about the science behind habits and how good habits translate into more success stories. “The author talks about how habits are formed,” Rohan said. “My biggest takeaway from the book was the way he broke down the process of habit formation int three parts: trigger, response, reward. So if we want to form habits or break habits we need to fix the trigger. Being able to break an unpleasant habit is very satisfying. In my case, I used to eat a lot of junk food before, but I realized that my goal was to satisfy my hunger. I replaced junk with fruits and nuts and got the same sense of satisfaction from my food.” The book also features negative habit disorders like OCD and alcoholism. While there was a time when electric shock therapy was the norm to break habits, today alcoholism is tackled with Alcoholics Annonymous. Social pressure helps immensely in habit-breaking.

“The BYOB Party encourages people to cultivate the habit of reading books,” Jaya said.

Personality: What makes you the way you are (Oxford Landmark Science) by [Nettle, Daniel]While habits can be rectified, personality is hard to change. Samarth spoke about Personality-What makes you the way you are, a book by Daniel Nettle. If you distrust personality questionnaires, reading this book provides a lot of insight. The book explores the science behind human personality. Samarth summed up the book effectively.

“I used to believe that situation and circumstance were more of the determinants of the trajectory of a person’s life than his or her personality. This book changed my perceptions. In the past few decades, there has been a renaissance of sorts in the field of personality psychology- the brain is now the subject of intense study and conclusions have been drawn about the brain’s functioning using technologies, genetics, and genomics. The author validates the five-factor model which measures personality on five scales or what can be grouped into the acronym OCEAN (Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism). Personality has now been directly linked to the structure and function of different parts of the brain or variation in the prevalence of a gene. All of these variations in personality traits can be found in other species too- like mammals, fishes, birds…so there have been studies conducted on the personalities of fish and it turns out that some fish are more exploratory and others more inhibited.

“An interesting aspect of personality is heritability. An organism could manifest behavior that has a clear advantage or disadvantage for its survival or reproductive success. It makes sense to observe uniformity in personality traits. The conclusion I made is that there is no personality profile that is optimal for all situations and all times. The optimal personality depends heavily on the local environmental conditions which fluctuate over time.

“Interesting studies have been conducted and variation is not uncommon, so there may be two people of the same age and from the same place who have very different life stories. Circumstances play a huge role and biological factors can not be underestimated. Nature and nurture- very much a case of both.

“So what’s the use of taking a personality questionnaire? Based on your scores, and where you stand, you can learn about other people who are similar to you. You can tap into that and better orient your life, maximize your strengths and minimize your failings.”

Jaya agreed. “Putting a label on yourself helps you understand why you are the way you are. Then strengths and weaknesses are not about changing but more about acceptance. Introverts are at a disadvantage at the corporate level but once you identify yourself as an introvert, you can look for solutions to combat difficult situations. In a corporate set-up, you could send out emails before a meeting so that there is more clarity and the people you meet with are on the same page.”

There is no morality in personality. Once you accept who you are rather than try to fix who you are, life becomes far easier. A glimmer of hope lies in the fact that some aspects of personality are malleable but trying too hard to change who you are could lead to mental health problems that are best avoided.

Ralph worried whether personality questionnaires were merely data waiting to be mined. He got the book The Secret Life of organizations: Invisible Rules of Success for the Young Indian Professional by Shalini Lal and Pradnya Parasher.

Ralph read out some parts of the book.

“How much do employees care about the organization?” to which answers included: “An existential question,” “They mostly bail out in the hour of need,” and “Depends on how much the company cares for them.”

“Do you see your peers as competitors or collaborators? Do your peers see you as a follower or a leader? How much cooperation happens? What’s the secret answer?”

“How do you get ahead in your career while taking people along with you?”

The general consensus was that the authors had baited their readers with the title. Who wouldn’t want to know more about the secret life of organizations? The book is geared toward the bright-eyed graduate who must make the transition from campus to corporate. Which white-collar worker believes that compassion is the bedrock of corporate life?  Advice like that works only when you start out in your career. No secret there.

Reading a Poem @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 1)

Image result for 52 ways of looking at a poem bookSreeraj never hesitates to talk about this book 52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life. “In most book meets, you hear the complaint that modern poetry is not as good as the poetry that Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote but Ruth Padel can change this bias.” Ruth Padel, the great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin,  is well-versed in science, evolutionary theory, the environment and wildlife – a perfect mentor for those who want to understand contemporary poetry.  Even though her book caters to the British audience, it’s a refreshing read.

