Libraries, Fashion and Dysfunctional Families@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 2)

At our sixth BYOB Party, we had a large collection of books to discuss.

This is not the end of the book

Sreeraj got a book  This is not the end of the book by Umberto Eco and his fellow raconteur Jean-Claude Carriere. What happens when two bibilophiles get together? You will have a long discussion about your personal libraries, the fate of these libraries when the owner dies, interesting authors and translations, eBooks and papyrus manuscripts, etc. Jaya also mentioned that Umberto Eco’s famous book Name of the Rose revolved around manuscripts and libraries. It is only natural that his love for books extends itself into books that he wrote.

The Devil Wears Pradathe devil wears prada by Lauren Weisberger was the book Shruti Garodia talked about. It’s a book she repeatedly goes back to, a light-hearted read with a pertinent message. “Over time, I think the relevance of the message of the book has become a little outdated,” Shruti said. “It’s one of the few books that has worked so well as a movie.”

The story is about an unfashional lady Andrea Sachs who lands a job in a very prestigious fashion magazine. Little does she know that her boss is a diabolical woman who expects a slave, more than an assistant.

The illicit happiness of other peopleAvnish found Manu Joseph’s writing to be quite entertaining. The Illicit Happiness of Other People is the story of a dysfunctional family headed by Ousep Chacko, a journalist and failed novelist. His wife has psychological issues. One of their sons has died and it is hard to say whether it was suicide or a mere accident.

“Manu Joseph’s characters are three dimensional and wonderful to read about,” Shruti said.

Has anyone reading this post read Serious Men by the same author?

More in Part 3.

Classics, Beauty and Paranoia@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 1)

We held the sixth BYOB at Muffets and Tuffets, a café at Koramangala.

jane eyreSunny started the session with the first book he had ever read. Jane Eyre, a classic by Charlotte Bronte, was gifted to him one Christmas by a friend. He has read it more than once since then and found this book too to be light, not overly philosophical, and extremely readable. Jane Eyre is a crowd puller and has a whole lot of elements including madness, disability and a dash of gothic. In the Victorian era, women novelists were not a particular favorite and their aesthetic sensibilities were often at the receiving end, yet the Bronte sisters ended up churning classics.

This was a book that one of our guests, Piya Bose had read while in school. “It’s an extremely positive and feminist book that illustrates the story of a woman’s quest for independence. It’s set at a time when religon played centre stage in the lives of the people.  So besides being a story of an individual, it is a story of the times as well.”

There are some French sentences in the book. Meticulous readers can find translations online and eBook versions usually have translations added to them.

Abhaya mentioned a book by Jean Rhys that was modeled on Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea  is the story of the passionate young woman whom Rochester had locked up. Since Charlotte Bronte never explored this woman entirely, Rhys gave a feminist aspect to the lunatic in the room and exposed gender constraints.

kunderaAnother classic we encountered was Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book Madhu talked about. We’ve featured one of Kundera’s books called  Ignorance during one of our Talking Terrace Book Club meets. So we looked forward to hearing one of Kundera’s enlightening passages and were glad when Madhu read it out:

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

What would you choose? I would choose Kundera.

Kundera is an extremely sophisticated writer you can keep going back to and gleaning meaning from. In this classic, he charts the life of  a young woman in love with a man who is a womanizer as well. It is hard to capture the essence of relationships and this is what Kundera does with breathless accuracy.

PulpStill on the subject of great writers and their books, Karan had a book by a celebrated author.

“I was going through a low phase in my life when I came across this book,“ Karan said about Pulp, a book by the one and only Charles Bukowski. This literary work of paranoia features an unreliable narrator Nick Belane, a very profane detective in his fifties. He’s a catastrophe formala- low on luck when it comes to his profession and women. If you want to start reading Bukowski, this book is the last place to start as this is his last book. You start Bukowski with his poems and then graduate to this short stories and novels.

More fiction in Part 2.

