Menstruation and Motherhood @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 3)

Image result for Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body amazonMugdha started off an engaging discussion with the book Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, a book by award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe. She got wind of this book while listening to one of the episodes of a quirky podcast called No Such Thing As a Fish. Women seem to be having their moment, what with skeletons tumbling out of closets and hashtags dedicated to the gender equality phenomenon, so a discussion on menstruation in a society that encourages a culture of menstrual silence or menstrual whispering is a welcome change.

The book talks about how society deals with women, tilting the scales toward scientific solutions vs cultural ones. The author of the book is a comedian and she doesn’t find women’s bodies funny. Neither does she understand why sexy women need to stare at you from billboards everywhere in the world. She doesn’t understand why menstruation is so big a deal and the fountainhead of so many bizarre rituals and why child-bearing is the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence. One way to deal with cultural biases is to weigh the scientific feasibility of decisions- so if child marriage is acceptable in society, science clearly shows that pregnancy could put an underage girl’s life at risk. Feminism doesn’t apply here, only common sense. If you can’t vote and drive, then why get married?

Image result for my daughters mum amazonDeepti’s book followed the woman theme too. She enjoyed listening to the author Natasha Badhwar at a literary festival and picked up her book My Daughter’s Muma series of essays compiled from a popular column in Mint Lounge. The author talks about the conscious decisions she made to spend time with her family away from the madness of urban life. A media professional, she quit her job and focused on her children and the vagaries of being a mother. “It almost feels like the author is following her children with a notebook and a pen as she records the lightest moments and makes them meaningful!” Deepti said. She read out a passage where the author describes her daughter in such a heartwarming way; everyone listening immediately connected with it.

You might enjoy an interview with the author at the IVM podcast.

It’s not just writers, artists too share the ordinary life in endearing ways. Take Catana Comics.

Badhwar’s ability to turn the mundane into the endearing is a trait that many authors share. Abhaya talked about how Rohit David Brijnath, a veteran Indian sports journalist, bought along the same kind of flare when he wrote sport.

More books in Part 4.

 

Dharma and Dresden @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 2)

Image result for the difficulty of being good amazonAkshay spoke about The Difficulty of Being Good, a book by Gurucharan Das. If there is an epic that probes into life’s difficult questions, it is the Mahabharat and Das goes back to the epic to look for answers to the problems that we face today. How can the dharma be enacted when the odds are against the good? Interestingly, he looks at other epics including the Homeric ones and compares how wrong done is not pondered on; from the Mahabharat came the Bhagavad Gita, a mature philosophical treatise that weighs the pros and cons of to be and not to be. “The characters in the Mahabharat are gray. The Pandavas may have Krishna on their side but still they are fallible and even use unfair means to win,” Akshay said. “So goodness is not absolute and one does act for the sake of dharma, one acts because one must.”

Image result for slaughterhouse 5 amazonSrikanth had read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The book is becoming a regular topic of discussion at our BYOB Parties and it makes sense as it is an anti-war book. Vonnegut focuses the book on the World War II bombing of Dresden. The book is part sci-fi (reminiscent of the movies Arrival and Interstellar), part memoir and was a hard book to write. Srikanth was impressed by the way Vonnegut wrote about the phenomenon of being unstuck in time- so the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is a pilgrim of sorts traversing the world and galaxies and for him, time is not linear; it’s a series of peaks and troughs. The book is very philosophical, besides being humorous. You could listen to the entire book here.

Abhaya mentioned how Shashi Deshpande played with the idea of time in her book That Long Silence. The conversations in the book seem to between different aspects of the same person. Other books about time that cropped up were The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

More books in Part 3.

Murakami on Running @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 1)

Image result for What I Talk About When I Talk About Running amazonThe BYOB Party in September started with a discussion of a book that is not typical Murakamiesque. When you speak of the writer who currently withdrew his name from the Alternate Nobel Prize, you talk about a surrealist cult writer. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a conversation that the author has about running, of course, and endurance and writing and many things. It’s a slim book and a practical one with life lessons. You might want to read this review of the book in the Review and a Half post at the IS blog.

Mukesh and Sowmya, both fitness fans, enjoyed reading the book. I’ve read about how Murakami became a writer many times but it is one of those tales that does not tire you and Murakami seems to know this for he talks again about how he sold his jazz bar to do writing full-time. Fitness has been an integral part of the discipline that is needed to wrote as prolifically as he does and running has been the fulcrum of his fitness plan.

To run you need to prepare and execute and endure, something like writing.

Says Murakami:

“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.”

“Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago.”

Another book that focuses on running is Running: A Novel by Jean Echenoz. This book tells the story of Emil Zátopek who was a factory worker with contempt for athletics. His participation in a single race changes his perspective and he acquires a passion for long-distance running.

Sowmya identifies with Murakami’s logs.

Says Murakami, “No matter how mundane some actions may appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes contemplative and at some point it is meditative.”