“I attended a poetry session conducted by Ranjit Hoskote who also knows Ruth Padel. The topic of the session was the hierarchy of the senses and poetry. If you read poetry, what you see is primary, then comes hearing, then smell, etc. The senses follow each other in a specific order.”

To understand a poem, you must learn to see whether these five senses are present or described. Modern poetry has been described as cryptic but in reality that is not the case. Using 52 poems by writers like Dereck Walcott, Andrew Motion, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duff, Seamus Heaney and many others, she teaches the reader how to read a poem.

Take Dereck Walcott’s poem from Omeros, Chapter Two, section 2:

Seven Seas rose in the half-dark to make coffee.
Sunrise was heating the ring of the horizon
and clouds were rising like loaves. By the heat of the
glowing iron he slid the saucepan’s base on-
to the ring and anchored it there. The saucepan shook
from the weight of water in it, then it settled.
His kettle leaked. He groped for the tin chair and took
his place near the saucepan to hear when it bubbled.
It would boil but not scream like a bosun’s whistle
to let him know it was ready. He heard the dog’s
morning whine under the boards of the house, its tail
thudding to be let in, but he envied the pirogues
already miles out at sea. Then he heard the first breeze
washing the sea-almond’s wares; last night there had been
a full moon white as his plate. He saw with his ears.

“The poem is simple enough. It speaks about a man getting up in the morning, his dog getting into the door, the sea. When we read the poem again, picking out words or punctuation that strike us, we understand. The poem is a puzzle. We understand that the character hears the shaking saucepan, the leaking kettle, the dog’s whine,” Sreeraj said. “Then we understand that since the emphasis is on hearing, the author’s character is blind.”

A discussion ensued on science poetry, enjambment, synaesthesia, ghazals, nazms and bad translations. You can listen to Ruth Padel speak about poetry and her efforts to help conservation movements here.

More books discussed in Part 2.

Reader Interview of Apurba (The Regular) @ BYOB Party in August 2019

We got to speak to Apurba yet again. And this time she told us quite a bit about her book journey.

How did your love affair with books begin?

My parents read a lot and it must have rubbed off. They also used to read to me, both of them. My mom would read to me in the afternoons and my dad would read me a bedtime story every day. For the first twelve years of my life, I read only Bengali literature and Bengali children’s books and magazines like Sandesh that the entire Ray family wrote for are quite amazing.

Favorite children’s book author?

Satyajit Ray. Everyone knows him as a filmmaker but he wrote amazing stories.  Even the story of ET started with Ray’s screenplay called The Alien. [Check out this link to know more]. Ray also did his own illustrations. Reading this multi-talented author was my first brush with sci-fi. I particularly loved one of his characters -Professor Shonku, a mad scientist who lived in Giridi, Jharkhand. In his story Ek Shringo Abhijan,  the professor goes to Tibet to find out about a Unicorn. In the process he discovers Utopia.  [Check out The Incredible Adventures of Professor Shonku, the English version.]

Reading Ray built my interest in geography and history. Another detective series for adolescents was the Feluda series. Being a  Probashi Bengali, Ray’s work was an eye-opener for me and an introduction to Bengali culture and food. I learned so much about Calcutta as he weaves in so much background into the stories he writes.

[Watch this interview with Satyajit Ray]

What about Tagore?

More difficult.

English fiction?

I started late, so I’ve hardly read any of the popular children’s books like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc. Harry Potter is what got me started. My school had a good library and as was typical of schools, the library was the last place that the other students chose to visit., so the library became my private paradise. I read Indian authors who wrote in English as it was easier for me to identify with them and my interest in places made me consciously try to read a lot more historical fiction.

Favorite Indian writer?

Amitav Ghosh. He writes in all genres: historical fiction, fiction, magical realism….

And Shadow Lines…have you read that?

No, it was one of those books that I started and left midway. It’s happened to me with many books and I think it just means that it is not the right time to read that book. Ghosh has also written a sci-fi book called The Calcutta Chromosome but I like other books by him- especially the Ibis trilogy. I lived in Kolkata for a while and I liked to visit all the places that Ghosh talked about in his books.  His books throw light on the opium trade (even the Tagores invested in the opium trade) and the indentured laborers who traveled to Mauritius and Fiji.

Any other authors you love?

