Dystopia, Delusions and the Man @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019 (Part 4)

Image result for the road cormac mccarthySreeraj talked about the profoundly moving book The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This dystopian post-apocalyptic novel talks about the survival instincts of a father and a son. They walk through the barren landscape of an America that has been ravaged by fire and ash. It is cold and they do not know where they are heading to. All they have is a pistol for self-defense and a map that the man refers to. They go from uninhabited house to house, seeking food and shelter. The son keeps asking for reassurance as they see many gory sights on the way. Sreeraj was especially impressed by the kind of cli-fi words the author used dark, dead, grey, carbon fog, forest fire, ash, snow…The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was also adapted into a movie.

Most millennials relate to this kind of book as there are many post-apocalyptic series and movies these days. Take Bird Box and other zombie series where the primary themes revolve around people who are foraging and trying their best to survive. Post-apocalyptic situations are also rampant in video games like The Last of Us.

You can listen to Cormac McCarthy talk to Oprah about this lyrical book here.

Image result for y the last man amazonA book this reminded Poonam of was Y: The Last Man comic series by Brian K. Vaughan. The premise of this graphic novel is interesting. A sex-specific plague wipes out the 2.9 billion men on earth, including male animals — every creature with a Y chromosome. Except two.

While the idea of survival is a theme that sells, the reality may be quite boring and not as romantic as writers make it out to be, one of the readers mused. People would have to go back to agriculture and till the land. Another reader observed how human beings are built for survival, so much so that even if they are left to their own devices in a jungle, someone who is unfamiliar with forest terrain will try his best to live and adapt to the ways of the woods. Of course, they could also die in the process. Take the case of the Rapa Nui in Easter Island.

Image result for the god delusionAfter dystopian disillusionment, Aniket brought our attention to The God Delusion, a sensational book of 2006. Richard Dawkins’s theories must be understood in the context of a world where polarities like secularism and fundamentalism draw swords.  The idea of Darwinism is a heavily disputed idea even today. Dawkins views God as an excuse that human beings use to wage war and indulge in abuse. In spite of his infamous twitterfeed, Dawkins book is a seminal work and would interest seekers of knowledge. Watch Dawkins here. Aniket also mentioned having read the book Why am I a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor.

Image result for sapiensMani talked about the popular book of our BYOB Parties – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. He is still reading the book and is impressed by the author’s multidisciplinary approach. The book seems to be the talking point of all book gatherings today.

More books in Part 5.

Evolution and the Neocortex @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019 (Part 3)

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Samarth talked about a book that he had read a long time ago since he is hard-pressed for reading time these days. Why evolution is true by Jerry A. Coyne, an American biologist, is an important book in times like these, especially when the debate about creationism is commonplace. “What’s the need for such a book?” Samarth asked. “We don’t have a book on germ theory as it seems pretty self-evident except in some strange cases- like the Fox host who refused to wash his hands for ten years as he couldn’t see the germs or the terrorist organization that refutes the idea of evaporation since it is a western concept. But evolution is not like that. It has to be understood.”

Statistics show that evolution is not accepted by a large majority in the US. Many think that evolution should be bunched up with other alternate theories. Darwin wasn’t the first to postulate the theory but his research provided the evidence needed to firm up the theory of natural selection.

Abhaya rationalized that though many of the readers in the room believed in Darwinism, their views were not always backed by understanding. The debate turned completely scientific and we landed on many subjects from Lamarck’s behaviorism and Darwin’s Natural Selection to biomimicry and the God particle.

Incidentally, the name God particle has been much criticized for referring to the very idea of God that the scientific community has been trying to disprove.

Image result for straw dogs bookHarshit spoke about a book called Straw Dogs by the philosopher John Gray. Gray questions Western philosophy from Plato to Marx and argues against the superiority complex embedded in human DNA. What makes humans think they are any better than animals? You might find this interview with Gray interesting.

The conversation mutated and evolved into varying subtexts – the fundamental difference between humans and other species- the neocortex. Listen to what a neuroscientist has to say about the brain systems –reptilian, limbic and neocortex. Then the discussion veered to IQ ratios, the decline of motor skills, how digital devices influence memory, loss of handwriting and how the brain declutters by default.

One book that could lead to a better understanding about how the internet is rewiring the brain is The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

More books and eye-opening discussions in Part 4.

 

 

Witness and Wasps @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019 (Part 2)

Image result for the witness nora robertsThe Witness is not her best but it’s an unputdownable read,” Prerna said about Nora Roberts’ book. The adult romance thriller tells the story of Elizabeth Fitch, a sixteen-year-old, whose life is run on a schedule. When she rebels for the first time in her life, gets a fake ID and dyes her hair a different color just to break free from her cold, controlling mother’s grip, she ends up as the witness of a crime. That single event forces her to lead a life in hiding in the small dark town of Ozarks. Brooks Gleason, the local police chief, decides to help her.