The Mahabharata, Leela and the Hunchback @ BYOB Party in Feb, 2016 (Part 3)

jaya-mahabharatSince we can’t have a BYOB Party without the Mahabharata, let’s have a look at what Anshuman Mishra, founder of Mercadeo Education Tech, was reading. This book has been featured here before Devadutt Pattanaik’s Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata .  Anshuman finds the current mythical spurt either too Amishesque or way too Sankritized.  The book begins in the final throes of the Mahabharata. In the epics, we have two heavens, one is Swarga, the abode of the Gods,  and the other Vaikuntha, the abode of  God. One of the protagonists of the epic, the eldest Pandava, Yudhishtar can not understand why it is that he has not been sent to heaven at all.  Anshuman finds Pattanaik’s exploration of the many existential questions that arise in the Mahabharata very lucid and rational.

Aditya Sengupta, an avid reader of the various interpretations of the Mahabharata, begs to differ. He believes that Pattanaik makes things a little too simplistic and that the Mahabharata is devoid of any such judgement.  When Yudhishtir asks this question, he throws the dice to answer what dharma is. There is no answer. What is justice? No answer, either. There is far too much grey, and no amount of thinking can take a prince out of his hellish destiny if he must endure it.

leelaThat was without a doubt a heavy interpretation. Neha who works in The IT industry prefers to read books that are refreshing and in more of the ‘light reading’ category. She hopes that this BYOB Party inspires her to read more, a habit that is hard to sustain in such busy times. She talked about her experience reading a book called Leela: A Patchwork Life. Leela was once voted as one of the five most beautiful women in the world and has served as a muse to many a famous icon. “What I liked about the book were the little windows we got to witness the actress’s life through. There was a light-hearted segment about her experience at an uptown resturant where the toothpicks were made of porcupine quills. This is something that is hard to forget!”

the hunchback of notre dame

Sunny, who is a reader of classics, found the first 150 pages of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame tedious. “Once I got past the descriptions of medieval France in the 1400s, it was smooth sailing and to top it off this is a love story with the protagonist, an underdog, the hunchback Quasimodo,  who ends up being the hero of a love story.”

difficult pleasuresPiya Bose, HR Professional, has been reading every Indian author she can find and she feels that there are not too many good ones. There seem to be quite a few in the market, but not many have caught her fancy. Either the stories do not suit her taste or she finds the editorial errors too glaring to ignore. One writer she particularly has taken a fancy to is Anjum Hasan. Her book Difficult Pleasures is a book of well-written riveting short stories that all deal with the paradox that pleasure is not an easy thing to find .

my husband and other animals_Soumya Ravindranath, independent consultant, came across a light read My husband and other animals by Janaki Lenin. The story is about being married to herpetologist and wildlife conservationist. “The takeaway from the book is how there is so much than conventional urban life. We are missing so much; even the kind of thoughts we have when we are in contact with wildlife don’t occur when we live in an urban space. When I read My family and other animals by Gerald Durrell, I understood that there are better alternatives like homeschooling. This book gives you that same freshness and throws nature’s doors wide open. You must read it.”

The music room

Aditya Sengupta read a completely different sort of book that describes Hindustani music. The Music Room by Namita Devidayal is the story of her music teacher Dhondutai, who was the disciple of renown teachers, Alladiya Khan and Kesarbai Kerkar. Devidayal ended up writing but music never left her and she dissects the various aspects of the Jaipur Gharaana. For a music lover who wants to read lucid prose about Indian classical music, this is the best book to start.

That was a lovely spread of books. What have you been reading?

