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.

Robots and Literature@ BYOB Party in April (Part 4)

Have you been reading about the BYOB Party in April?

Rise of the RobotsRalph, who is a regular BYOB-er, talked about an exciting new book called  Rise of the Robots: Technology an Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford. This book was chosen the FT Best Business Book of the year award 2015. We are all excited about technology, but how technology can we afford to have? Ford looks at a world where robots are a better economic alternative. Already factories are doing more today with technology and a same sized labor force than it did in the last century.

Umakant Soni pondered on this idea too. ” Creating intelligence is dangerous, as we can never tell how long we can stay secure. During the Industrial Revolution, children were sent to school so that they could be supervised. The same could happen to adults whose jobs have been taken over by the robot workforce. What will adults do if they are unemployed and what about income?”

Jaya proceeded to discuss her ideas on the value of Universal Basic Income. You can read more about her ideas here:

Another book that Ralph read was by the very eclectic Anita Nair, a book called Goodnight and God Bless. This book is about writerly stuff- books, book events, anecdotes and literary trivia. It’s a refreshing read and a change Ralph thought from his usual penchant for serious books. A good change at that.

Anvita Bajpai, author of a sort story collection Life, Odds and Ends, found a book called The Holy Indian Cow and Other Stories by Tarun Chopra, a book replete with pictures and altogether a fun reading experience.

What have you been reading?

Kaizen, Suitable Boys and Stories of Sikkim @ BYOB Party in April (Part 3)

Have you read Parts 1 and 2 yet?

One-Small-Step-Can-Change-Your-Life-The-Kaizen-Way-by-Robert-Maurer-Ph.DOne Small Step can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer is the book Himanshu Shah, an author himself, talked about. This book deals with the concept kaizen- the art of making  lasting change by taking small steps towards that direction. The book helps in all areas including getting fit or gaining vocabulary. The seven steps include Think Small Thoughts, Take Small Actions, Solve Small Problems, etc.
Vinod Pathangay got the book A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. This enormous tome still awaits a sequel ‘A Suitable Girl’, on which Seth is still working. For Vinod the book has been a challenge as he hasn’t managed to complete it; yet the depiction of life in the northern part of India holds great appeal for this Chennaite. “Even the Table of contents of the book is a poem,” he said when describing why the book appealed to him. The problem with the book is the elaborate genealogy which forces you to reread the family connections before the book so that you understand the plot better. The story primarily revolves around how Lata tries to find a suitable match. The era the book is set in is the 1950s and deals with the multitude of prejudices and etiquette of Indian society.

Jaya was fascinated by The King’s Harvest by Chethan Raj Shrestha. She speaks about the book in her Short Book Review at Worth a Read Blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The book contains two novellas An Open-and-Shut Case and the eponymous The King’s Harvest. Don’t look at the hype and the sales numbers and this is easily one of the best English-language books to come out of India. The writing is adroit, literary merit of the text considerable and the juxtaposition of the dark and the criminal with the innocent and the straightforward is hair-raising and heart-tugging at the same time. The vivid elucidation of not just what is picturesque about Sikkim, but also of its towns and villages, police stations and homes, people and their ambiguous characters and moralities is the cherry on the top. While it is unambiguously a “book from Sikkim”, the last one makes it relatable to all, especially those who have grown up in small places.

You can read and understand the stories in many ways. Since that is one of the charms of the books, I am not going to tell you what all I read in the book. I must confess I felt overwhelmed at times. But you must read it and decide for yourself!

The hardcover edition that I read has also been produced beautifully. The cover is bewitchingly beautiful and interiors are well-done too.” You can read more here.

More books shared at the BYOB Party next week.


Spirituality and the Poetry of Bachchan the Bard @ BYOB Party in April (Part 2)

Have you read Part 1 yet? Lots of Indian writers featured at the BYOB Party this time.