Nora Roberts is a prolific author and she also writes under the non-de plume of J. D Roberts.

Listen to the first chapter of The Witness here.

Image result for eating wasps anita nairPoonam picked up a copy of Anita Nair’s Eating Wasps. “The book title made me curious,” she said, “I thought I would get to the bottom of it and then go back to reading other titles but it was so engrossing that I read the book in a single sitting.” The story uses the mis en abyme approach of the Kathasaritsagar, an eleventh-century collection of Indian legends, fairy tales and folk tales, to weave one story in the other and tell the tales of ten women. Their stories are open-ended and Anita Nair covers relevant issues like stalking and body-shaming. The book is a nod to the Keralite writer,  Rajalakshmi, a lecturer in physics who doubled as a writer of several controversial works and was also christened as the Jane Austen of Indian literature. She won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1960 for her work Oru Vazhiyum Kure Nizhalukalum (A Path and a Few Shadows) at the age of thirty-four. Unfortunately, her wizardry with words ended abruptly when she committed suicide in 1965. Strangely enough, there are no translations of her work as yet.

The topic of translation is a favorite at the BYOB Parties. Some languages are more easily translated than others; some translations hardly do justice to the work. Apurba mentioned how Monica Ali’s Brick Lane was filled with Bengali idioms, the transliterations of which gave the book its dose of creativity.

More books in Part 3.

 

Eastern and Western Philosophy @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019 (Part 1)

This time we had the BYOB Party on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Image result for atlas shrugged amazonAnish kickstarted the discussion with Atlas Shrugged, a book that he found difficult initially and enjoyed more on a later read. Ayn Rand’s philosophy matches the tenor of this age- the same brush with economic depression, the same economic competition, and socialism. There were readers in the group who were through with their Ayn Rand phase and others who read Rand’s slimmer volume called Fountainhead at an impressionable enough age to question everything they knew based on the articulate expression of Rand’s philosophy. “It’s not a fast read,” Anish said. “I advice you to go back to it again and enjoy the read.”

If you would like to know more about Ayn Rand’s brand of objectivism, watch this video.

Krishna likes to read fantasy and philosophy. He spoke about Vadiraja’s Refutation Of Sankara’s Non-Dualism: Clearing The Way To Theism by L. Stafford Betty. Vadiraja was a sixteenth-century Hindu philosopher who challenged the Advaita and spoke in favor of Dualism. L. Stafford Betty chanced upon his work and went ahead with the translation of the philosopher’s polemic.  You can learn more about Stafford Betty’s ideas in this interview.

Image result for Vadiraja's Refutation Of Sankara's Non-Dualism: Clearing The Way To Theism amazonKrishna explained that there were various traditions of schools of thought in India. Unlike Dvaita or Dualism, Advaita or Non-Dualism subscribes to the idea that there is only one super-consciousness and everything else is non-reality. Vadiraja was one of the last of his ilk; philosophy in India went to sleep mode post the sixteenth century. Other philosophers like Madhvacharya and Nagarjuna were also discussed.

There is an idea that eastern philosophy is not considered important enough but Abhaya refuted this. It isn’t lack of interest in eastern philosophy but the accessibility of western philosophy that is the problem. So the comparison to writers like Bertrand Russell is inevitable. In a very light-hearted manner, Russell pierces through the foundation of western philosophy keeping in mind that he is addressing a modern audience. Unlike the patronizing proponents of ancient culture, Russell’s writing is accessible. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Surendranath Dasgupta are good places to start when it comes to Indian philosophy but somewhere down the line a lay reader may find it tedious or lacking in citations. Surprisingly, there is no good book on Indian philosophy in Hindi either. It doesn’t matter if great thoughts are lost in translation as long as we can preserve some of it, Jaya mused.

More books in Part 2.

 

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party on February 17, 2019 (Sunday)

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

BYOB Party is back and this time, Worth A Read will be hosting the party at the Pothi.com office on February 17, Sunday.

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 Feb 17, 2019 and talk away! Try to avoid a bestseller and if you have a copy, bring it along and read us a passage. All languages are welcome.

There will be swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue:  Pothi.com office

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

Is the event free?

Yes, it is free to attend.

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.

Misleading Positivity, Mahabharata and Morrie @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 8)

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Abhinay spoke about The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k, a self-help book with a difference. Mark Manson believes that positivity is over-rated and he believes that accepting our follies and faults and the uncertainties of life is the first step toward becoming more responsible citizens. His arguments are backed by academic research.