 

Istanbul, Rumi and the Gods @ BYOB Party in February, 2016 (Part 2)

A question that lay heavy in the minds of the readers this BYOB party(see Part 1) was the idea of light reading vs heavy reading. Does light reading define the book or the person reading it? What one calls light may be another person’s heavy. Tastes differ. The reads below wouldn’t classify as light.

a strangeness in my mind

Sumaa Tekur loves to read while she commutes. It was on one of those commutes in Mumbai that she came across a book called Strangeness in My Mind  by Orhan Pamuk, a writer with an extreme sense of his own geography and who seems to be writing the same story over and over again, as Abhaya observed, though each time as beautifully as the next. The protagonist of almost all Pamuk’s books is Istanbul itself. The book  takes us on a journey through the protagonist Mevlut’s life. Mevlut has a small trade and encounters his own miracles; through his story, Istanbul unravels itself in all its dusty dynamism.

rumi

 

Chandru, writer and researcher at Around io., finds the idea of discussing books at a  BYOB party interesting.  He was a regular reader and a huge fan of Sidney Sheldon, until spirituality kindled his interest. Farukh Dhondy’s Rumi: A New Translation reflects this fascination. Jalaluddin Rumi’s poems negotiate the divine and  not so divine with a panache that no poet since has been able to imitate. Dhondy engages in a challenging feat when he translates the untranslatable as magic is hard to replicate.

the age of deception

Ralph encouraged everyone in the group to pick up Mohamed ElBaradei’s The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times.  ElBaradei was Director of the UN’s International Energy Agency and he and his agency were recipients of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

“It’s important to read books like these so that we get a clearer picture of the world. The message of the book is simple- intimidation and humiliation are not the best tactics to succeed in any conflict,” says Ralph.

chariots of the gods

 

Arisudan Yadav, Project Manager at Wipro, read a semi scientific drama called the Chariots of the Gods. The hypothesis of this book is that many of civilization’s achievements were bestowed upon us by aliens we saw as Gods. What happens when posterity arrives at an uncivilized place?  Whether it’s the pyramids in Egypt or the bizarre runways in Latin America, there seems to be something at work, call it aliens, call it Gods, the choice is yours. As the conversation progressed, a questioned arose whether humans are necessary at all. As a species we are redundant, came one comment. To put things in perspective domesticated animals could not survive without us, said another.

Still in the sci-fi mindset, Abhaya mentioned that E.M.Forster’s story The Machine Stops has a visionary quality about in that it predicts instant messaging. Does the past indeed have all the answers?  The conversation deepened and reference was made to the ancient epic Mahabharata.

We simply cannot have a BYOB party without any mention of the Mahabharata. More in Part 3.

Slums, Swans and the story of Dr. Sen @ BYOB Party in February, 2016 (Part 1)

It was the eighth anniversary of Pothi.com, the company that Jaya and Abhaya first founded. Last year at approximately the same time, we had our very first book party. The rules are still the same. Unlike conventional book club meets, we don’t discuss only one book. Everyone who comes over talks about a book that they like, and if it’s fiction no spoliers please!

ravan and eddieShruti Garodia, a content writer who has frequented several of our parties, talked about Jaya’s favorite author Kiran Nagarkar’s books.  Ravan and Eddie is a book that she really liked. This book has two sequels: The Extras and Rest in Peace.  Nagarkar explores the lives of slum dwellers, and goes beyond the stereotype. “What’s amazing is how he sustains his idea throughout all his volumes. He understands the essence of people who live in the slums. They are not appalled by their lives as we would be by bad sanitation and lack of basic things. There are no existential questions for them,” Shruti said.

life is an attitudeBaraa Al Mansour, a writer from Syria, who is also doing her PhD in horticulture, likes books that explore philosophy. Life is an Attitude-How to grow forever Better is a book that helped her understand more about the power of self-observation. “When we observe our thoughts, we gain control over our lives and we can separate ourselves from external circumstances.” This statement led to a debate on the efficacy of mindfulness. Have the experts got it wrong again?

notes from undergroundNitin Shukla works as  Application Developer at Maxim Integrated Inc.  He used to live in Delhi and has now moved to Bangalore where books have turned out to be his best friend.  A book that influnced him greatly was Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. “ The book is all about finding patterns and it urges you to go after reasons,intuition, cause and effect.” Another writer he discovered who used the premise of reason excessively well was Dostoevsky. He had been reading Notes from Underground. Jaya advised him to read another reason-obsessed Russian writer, Tolstoy’s  War and Peace. The conversation meandered to Kabir, the Periodic Table and the Russian book festival in Jaipur, with a treasure trove of great science books, a reason for many to celebrate at the party.