Vijay brought along a book from the  SriRamachandra mission series called Heart to Heart. The book is for the spiritually inclined and deals with the nuances of Raja Yoga. Through a series of discourses, the author talks about his own his dilemmas and revelations during his travels to foreign shores. It makes you think about the lives of spiritual masters. Discussion around this book led to the mention of an interesting book about spiritual dilemmas that is also linked to mythology- The Importance of Being Good by Gurucharan Das.

bachchanTwo Harivansh Rai Bachchan books were on the cards this BYOB Party. Harivansh Rai Bachchan is the author of the most  famous Hindi book, in fact, the fastest selling Hindi book on e-commerce sites, Madhushala which translates as House of Wine. The book Arisudan got is called Meri Shresht Kavithaein, an anthology of some the best poems written by Bachchan,which he himself has selected. This part of the BYOB Party was poetry heaven for Hindi poetry lovers as Arisudan read out some beautiful stanzas and Jaya went on to talk about the nuances of his poetry, including the inconsistency of his message. When Bachchan was inspired, he wrote inspiring poetry and when he was in a dark place, his poems reflected this. Though he wrote about wine, he was a teetotaller and wine was a metaphor he used to convey his philosophy.

bachchan 2Umakant Soni, the owner of Artwist where the BYOB Party was held, got a Hindi book called Dashdvar Se Sopan Tak. This book is fourth in a series of Bachchan’s autobiographical works. The series describe the poet’s journey and how the poet’s life and experiences shaped his poetry. Soni mentioned how not many people know that Hindi words like Doordarshan and Aakashvani have his signature behind them.


More in Part 3.

Dalit Literature and the Problem of Revealing True Identity@ BYOB Party, April, 2016 (Part 1)

The seventh BYOB Party was held in collaboration with Artwist, which believes in whole brained education.  Umakant Soni who runs Artwist says, “Learning is not only through books; it’s an experiential process.”  At Artwist kids, parents and senior citizens learn through play.

joothanAbhaya started the session with Joothan, an autobiography by one of the most important voices in Hindi Dalit literature.  “This book is very similar to Lakshman Mane’s Apara.  The story starts with a childhood spent in utter poverty and misery in rural areas and an inclination for education which helped the author break out of surroundings and connect with the growing Dalit(Untouchable) movement in cities. More than incidents of outright violence, the most heart wrenching incidents are those where initial affection and cordiality are shattered once the author reveals caste.” Abhaya found this part of the book as a revelation, “Consider the eternal suspicion that lurks in the mind of a Dalit—he expects that he will be treated badly.  The question he asks himself continuously is whether the other person is nice because he does not actually care about caste or has he misunderstood?”

Abhaya cites that this question is relevant in India today. “A large number of people claim that they are caste blind, because they do not know the caste of their friends and colleagues. They might spare their friends a great deal of internal turmoil if they acted as they did in spite of knowing their caste.”

The author’s surname, Valmiki, confused those around him. Many people mistook him to be an upper caste and treated him with respect, only to pull the rug from under his feet when his true caste is revealed. People are forced to lead a double life and move to cities to conceal the identity that others disrespect.

This is definitely a relevant book in these times when discrimination is rampant. Have you read any books that deal with discrimination or racism? Tell us about it.

Maple Syrup, Talent and the Joy of Cleaning@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 4)

There were many non-fiction books that readers discussed besides the classics and fiction discussed (Check Parts 1, 2 and 3)


Sudharsan read War Plan Red by Kevin Lippert, a book that begins with British rule in Canada.The book is about the secret cold war between the United States and Canada. Some motives for the plan: capturing all the world’s supply of maple syrup, ice hockey players and natural resources. Conversation veered to the upcoming elections in the US.

little book of talentMadhu Sagar talked about a non-fiction book by US journalist Daniel Coyle. The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving your skills. This book takes you all around the world in search of the greatest talent.  It’s a manual in a world where performance is rated highly and it’s not self-help. The handbook contains scientifically proven methods that can help improve the skills of a child and an organization.

