Illness and Health @ BYOB Party in July 2016 (Part 4)

There were two contrasting books discussed one after the other. One was a book on cancer and one a book on how to lose weight the healthy way. The literature of the healthy and the sick seems to be quite a talking point.

theemperorof maladiesAjay talked about the Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee; this book won the  Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Many readers in the group had read this book as well and found that Mukherjee had done justice to a difficult subject. The book is a chronological account of treatment plans over the centuries and treats cancer as the protagonist, antagonist rather. His book features heroes like his patients, researchers and doctors. So much goes into a disease getting the required amount of funding; unfortunately a certain critical mass of patients is required for adequate spending required to formulate breakthrough treatments. The conversation went on to the ‘whys’ of cancer, including the recent potassium bromate in bread controversy. Mukherjee’s book is optimistic and opens up healthy dialogues about this otherwise stigmatized disease.

dont lose your mind lose your weightNowadays there is a lot of awareness when it comes to staying healthy and keeping disease away.  Megha  spoke about a book called Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight by Rujuta Diwekar, expert nutritionist known for her contribution to Kareena Kapoor’s size-zero look in Hindi movie Tashan.

What makes Diwekar’s book so popular is that she encourages you to lose weight without giving up on food. That she is a nutritionist only adds more credibility to her book. Diwekar explodes many myths. For instance, if you eat too much low fat, you end up replacing it with sugar, which is only worse. There is nothing wrong with good old Indian ghee, in moderation, of course. Another observation is about the necessity of sleep and how adequate sleep actually helps to burn calories and lack of sleep can pile on the pounds.

“I don’t understand how such a simple thing as food is now being manipulated by the media. All we need are five to six simple home cooked meals a day. If we eat what our grandmothers did, we would be better off. In fact, we shouldn’t feed our children anything in a commercial. As simple as that,” Megha said. Some criticism of the book was shared, particularly the obsession with healthy food being only Indian.

Abhaya ended the health conversation with two observations:

“India is the second country on earth that spends the largest amount of money on fresh foods.

There is often nothing short of a stampede to buy buy fresh green veggies when they are unloaded in the market.”

This is good news if you live in India. The question is can eating healthy really stave off disease? There doesn’t seem to be a conclusive answer to this, no matter how much literature is out there on the subject.

More books in Part 4.

The Bipolar, the Surreal and the Light @ BYOB Party in July 2016 (Part 3)

emandthebighoomBasav Biradar, a playwright in Bangalore, shared a book that we have heard a lot about at our BYOB Parties. Em and the Big Hoom is the story of Pinto’s parents and inadvertently a powerful gaze at mental illness. His mother ‘Em’ has bipolar disorder and his father is the ‘Big Hoom’. The book has been awarded the Hindu Literary Prize and recently Pinto was awarded the Windham-Campbell prize. The book was first published by a small press in India and what stands out about the book is the humor that runs throughout its pages. Basav read out a passage from the beginning of the book that revealed the affection that Em really had for the Hoom. Hearing the passage made me want to buy it instantly.

theelephant vanishes

Archana talked about her love- hate relationship with Haruki Murakami. We’ve spoken about Murakami before as well and noticed that there are two kinds of people in the world- those who swear by Murakami and those who cannot understand him. Archana is neither- she loves the short stories he wrote in the book The Elephant Vanishes , yet she fails to understand his long and surreal novels. “I understand the things he talks about in his short stories like being trapped in a lift, but his novels are so very boring.”

The group came to the conclusion that Murakami fans had to be Gen Y; maybe books about lifts, cats, earthquakes and the strange subterranean inner life of Murakami characters were too outlandish for older people.