the curious case of binayak senSudharsan from Vantage Circle  read The Curious Case of Dr. Binayak Sen by Dilip D Souza, award winning writer and journalist. The book shocked Sudharshan and he recommended that everyone who had a conscience read it.  The book is about Dr, Binayak Sen who is a pediatrician, public health activist  and civil rights activist. He has been accused of sedition and is currently under life imprisonment. Dilip D’Souza has charted out the trajectory of the fall of an individual and the failure of the system. The questions that were discussed were existential in nature. Why is taking a stand wrong? What is the plight of a journalist who dares to tell the truth? Why should one have to take sides when it is impossible and is there more grey than black and white? Why has sensationalism and propoganda replaced the obvious truth?

More books and their readers in Part 2.

Tragic Heroes and Time @ BYOB Party in November (Part 4)

So here we are at the last leg of the BYOB Party. If you haven’t read the rest of parts- here they are again– Parts 1 2  and 3

mrityunjayaUmakant Soni, Director at Science Incorporated, read Mrityunjaya, by an Indian author Shivaji Sawant, and was quite taken by his very sensitive rendition of Karna of the Mahabharat epic. (Myths can never be excluded from a BYOB party) Karna is one of those tragic heroes who readers and listeners alike can never sympathize with enough. The quintessential outsider, Karna was abandoned by his own mother and raised by a charioteer- he’s a hero without the halo of caste and privilege to protect him. Sawant explores the epic through this hero’s eyes;  renditions of the epics will be woven as long as story telling is loved.

 

einsteins dreamsAbhaya read an interesting book called Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. The author writes about worlds where time behaves differently than time in our plant – in one it runs backwards; in another it runs at different speeds in different parts of the world; in yet another, people live forever.

“I found the book to be a mixed bag. Some of the worlds are very intriguing and provide lot to think about while others seem forced. I also think that some of the worlds are repetitive but perhaps there are subtle differences that I have missed out on.”

a tale for the time beingJust when I thought that all the books discussed were utterly disconnected, Sanjana Kumar, an endodontist, talked about book called A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, where time was the essential theme. It’s a fantastic tale that touches on a variety of ideas- from the ills of bullying in Japanese schools to the tsunami that could wash up a young girl’s diary in to the hands of a writer suffering from writer’s block on a distant Canadian shore. This is a rich book that is filled with so much knowing that at the end of the book you feel like you have gone on a journey through time and back.

A young visitor Aanya told us about her favorite book called The journey to Atlantis,  one of Thea Stilton’s popular books of the Geronimo Stilton series. And with that this BYOB journey comes to an end.

Tell us what books you liked in the BYOB series of November and what books you are reading now.

Cricket, Kites and Detectives @ BYOB in November (Part 3)

Have you read Parts 1 and 2 yet? This time I noticed that the books diverged a great deal and so finding a common thread was difficult.

a history of indian cricketJ Vignesh,  journalist from The Economic Times,  held a precious book of a genre we have so far never come across in our BYOB Parties or Talking Terrace Book Club meets– A History of Indian Cricket by Mihir Bose. The very enunciation of the word ‘cricket’ enunciated a collective gasp from our readers. The book, which he got for a steal from a flea market in Chennai talks about the pre-Sachin Tendulkar cricketing era. It starts at the very beginning in one of the first recorded games in India in 1721. A must read for any die-hard cricket enthusiast.
thekiterunnerShruti Garodia, a content writer, spoke about Khaled Hosseini’s books- The Kite Runner and And the Mountains echoed.  “There is a simplicity about Hosseini’s writing that remains imprinted on your memory. Take this line: Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors. This is such a simple idea but it remains with me. This is one writer who keeps getting better and better with each book.”