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Aparna added a mythical twist to the BYOB Party with her book titled The Kaunteyas by Madhavi S. Mahadevan. The Mahabharata can never become redundant as more and more authors in India are exploring varying points of view and in almost every BYOB Party at one point in time, a Mahabharat-based book or discussion was common fare. In this book, it is Kunti’s destiny that is explored. She leads a normal life until she misuses the boon Durvasav gave her. Her life is a series of obstacles; her husband Pandu loses the throne to Dhritarashtra and dies once the Pandavas are born. To complicate the inheritance battle, she is mother to an illegitimate child, Karna. “While Draupadi’s suffering is more graphic, Kunti’s is more bearable,” Aparna said.

Image result for tuesdays with morriesPriya swears by Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. The book talks about getting a second chance with your mentor. The author meets his long-lost mentor, Morrie who is dying of ALS and every Tuesday, he learns the lessons he thought he had lost.

Here’s an interview with Mitch Albom.

And with that, we come to the end of one very enlightening BYOB Party.

Communication, Everyday India and Matrimonial Ads @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 7)

Image result for transactional analysis amazonAnish Nair emphasizes that if there are two books you need to understand how better to communicate in the world today, read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy by Eric Berne.

Dr. Eric Berne has been credited with developing one of the most innovative approaches to psychotherapy. “The book is not technical and so it is easy to read. In everyone, there is a child and a parent and our responses to people come from these residues within us. So when I talk to my child, I may be imitating my own parents and if I instinctively dislike someone that is the child in me reacting to the parent in the person I dislike. A book you must read to understand how best to communicate with others,” Anish said.

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Ashu talked about a delightful non-fiction called Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India (the term Mother Pious Lady is liberally used in matrimonial adverts), a compilation of Monday columns by social commentator Santosh Desai. Desai likes to examine all the idiosyncrasies of Indian life be it antakshari or auto rickshaws. Get a feel of his style:

The auto is the urban rat: a wily, crafty creature that wriggles its way through the urban sewer. The auto deals with the road on a second-by-second basis, recognizing that the Indian town is the abode of the Constantly Changing Circumstance. Twisting and turning constantly, the auto dribbles its way through traffic, mankind and chaos in no particular order. Every inch of territory is fought for using not courage but guile. The auto defies the idea that the road is a straight line but sees it as a chessboard, contemplating the next move as if a world of options is open to it.

In many ways, the auto is perfectly at home with twisty by-lanes, gullies and mohallas and mimics their lack of linearity. In fact, even on a straight road, the auto contrives somehow to avoid linearity as it zigzags its way out of sheet habit. The auto, like so many other things in India, almost actively seeks to subvert order by insinuating itself wherever it can. It brings to us a vastly enhanced sense of sub-atomic distances by intruding so close into the vehicle just ahead that distance becomes a state of mind rather than a state of being.

The auto is the one vehicle that moves in three-dimensional space, spending as much time off the road as it does on it. This it owes to the nature of Indian roads as much to its own design. This results in a unique ability to transfer the topography of the road into the passengers’ innards, converting road bumps into digestive experience.

The key to understanding the auto is to understand its design. The principle governing its design is perhaps a world view that celebrates compromise not as a “lesser choice” but as “inevitable, and eventually, the only sustainable choice”.

Take, for instance, the speed at which the auto is capable of travelling at. It is significantly faster than a cycle and much slower than a car but looked at from the reality of Indian roads, it travels at the ideal speed. Any slower and cycles would zip past, any faster is not possible given the nature of the traffic and the quality of the roads. Its suspension too is self-limiting, being designed for its speed; the moment the auto begins to travel faster, one’s insides mimic those of a food processor’s. The auto represents the ideal of personal transportation, but barely so. It is a shanty-on-wheels, offering just about adequate protection against the elements, which it more-or-less keeps out, without offering any real guarantees.

Image result for Lokayata/Carvaka: A Philosophical EnquiryThe conversation about distinctly South Asian quirks led to the mention of a controversial matrimonial ad for the elite. While marriage evokes homogenous sentiments in Indian in general, there are some who like to oppose the trend. Sowmya spoke about the author of Carvaka,  Prof Gokhale, a brahmin who wished to marry a non-Brahmin. In his book, Prof Gokhlae speaks about a purely secular and rational exercise within the Indian philosophical traditions—the Lokāyata/Cārvāka school of philosophy.

More books in Part 8.