I was introduced to Murakami by a much older person, so I guess with Murakami no conclusions are adequate. Another comparison was made between Chetan Bhagat and Murakami’s writing style, both being very simple and easy to follow. But with Murakami, the story delves into the inner lives of the characters, and the language is repetitive in an almost hypnotic way. Chetan Bhagat writes simple sentences as he believes his readers do not need to be burdened; so I don’t think a comparison is warranted.

the adventures of tom and huckSunny has a penchant for light reading and this time he brought along The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Everyone is familiar with the adventures of these two immortal characters. Most of us have read Twain as part of our primary school curriculum, though Twain’s books are devoured in equal measure by adults. Tom has everything that Huck Finn doesn’t and yet he envies the freedom of this son of a drunkard. Their adventures together are modeled on Twain’s own experiences. “There’s nothing existential about this book at all and there’s a bit of suspense to add to the thrill. I enjoyed the book as a child but rereading has been more enjoyable,” Sunny said.

Rereading a book that you had read as a child can be an enlightening experience. Archana talked about how she regretted rereading Doll’s House, a play by Ibsen. It isn’t her favorite play any longer. So the experience differs from person to person.

More books in Part 3.

Book Thieves and Potato Peels @ BYOB Party in July 2016 (Part 2)

In the BYOB Party in July 2016, there were two books on books and the solace these provided during the World War II period in Germany.

The Book Thief

Chetan talked about the well-received book The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The story is set during the Holocaust and the focus is on a foster girl who steals what all us readers love most—books. She not only steals books but she shares them too. The book throws light on the ordinary lives of the people in Germany and how Nazism failed to swallow the humanity of some.  In this context, Jaya mentioned a book called Fatherland, an alternate history book that deals with the question—what happened if Nazism never left the world?


guernseyliteraryandpotatopeelpiesocietyGayatri took just about a day and a half to finish The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a lovely book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, probably the only famous book by an aunt-niece duo.

This is Mary Ann Shaffer’s only book; she was encouraged to write the book by those who who knew her at a book club. Though the book is remarkably ‘English’ as in British English in its tone, the authors are American. The story starts with an author who is struggling to write not her first but her second book. She receives a letter from Dawsey Adams from Guernsey, a town under German occupation. Her correspondence with a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society leaves her intrigued and asking for more. The letters hold the stories of the German occupation and the remarkable courage that individuals display in times of moral

More books coming up in Part 3.

Internet Privacy and a Hacker’s Story @ BYOB Party in July 2016 (Part 1)

There have been nine BYOB Parties so far and many books have been discussed.

The CircleThe BYOB Party in July this year started with the theme of privacy and the lack of it in this internet obsessed world. Piya Bose read The Circle by Dave Eggers , a book about  a young woman called Mae Holland who works at a powerful internet company. The story explores the helplessness of individuals in a surveillance reality and parallels are made to the world’s most powerful internet companies today. The Circle is a hi-tech lavish campus with open plan office spaces, towering glass facilities, dorms, etc. But when Mae’s life takes a turn with a personal tragedy, she realizes that transparency could be a dangerous game to play. At The Circle, all employees wear cameras; their lives are transparent and for all to see. Trading her private life had an awful price for Mae. Piya liked the simple and engaging style in which the book was written and the moment she finished with the book, she rechecked her privacy settings on facebook.

“It’s not just famous people who are trolled,” she said.  The book reminds you of 1984 by George Orwell, considering that it deals with problems of our times and looks into the future as well. Comparisons were made with a new book called The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese which deals with the true life story of a motel owner who builds an observation platform to spy on the people who visit his motel.

Ghosts in the WiresAkshay also spoke on the same theme of privacy issues, this time from a hacker’s perspective.  Ghost in the Wires by  Kevin Mitnick and Steve Wozniak is an autobiography of the most wanted hacker on earth. So how does a curious child turn into a hacker? He breaks simple codes so that he can travel on buses for free and hacks into drive-through telecom systems. What starts as pranks leads him to juvenile home and prison.

He ends up bypassing security systems of organizations like Motorola, Sun Microsystems, etc but his interest is more benign and less malicious. Kevin Mitnick now works as a security expert. His unbelievable story led to major changes in how security measures were implemented. So we get two completely different perspectives of privacy and its evils.