Most of the authors I love are from Asia. So I really love Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Tahmima Anam….A lot of writers from South Asia talk about partition and how it has shaped our psyche. I also love authors who have shaped my understanding of history like Gary J. Bass who wrote The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide and everything by William Dalrymple.  I also enjoy reading Manu Pillai’s writing.

History has to be presented in a way that can be digested as it is in William Dalrymple’s books. When I moved to Delhi, the first thing I did was pick up City of Djinns. Even when my dad got transferred to Dehradun, I read up my Ruskin Bond. It was so realistic- the hills he described resembled the hills behind my own home.

In fact, this was a tradition I stuck to. Whenever I moved, I would read up and soak myself in the history of that place. I’ve read books about Delhi, Ahmedabad and so many cities as the history of cities interests me.

Any book about Bengaluru that you enjoyed?

Aditi De’s book on Bangalore called Multiple City.

Print books, eBooks or audiobooks?

I don’t have a Kindle and I do find it difficult to manage books as I move around a lot. I’ve started exchanging books instead of buying them.  I’m a little wary of going digital with my reading habit. Anyway, I spend way too much on twitter anyway.

Thanks for talking to us Apurba! Was a pleasure talking to you as usual:)

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party on Oct 26, 2019 (Saturday)

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

BYOB Party is back at Pothi.com’s office this time and on a Saturday.

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 Oct 26and 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 refreshments and swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue:  #634 (Ground Floor), 5th Main, Indiranagar 2nd Stage · Bangalore

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.

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 groupRSVP, and come over!

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

Reader Interview of Akanksha (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in August 2019

We spoke to Akanksha about her love for books.

Tell us about your book journey.

I started reading books when I was very young. It was my go-to thing.  Even as a child, I would pick up whatever book I found interesting that was lying around the house. My parents also encouraged me as they knew about my interest in books.  I practically grew up in libraries.

English or vernacular?

I primarily read English- very little Gujarati though I was intrigued by the poetry of the land, particularly the poetry from the Bhakti era. I come from a remote area and got to see many performances by Dayro. They enacted a story as plays and musicals. Some of my favorite poets include the Gujarati Vaishnavite fifteenth-century poet Narsinh Mehta and twentieth-century social reformer poet Jhaverchand Meghani.

Fiction or poetry?

Oh, I read a combination of both.  Though I don’t read much English poetry, lately, I’ve started reading David Whyte’s poetry. I connect with his style– his poems are conversational, emotional,  intimate and personal.

Do books help you professionally?

Since I work on documentation, reading helps.

Any favorite author?

Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I even started an online reading group featuring her book Women Who Run With the Wolves. We deal with the book sequentially. First we pick a chapter and a story and then discuss. You must watch this YouTube video with the power-packed ladies Toni Morrison, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Maya Angelou and Jessye Norman chatting about the making of woman.life.song.

Is it books that led you to feminism?

I don’t think so. Many things could lead you to feminism – injustice, abandonment, a sense of belonging or not….

Which writer would you recommend for readers who would like to understand more about feminism?

Toni Morrison.

Which book format do you like the most?

All of them- I’ve been reading print books the longest time but I also like the emotional intimacy of the audiobook. Right now I’m listening to the works of Robert Augustus Masters. Soothing stuff!

Thanks Akanksha! It was great talking to you. The books and videos you recommended were fantastic.

Parenting, Explosions and Democracy @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 7)

A book that one of the readers at the BYOB party discussed was Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children by Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson. The book focuses on transactional analyses evolved as a therapeutic process and offers guidance on improved parenting practices. “The line that got me hooked was how the author talked about how I need to love myself first. That will help my child to love himself. This is a totally unique way of looking at love and compassion. Instead of focusing on lack, it is more helpful to be compassionate and look for alternative views of the past.”

Guru, an ex-navy officer and a self-confessed bibiophile spoke at great length about A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif. This tragic and satirical story talks about Zia ul Haq’s death in an air crash.  The Pakistani President, the US ambassador and a handful of officers died in the crash, the cause of which remains an unsolved mystery to this day. Hanif tried to get past the conspiracy theories but hit a brick wall every time. He decided to use satire and create his own answers- a kind of ‘journalistic revenge’. “I enjoyed the way Hanif recreates Zia’s character. His sudden religiousness, the comedy with the doctor, the curse of a woman who was sentenced to death by stoning…all these instances turn the novel into a laugh riot. Hanif is a non-establishment man as all journalists usually are,” Guru said.

“Wish that was always the case,” one of our readers said.

Watch this interview of the author and read this.