Eyesores, Desire and Renunciation @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 6)

A couple of gems sparkled: Chokher Bali by Tagore (Tagore adorns the posters of The Takshashila Institution), Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

Image result for chokher bali amazon bookLakshmi spoke about the unputdownable Chokher Bali (translated as eyesore), a powerfully written emotional narrative. This fast-paced love triangle captures the protagonist Mahendra’s quandary as he is besotted with his wife Ashalata but Binodini, a young widow, also captivates him. Tagore is a master of depicting human emotion and the complicated structures of human relationships. There’s a version on the Epic channel in Netflix too though Lakshmi emphasizes that nothing can beat the book as Tagore’s writing is subtle and more focused on undercurrents than any melodrama or stereotype. Farewell my friend is another book by Tagore that was rated highly during this BYOB party.

Image result for latitudes of longingIndira Vijaysimha was enamored by Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup. This series of lyrical love stories brings together geologists, clairvoyants, turtles and a yeti and spans across the emotional and geographical faultlines of the Andamans, Myanmar and the Himalayas. “The book feels like a response to Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement and it reminds me of Dorris Lessing’s trilogy in terms of the scale of things. Life is so fragile, one moment a mountain stands tall and the next moment, it falls into the sea,” she said.

Click on this link to read a very interesting interview with the author.

You can read an excerpt of the story here.

Image result for siddhartha hermann hesse amazonSajal Raj Gautam talked about the classic quest novel Siddhartha. The book talks about how Siddhartha leaves a life of privilege to discover himself – the classic enlightenment story. More about Herman Hesse, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1946 here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1946/hesse/auto-biography/

More books in Part 7.

Confessions, Feminists and Talking Points @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 5)

Samarth talked about some high philosophy when he got the book The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Augustine, Edward B Pusey (Translator), a spiritual self-examination originally written in Latin and traces Augustine’s restless youth and his spiritual voyage. Augustine was one of the most important exponents of Christianity. The School of Life showcases his work here, good if you are looking for an overview. Samarth talked about the time-space continuum and the principle of singularity that Augustine espoused. Unlike the Greeks who believed in nothingness, Augustine believed that God existed out of time and space and therefore there is no ‘before’ God.  He is believed to have sown the seeds of the autobiography genre.

The book is available on Gutenberg as well. If you want an Existential Comics approach to Augustine, check this out.

Image result for why we should all be feminists amazonSmitha came upon a podcast by Chimamanda Adichie on Why We Should All be Feminists. She was impressed by Adichie’s words:

I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently…

The book adapted from this TEDx talk is a twenty-first take on feminism and contemporary sexual politics. Here’s an excerpt from the book: https://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/adichie.html

When the dangerous waters of feminism led to the inevitable gender debate, Abhaya recommended reading Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist, a history of feminism in an Indian context.

Image result for sapiens amazonSowmya, our host at Takshashila, talked about the inescapable Sapiens by Yuval Harari, such a favorite non-fiction. “For me, there is life Before Sapiens and life After Sapiens,” she said. Harari has covered civilization fairly accurately, she says. Some readers did not see eye-to-eye on some of Harari’s claims, particularly the idyllic life of the hunter-gatherer. This is a myth as survival was not a question of luxury; it was hard work and painful and often a losing battle. Almost every reader in the group had an interesting takeaway from this book. It’s become the talking point of 2018.

More books in Part 6.

Bastar and Holocausts @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 4)

Image result for the burning forest amazonKrishna had intended to talk about My World and Welcome to it by good old James Thurber, humorous writer and illustrator extraordinaire but he decided that a discussion on The Burning Forest by Nandini Sundar was more important instead. The book talks about the loss of lives of security forces, Maoists, human rights activists, lawyers and ordinary people in Bastar. The story of Bastar is unknown to most people and this book is an eye-opener if you want to know more about the history of the Salwa Judum. Newton, a movie that has delved into this subject, was mentioned. There was disagreement about state property and double standards when it came to tribals. Another book about Bastar that was discussed was Woodsmoke and Leafcups: Autobiographical Footnotes to the Anthropology of the Durwa People by Madhu Ramnath. Here the author focuses on the communal narrative of the Durwa people. Sometimes you need to step out of the world you know to understand that there are many worlds outside the narrative that don’t need to go extinct.

Image result for the boy in the striped pajamas amazonAda talked about a well-known YA Holocaust fiction called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The story revolves around Bruno and his newfound friendship in devastating times. “We don’t have YA books that explore complex subjects this way in India,” Ada said. The mention of the Holocaust sparked off an intense debate on the many pogroms that have affected so many parts of the world. Be it Auschwitz where even the bravest soldier feel the shivers or the mass graves at Cambodia, be it the slaughter of the Native Americans or the Armenians or the eradication of aborigines across the world, human atrocities are common fare. “It’s just a question of who markets their stories better,” a reader said wryly.

This is a link I stumbled on while writing this post. It’s an interview with Lang Leav, who was born to Cambodian parents who were on the run from the Khmer Rouge. Worth a listen.

More books in Part 5.