More books in Part 2.

Secrets and Mumbai@BYOB Party in May,2016 (Part 6)

It was Sarika’s first BYOB Party and she bought along the book The Secret by Rhonda Byme, Australian TV writer and producer. “This book is nothing like the books you all sharing here,” Sarika said. “It’s a light read.”
And a bestseller at that. This slender self-help book which stresses on the ‘law of attractions’ and explains how thoughts are magnetic and the thoughts that we send out frame our life.  Ideas like visualizing what you want to achieve your goals are also explained. However, there is no scientific basis for these ideas and this has led the book to controversy. Even then sales have been phenomenal and the book has been translated into 46 languages. Comparisons to Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist came up during conversation.
Abhaya visited Mumbai for the first time this year and was fascinated by the energetic city. He’s been looking for a book about Mumbai that bypasses Bollywood and the underworld. He came upon the City Series released by Aleph Book Company. There he found City Adrift by Naresh Fernandes. The book is more about how Mumbai evolved by the process of land reclamation from the sea and how the city has grown at such an alarming rate, so much so that there are more slum dwellers than dwellers in apartment complexes. Fernandes chalks out the history of these seven conjoined islands that turned into a cosmopolitan nightmare or heaven, whichever way you’d like to describe it. Some other writers who have featured this maximum city include Salman Rushdie, V.S.Naipaul and G.D.Roberts.
It is a very readable book. And a good launchpad for picking up another more detailed book about Mumbai. I’m not sure which one would that be but I envy people like Naresh who live and work in the city they were born in, thus getting to know it intimately and having the skill to write about it in precise words.”
Another book Abhaya got was a Hindi novel by Manohar Shyam Joshi called Kuru Kuru Swaha. Manohar Shyam Joshi is a name well known to an earlier generation of Indians who watched soap operas like Hum Log, Buniyad and Kakkaji Kahin. He was also a prolific writer and even won a Sahitya Academy Award for one of his novels. But he is unlikely to be seen on the recommended books lists and the bestseller lists of Hindi literature.
“I loved Kuru Kuru Swaha from the page one. The book set in Mumbai is dedicated to Hazari Prasad Dwivedi (of Banbhatt ki Aatmkatha fame) and his effect is clear: the wit, the sarcasm, the innovative craft, daft use of multiple Hindi registers. And a story of a middle class struggling writer in Mumbai who is well read in both Indian and western literature. He carries off that mix beautifully. Between Manohar, Joshi Ji and M. S. Joshi(the characters in the book), this is a masterful exposition of internal gymnastics going on in the heads of a middle class intellectual. You  need to have a tolerance for the absurd, and mental jumps from the Upanishads to Graham Green in the same sentence. The usage of as many as six Hindi dialects and other languages makes this book unique.”
What a fantastic spread of books! Make sure you have read parts 1-6 of the BYOB Party in May.

Railways, Lovers and Crime@BYOB Party in May, 2016 (Part 5)

After an extended discussion on natural philosophy and philosophy in general, and the idea that people like Socrates, Pythogaras, Shakespeare were phantom names for groups of people who created great works, we moved on to the next book.

Ajay got a biography called Karmayogi by M.S.Ashokan, the dramatic and inspiring story of E. Sreedharan. The sheer scale of what E . Sreedharan has achieved is remarkable, considering the technical, political and  geographical constraints involved in creating the Kolkata Metro, Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro. The book throws light on how competence can be achieved by using time effectively. E. Sreedharan is also very technically up to date. This book is a translated from a bestselling biography in Malayalam, this is the uplifting story of a very private person who has become an icon of modern India because of his uncompromising work ethic.
Shruti Garodia got a very different kind of book- A Handbook for My Lover by Rosalyn D’Mello.  The story is written in the guise of an instructive manual and the author writes about her six year relationship with a man twice her age. Nowhere in the book has she mentioned who her lover is though we know he is a photographer.  The man is her muse and she takes the reader into voyeur land, honestly teasing the readers into the intricacies of her own life. What inspired Shruti about the book was its searing honesty. “It’s hard for a woman to accept that she wants, she wants , she wants and that she is willing to put away her dream of motherhood so that she can be with her lover,” she said. She read a passage from the poetic book to a rapt audience. BYOB Parties have moments like these.