There are two kinds of skills- hard skills are acquired by repitive practise and soft talent is more organic and fluid. Madhu read out a couple of tips to us. For instance, if you want to have a genius in your home, you don’t need to get the child air conditioning. Spartan existence is conducive to innovation as necessity is the mother of invention. So we have thinkers like Ramanujan who wrote reams of theorums in his head because of an acute shortage of paper. And Russian coders who coded in their head. Watch Hackers wanted to understand this better.

RomanAjay got a biography titled Roman by Roman Polanski. The world famous director of great movies like Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown vindicates himself by writing his side of the story.  “Polanski writes in a very mater of fact style and there’s absolutely no self-pity,” Ajay says. He went on to narrate how Roman the boy who lived in Poland lost his mother and sister to the extermination camps. He survived as did his father with whom he reunited much later. But tragedy followed him even later when he was a director in the US. His wife and unborn child were murdered by the grusesome serial killer Charles Manson. Polanski later was charged with stauotory rape and he fled the country. If you are a fan of this controversial director and want to hear his side of the story, this book is a must read.

the hard thing about hard thingsNilesh picked up The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs. This book is based on his popular blog and talks about the stuff that business school won’t teach you. In the book, Horowitz shares insights and anecdotes about the problems running a startup involves.

“I completely agreed with author when he says that most of the advice that we get is not applicable. Horowitz provides simple solutions that are really not simple. For example, there is a misconception in companies that if you come to the manager with a problem, you need to bring in a solution as well. This makes absolutely no sense,” Nilesh said.

That was the business book of this BYOB party.

spark joy

Sumaa went by the recommendations of her friends and chose a highly unconventional  bestseller book called Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. This illustrated version of the KonMari method deconstructs the cleaning process with how to clean everything from folding socks to organizing pictures.” What worked for me as that the book is not preachy. It doesn’t touch on over-consumption, feng shui or spirituality. For Kondo, cleaning should create joy. You keep only what you need and what gives you joy. She also traces the emotional journey of many of her clients.It’s an unusual book and inspiring.”

What a list of books! Can’t wait for the next BYOB Party…..what are you reading now?

Sci-fi– Hard wired and Emotionally charged @ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 3)

This BYOB Party (Part 1 and Part 2) had no mention of the Mahabharata. Instead there was a great deal of sci-fi.

manhattan in reverseAkshay is an avid sci-fi reader. When he was done with his share of Clarks and Asimovs, he came across Hamilton. The book he talked about was Manhattan in Reverse by Peter F. Hamilton, a book of nine stories. For sci-fi geeks Hamilton’s work provides all the delightful details of time travel, memory manipulation, planetary inequality, inter-galactic wars, and rejuvenation technology.

“When it comes to Hamilton’s series,  as characters don’t die,  there is scope for continuity and evolution. “

In the sci-fi mode, Jaya advised us to watch a short movie available on Youtube- Man from Earth. The conversation moved on to how the social context would change if human beings did not die at all. While on one hand, there would be more Mondays, on the other, there would be less inequality as only those who had the means to live forever would be around anyway. The predominant theme of sci-fi was debated upon- is it human expansion or space operas? A science fiction writer who was recommended was Cyril Kornbluth.

Never Let me GoPiya Bose has read her share of sci-fi as well. What she’s now looking for is a sci-fi heavier on emotional quotient. She found this in Never Let Me Go by Booker Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. Three children Kathy, Ruth and Tommy study at Hallsham in an imaginary set-up in the 1990s. Although the narration is straight forward, there is an eeriness and strangeness in the novel that turns it into a mystery.  Ishiguro speaks about how science without ethics is detrimental to society.

“The vagueness of the writer is a style shared by Murakami too,” Piya said. Everyone agreed unanimously that there were two kinds of readers and you would know who would prefer an Ishiguro and a Murakami as opposed to those who wouldn’t.

More in Part 4.

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.