Jaya has been following Gautam Bhatia’s legal tweets because they are so decipherable. His book The Transformative Constitution is unlike like his tweets and is very academic. “I put up with it because of the content it addresses,” Jaya said, “And I’m glad I did. Now I’m hoping that a more popular version comes out. The book addresses many questions like the establishment of the republic and constitution, individual cases. legal precedents. The  issues discussed were relevant and even though it was a difficult read it was well worth reading.”

Jaya read out a piece from the book: “Political democracy can not last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does democracy mean? It means a way of life that recognizes that liberty, equality and fraternity are the principles of life. The principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality. Equality can not be divorced from liberty, nor liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would create the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty will kill individual initiative and without fraternity, liberty and equality would not become the natural course of things. It would require constantly to enforce them.”

And with that, we come to the end of the BYOB Party held at INTACH. Coming up interviews with some of our readers!

Archaeology, Parichay and Bangalore @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 6)

Image result for The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named amazonSince the BYOB Party theme this time was on the lines of all things historical (since we were hosting the event at INTACH), Abhaya spoke about John Keay’s books, particularly The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named.

“When we studied history, we covered a fair amount of things but we were never taught the historiographical aspect. Keay is a good storyteller with his eye on the sources. I enjoyed reading about the decipherment of the Brahmi script, a language that completely changed over time. The book also touches upon how the Archaeological Survey of India was born,” Abhaya said.

This was followed by an interesting discussion on the use and misuse of the word ‘decipherment’, the difference between The Asiatic Society and The Archaeological Survey of India, followed by an introduction to Romila Thapar’s works that can provide a broader picture of the Indian past- Shakuntala and Somnatha.

Akanksha spoke about how a book on feminism from the 1970s changed her own views and challenged her beliefs. “I liked how the book prodded me to look at feminism singularly and connect it with older cultures. I especially liked that the book made me question my own understanding.” Akanksha also mentioned how beneficial the walks conducted by INTACH around the city were. “I like to know about where I live and walks like these give a context to my interaction.”

Image result for Bangalore Peter Colaco amazonA reader who was tired of Netflix viewing told us how he delves into travel books and books about cities. Since he lived in the Old Cantonment Area in Bangalore, he was pleasantly surprised when he found a book called Bangalore: A Century of Tales from City and Cantonment by Peter Colaco. “I always talk to people to find out more about where the old theaters and food stalls and buildings have disappeared to. People are surprised when I ask them but they tell me that multistorey buildings have altered the landscape I remember. This is why I enjoyed reading Peter Colaco’s book. He is humorous and delves into facts. Take the detailed way in which he writes about monkey tops- ‘a monkey top is a pointed hood over the upper part of a window. The front of the hood contains a screen of closely spaced narrow vertical slabs. The bottom half of the screen is in the shape of a curve marked by a row of small knobs’…..you get my drift. The illustrations are lovely too.”

More books in Part 7.

 

The Mahakavi, Darkness and Less @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 5)

Image result for mahaprasthanam amazonSwarup spoke about his experience reading the Telugu  anthology of poems Mahaprasthanam by the Mahakavi or the bard Srirangam Srinivasarao.  This work took the Telugu literary world by storm. Unfortunately, there is not enough data out there about this book for non-Telugu readers who may want to know more about this epic work.

Another book of poems that Swarup opined about was Songs of Innocence and  of Experience Image result for songs of innocence and of experience amazonby William Blake. Blake’s unearthly poetry and illustrations examine the innocence of childhood and the sin of industrialization that swept over England at the time. He examines the  mind-forged manacles that mankind has made his destiny.  “Have you read Kafka’s short story A Hunger Artist?” Swarup asked. “I would advice you to read it.” He ended his book sojourn with a dramatic recital of a Telugu poem.

Image result for darkness at noon amazonAbhaya spoke about Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. This is a must-read political fiction, an elaboration of the Great Purge that claimed the lives of many Old Bolsheviks during the Stalin era. “The book is amazing,” Abhaya said, ” The most interesting thing is that you get to see impact of the Revolution from someone who believed in its core principles and was let down in the end.” Read the author’s afterword to get a sense of the motive behind writing this book and a deconstruction of Koestler here.

Image result for less amazonI spoke about the book Less by the Pulitzer Prize Winner, Andrew Greer. It’s a love story with a twist and a travelog all rolled in one. “It’s a beautiful book with beautiful sentences,” was as much as I was able to convey about the elegance of Greer’s prose. Less was more than I had expected…

More books in Part 6.