Sudharsan talked about The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Written in 1951, this is a detective novel of a modern police investigation into the crimes of Richard III of England. The book has been voted number one in the Top 100 Crime Novels of all time. What Sudharshan appreciated about the book was the way it stressed that any publication or medium could not be trusted blindly. Richard III may not have been the monster he was made out to be and the book unravels how history is a deceptive minefield.

More books in Part 6….

Fantasy@ BYOB Party in May, 2016 (Part 4)

At the BYOB Party in May, there were two fantasy novels that took center stage.

name of the windOne was a book Siddharth read called The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss; this was the first book in a series called The Kingkiller Chronicle. The book deals with the near perfect character and how his own talents  nearly destroy him. Since the first book has come out, the second book has been released and now fans impatiently await the third.

The story is about a young man who becomes the most notorious magician the world has ever seen. The story chronicles his childhood spent in a crime-ridden city and his bid to enter a legendary school. The book seems to have won many hearts and one I look forward to reading it some time.

lord of the ringsAnish Bhargav was unfamiliar with the fantasy genre until he started reading Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit.  “It’s a book that changed my life,” Anish said. While many of his friends found Tolkien’s style rather slow moving, he found Tolkien’s pace admirable. This epic fantasy novel  takes us through the War of the Ring, with villains such as Dark Lord Sauron, hobbits, dwarves and wizards.

Spoiler Alert! He also talked about how the book reminded of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Tolkien was influenced by his experience in the war and his characters reflect war weariness. After all his adventures, Frodo Baggins, the protagonist of the story, fades out of existence in Middle Earth. He never heals as it is with battle stricken warriors. Anish vouched for the movies as well, “The movies are very different from the book- far more adventurous, but fun to watch. The books are philosophical and these two perspectives worked very well for me.” He watched the movies only after reading the book.

More news about the BYOB Party in Part 5.

Theory of Relativity, Awesomeness and Lipograms@ BYOB Party in May (Part 3)


We’ve mentioned the book Gadsby once as a part of our Weird Books infographic. Soumya who had come for the BYOB Party had laid her hands on the book and found the experience of reading the book entertaining. Not to be confused with The Great Gatsby, Gadsby book is a lipogram by Ernest Vincent Wright. The entire book has been written without the letter ‘e’. It’s a 50,000 word novel. Having a constraint such as this makes it difficult for the author to use the past tense. Other books too have been written with such constraints, but by far Gadsby is the most popular and the longest attempt we could locate at this meet. The plot is predictable enough- a man called John Gadsby tries to improve the state of affairs of his town and succeeds.

It was a hard book for Wright to write. In fact, it is said that he tied down the letter ‘e’ on his typewriter  while he typed for five and half months to achieve this massive feat. The book is now considered a prized possession in one’s private library.


making india awesomeSethu picked up a book by Chetan Bhagat called Making India Awesome. He found Bhagat’s opinions on many contemporary issues like poverty, unemployment, corruption, etc interesting. “Many times we expect the government to do things for us when we ourselves can contribute to our elevation,” he said. The book has several short chapters, each one focusing on one issue and solutions envisioned for each.

abc od relativityJaya talked about a book called ABC of Relativity by Bertrand Russell. Here’s an excerpt from her book review at Worth a Read:

“A Physics course in the very first year at IITK had taught me the formulae related to the special theory of relativity.  But my interest in philosophy has kindled in recent past and I felt that puzzling on metaphysical questions in the 21st century is insincere without some intuitive understanding of things like relativity and quantum physics. And it was to gain this understanding, beyond Mathematics, that I picked up ABC of Relativity. This book might very well be the best attempt to explain relativity as non-mathematically as possible. But here is the heart-breaking truth. There is no understanding relativity without mathematics. Things became unintelligible after a while unless I started seeing them mathematically. If the intent is to explain relativity to a non-mathematical mind, beyond a limited point, the book fails. But what must be said here is that perhaps no other book will succeed half as well. Also, Russell’s is a brilliant mind. So sometimes what he mentions casually in a few sentences, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world, needs a lot of concentration and deliberation to understand.”