Writers also seem to keep writing the same books over and over again. Hosseini deals with the theme of exile. The Kite Runner interestingly deals with the migration of a father and son from war torn Afghanistan. “Taken in the backdrop of what is happening today, the book deals with a very important theme. The problem with Hosseini’s work would be that his books are more about the migration as it is about to happen and the story after the migration. Today this interim gap is what we are witnessing; he never talks about the trauma a refugee goes through to reach the promised land.”

byomkeshSudharshan Narayanan from Vantage Circle delved into the mystery genre this time and he enjoyed The Menagerie and other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, translated by Sreejata Guha. “The protagonist of this book, Byomkesh Bakshi, is far better than Sherlock Holmes, at least to me. I can relate to the characters better as the stories are set in India and also because Byomkesh the detective is flawed and he’s married. Not many married detectives in this genre. The female characters are unforgettable and very strong. Byomkesh’s motto is Satya ki Khoj or the search for truth- an ideal motto for any detective.”

More books from the BYOB Party coming up soon!

Peaches and Sci-fi @ BYOB Party in November (Part 2)

Tangential talk is the best part about sharing books- one writer leads to a story to another writer to another story. There’s a randomness that happens when each person in a group talks about a book that has affected him.

We saw in Part 1 that expert advice could go wrong. In fact data interpretation is the challenge of the hour. Something as elusive as an observation can affect the outcome. “That’s kind of like science fiction.” Sudharshan from Vantage Circle opined.

Which brings us to the science fiction read of the party.

Kumar. S, Architect at IBM, believes that as far as science fiction goes the most challenging book of all has to be the Neuromancer, compared to which a movie like Matrix is simple fare.

The MartianHe came upon a book called The Martian, a 2011 science fiction novel by Andy Weir, also adapted as a movie starring Matt Damon. “It’s pure science fiction, but what I couldn’t understand is how the protagonist handled loneliness. There’s no mention of this challenge in the book at all.”

Loneliness is not to be taken lightly. Ralph talked about how there were so many nonagenrians who were too healthy to die but wanted to nonetheless. Umakant mentioned that this would be the next biggest challenge of growing life expectancy. Machines would be the new solace- science fiction is already posed to become a part of the everyday life of the old and the ignored.

CharlieHarris Ibrahim K.V, Python Tamer at Eventifier, delighted in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. He found the poetry in the book delightful and quite a departure from the sombre horror of Dahl’s short stories. Dahl’s reputation is colorful to say the least. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War and even worked as a spy. You might want to have a look at this.

Unfortunately the movie failed to move him,as movies often fail their book counterparts. “If there is a movie that does justice to the books, it must be The Lord of the Rings.” But here again, some readers debated over the genuineness of Aragon being lost on the silver screen.

james and the giant peach“Not to mention how deeply hurt I was by Voldemort of the Harry Potter series. The sense of doom about him was absent- he was almost (dare I say it?) comic,” Abhaya said.

Harris Ibrahim was not the only one who read Dahl. A young reader, Eshwar, spoke about James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl that he considered the best book he had ever read. The story line is so tempting- a boy loses his idylllic existence and escapes from the tyranny of his evil aunts with fruitly intervention-  you want to read it straight away.

More books were shared. We’ll talk about these in Part 3.

Self-Help and NaNoWriMo @ BYOB Party in November (Part 1)

zenpencilsThis time, the BYOB party welcomed an overwhelmingly large number of individuals who work in the software space.

Nilesh Trivedi the engineer who has made it to all our BYOB Parties so far, talked about Zen Pencils, a departure from the usual heavy stuff he reads like philosophy. He showed me a couple of panels that reflect the writer’s conundrum. Gavin Aung Than, the creator of this comic strip, used to read biographies of of people whom he thought had more interesting lives than he did; this inspired him to use his flair for cartooning to illustrate quotes from the greats. His story is very interesting. Read it here.

the apple revolutionRalph A decided to skip the self-help and talk about a very tech book called The Apple Revolution: Steve Jobs, the counterculture and how the crazy ones took over the world by Luke Dormehl. It’s a non-ficional account of how the hipster hackers of the 1970s generation in California mastered capitalism. Ralph reads extensively and he felt lucky that he fell upon this little known book, a relatively new one at that, published in 2012. A movie Abhaya watched called Pirates of the Silicon Valley explains the Microsoft and Apple story too, in case you are interested.