Read the review here.

More books lined up in Part 4…

Moriarty, Assassins and Dyslexia@BYOB Party in May (Part 2)

exit sherlock holmes

For all mystery fans, Conan Doyle is a favorite. If Sherlock Holmes is not enough, there are many spin-offs of the Conan Doyle series out there. For Ramesh, one of the readers at the BYOB Party,  Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall is by far the most special.  The book has retained the London fog and cab flavour and is loyal to the original. It gives answers about the elusive equation that Holmes and Moriarty share and ends it with a massive twist in the ending.


the shotSunny got a book that he felt was a light read, a book called The Shot by Philip Kerr. The story revolves around an assassin called Tom Jefferson. His mission? The assassination of Fidel Castro. The book carries a 60s flavor with all the political  elements of the day. Light is thrown on the mental preparation an assassin needs to make to gun his target. This pseudo historical thriller is a fun read.

David and GoliathManjari bought along a book by Malcolm Gladwell called David and GoliathGladwell is a compelling writer and he starts this book with the story of the shepherd boy who defeated the enormous Goliath against perceivable odds. Gladwell roots for challenges and calls some challenges desirable as opposed to some which are undesirable. So disability, being an orphan, being at the brunt of mediocrity could actually be the scripts for success stories. Conversation veered to the number of successful people who have dyslexia and the problems with getting an accurate diagnosis of ADHD.

Can dyselxia be a formula for success?, a question arose.

“Gladwell is a genius at storification,” Jaya said, “but we all know how business books whitewash nuances and build stories without taking into account the whole picture. This doesn’t take away the fact that Gladwell is a good writer.”

More from the BYOB Part in May in Part 3.

Sea of Stories and Golden Gate Verse@BYOB Party in May, 2016 (Part 1)

There was a nice spread of books at the BYOB Party in May.

Haroun_and_the_Sea_of_Stories_(book_cover)Akshay talked about Rushdie’s magical realism in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. To enjoy Rushdie’s writing a minimal understanding of political and social realities is a must.  He uses magical realism to present controversial ideas. “There was a wave of magical realism in India in the 80s and 90s,” Abhaya said. “Rushdie was for magical realism the way Chetan Bhagat was for the campus novel. He started a trend and he was by far the most successful.”

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is about a professional storyteller called Rashid who lives in the saddest of cities. There are a great many stories and diverse characters. For lovers of this genre, the book is a treat.


the golden gateVishal found Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate riveting. It’s a book written entirely in verse- 690 sonnets, in fact, with the rhyming scheme a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d-e-f-f-e-g-g. The story revolves around John, a Silicon Valley exec; Janet, an artist and musician; Ed, a character confused by religion; and Phil, a scientist. The story deals with love, homosexuality, antinuclear protests, and don’t forget personal ads- one of which Vishal read out.

Vishal gifted the book to a friend who was leaving to San Francisco. In fact, the book resonates more with those who  live in that part of the world. Jaya found the verses a little hard to digest and an idea popped up about whether a prose version of the book would make the book more appealing to those who could not read the entire book in verse.

Books in verse are not new. The epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayan, the Illiad and Odyssey and many others are all originally verse. Reading the poetry version is always better than reading the prosaic version, some readers opined. Metaphorical meanings will be lost otherwise. Another book by Vikram Seth that reflects  his expertise poetry is An Equal Music, not to mention the Table of contents in verse form in A Suitable Boy.

More books in Part 2.