becomign a writerI talked about Dorothea Brande’s book Becoming a Writer, which I reviewed for our Review and a Half Segment(Parts 1 and 2 here). It seemed like a good choice considering it was NaNoWriMo month. Is a book that does not advocate MFAs and rather helps the writer deconstuct herself close to self-help? The question arose. Brande mentions many interesting tips like writing every day at a prescribed time, completing a short story, meditating on the character and plot (it helps!). I agreed with her assertions- a writer must learn when to be an uncensored writer and when to be a very ruthless critic of her own work. But does this book help with the malaise of the age that a writer faces the most? No, distraction is a recent issue and no book has yet been written that can distract the writer from social media entirely.

The Last LectureJaseem Abid, a platform engineer at Fybr, talked about his taste for more simple books. He read the Lord of the Rings in a month dedicated exclusively to fantasy bingeing. He finds the classics impossible to read, though he is reading Lolita. Inevitably, he arrived at a book he really liked, a self-help book called The Last Lecture, which is more the wisdom of one’s last moments than a self-help book though it is a work that teaches you to value the small things with immense effect. He is not a fan of self-help books and was unhappy that Steve Jobs recommended a book such as Autobiography of a Yogi, an autobiography of Paramahansa Yogananda, a spiritual book with an element of the self-help quotient.

WrongTo end the debate, Abhaya mentioned a book called Wrong: Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them. In a world where the flow of information is dictated by gurus of all kinds from the science, finance and health sectors, there is still immense lack of perfection and even fraudulence. Self-help books written in the dozen can not help people; even experts fail us. Solutions are the need of the hour but these elude as constantly.

In a world where self-help is looked upon with increasing skepticism, this was an illuminating session.

Slang and the Yak @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 5)

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“Neelima found a book that she thought I’d like,” said Srishti.

This is how you lose her is by Junot Diaz is the kind of book that Srishti would like as it doesn’t have pages and pages about the curtains. Plus Diaz makes his characters talk crass. ” Diaz’s characters have no filter and you cringe at the kind of slang he uses. For instance, the word nigger shows up repeatedly.”

The central theme is about a womanizer and relationships, in the context of Hispanic day to day struggles in the U.S. “It’s a bunch of short stories that are all connected in the end. “The first chapter was sappy.  But then it got interesting. Junot Diaz talks about many social issues like women who always have to work harder  and the idea of male privilege.”

I liked the way this story continued what Shyamala Rao talked about when she discussed her book Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. In This is how you lose her , there are many sad immigrants’ tales in this book– the story of a useless teenager who doesn’t help his mom in any way, the story of a guy who leaves his family behind, and the awful living conditions of women in who live in small spaces, cramped together, saving for a better future.” This story is very different from the kind of immigrants Jhumpa Lahiri talks about. They are a more privileged class and they don’t face the kind of problems that Diaz talks about. Junot Diaz uses crass language to reflect the reality of the world inhabited by his characters,” Shyamala said.


“If you want crass writing from India, I suggest you read Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English August,” Arun said. “It’s the story of an IAS officer in a small town, whose life is a series of very ‘colorful’ vocabulary, if you get my point.”

Vaishali agreed, “It was impossible to enjoy the book the first time round, but I enjoyed reading it much later.”

The story of crass vocabulary reflecting dire circumstances relates to the theme of the book party we had in September. Some people like Sonya Sotomayor rise above their circumstances, some people never get out of the rut as in Junot Diaz’s book, some have no hope as we saw in the bleak book White Tiger, and some no longer understand what their parents and grandparents fought for. One such book was Pema and the Yak by Siofran O’ Donovan; the story of the displaced community is one filled with grief, hope and a kind of futility.

“What matters most is home, ” said Baara Al Mansour, the Syrian writer.

On that note, we wound up a long party (Read Parts  1, 23, and if you haven’t already) one of the best yet. The next time you read a book, why not discuss it
with a friend? You never know where books will lead you.