“Even cooking and reading are therapeutic for some people. But you never start happy….it’s a struggle to keep up everyday. Until you get on the road it’s hard, then you are sorted. Taking the step is good enough-that is the motivation- finishing 1 km. And the energy is contagious after a while.” Soumya talked about the marathons she attended in Mumbai and the sweetness of the encouraging crowd. “It’s different in Bengaluru; runners are seen as traffic stoppers and resented sometimes. Whatever is the case, fitness should never be compromised.”

Running is a journey and Murakami writes about in the true spirit of a committed runner. More books in Part 2.

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party at Church Street on Nov 3, 2018 (Saturday)

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 with The Takshashila Institution in their office on Nov 3, Saturday. The venue is right in the heart of the city on Church Street!

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 November 3, 2018 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 refreshment courtesy The Takshashila Institution and swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue:  The Takshashila Institution, 2nd floor, 46/1, Church Street, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560001

Map Locationhttps://goo.gl/maps/4RP3PN7EAzw

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 and The Takshashila Institution

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.

Reader Interview of Indira (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018

Indira has been to book readings but this was her first time at a BYOB Party. We asked her a couple of questions about her relationship with books.

Tell us about your book journey.

I was an early reader. I have memories of reading the newspaper and not understanding a word of what I read. I think I owe a lot to my father as he introduced us to the world of books, starting with Enid Blyton. He also introduced us to the classics by reading just enough to pique our curiosity and then telling us to read the rest on our own. We lived in Jharkhand back then and we had a library in our colony, which I loved.

English or vernacular?

Not vernacular, mostly English and translations in English, probably an accident of our upbringing and education at English medium schools.

What do you think of children’s reading habits nowadays?

The trend looks very encouraging. There are a lot more books available than there used to be. In fact, I pick up such a variety of interesting books for my granddaughter. All my children read and we discuss books. Children are definitely reading more. There are some parents who are discerning and there are others who prefer overly moralizing books. Schools are encouraging children as well. The library movement is picking up in a big way; many NGOs work in rural areas to maintain active school libraries, not just libraries that collect dust.

Which is your favorite book?

Tough question.  Recently I read a non-fiction called  The Growth Delusion by David Pilling, illuminating in its message that GDP is not the only indicator that tells the story of the economy. I’m a big fan of Isaac Asimov. And yes, a book I particularly love is Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.

Print or eBooks?

Frankly, I prefer print books. I never took to Kindle although I must admit I managed to read Sir Terry Pratchett’s work on my phone. It’s advantageous to read books this way as there are no hassles of remembering to carry the book and you can read anywhere any time, even while waiting for a bus.  It’s harder to read on devices as you grow older.

I still buy books though and then feel guilty about it. I love libraries too.

Thank you, Indira, for sharing your thoughts!

 

Reader Interview of Aditya (The Regular) @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018

Aditya Sengupta has frequented a couple of the BYOB Parties that we have held. He had lots to say about his voyage with reading.

Tell us about your book journey.

I’ve always been a bookworm. My grandmother used to read me a  book every evening when I was just a few years old, not old enough to read. I didn’t even know which way the book would face, as it was with children. I could apparently narrate the same story and turn the pages at the right moment of the narrated event even if the book was facing upside down! My family is a very bibliophilic family; my grandfather was a literary critic. All the presents I received were books. I honestly believe that if I had been less of a bookworm, I would have done better in my studies.

Do you read Bengali literature?

Not when I was young but I taught myself Bengali much later. Bengali novels were read to me initially as I could not read them on my own. As an adult, I started reading and there was a vast amount of Bengali literature available. My exposure was primarily to books in English and translated works.

Being a scientist, what do you prefer to read- fiction or non-fiction?

Frankly, I don’t read much these days. I do order books, the latest one by the author of Big Shot, Michael Lewis and another book by a friend about the economic liberalization in India in 1991. I enjoy fiction much more.

Besides this BYOB Party, do you frequent other other book clubs?

There used to be a book club in Bangalore called We Read Therefore We Are. Abhaya had been to one of these but the club disbanded. Both these book clubs have different formats and differ from the traditional book club formats, something that I prefer.

Do you prefer reading eBooks or print books?

I prefer print books though I do read digitally as well if I must.

What books do you recommend for young people?

It depends really;  they must discover on their own. It’s really a question of inclination. If they are into the sci fi genre, then they should pick up Asimov. If they are into science, I would recommend Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman or James Watson’s The Double Helix. In case it’s humor, I would advise one to read P. G Wodehouse. I have often been asked to recommend good titles and it ultimately depends on the choice of genre that appeals to you.

Thanks Aditya. It was great talking to you!

Roots, Ruins and Song @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 6)

Celina who co-hosted the BYOB Party with us spoke about a book that made an imprint on her. Roots by Alex Hailey starts with the story of Kunta Kinte, a man who was brought to the slave markets of the New World. It was interesting that she mentioned a story that stressed on the perspective of the oppressed as the book that Jaya talked about-From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia– also focused on new perspectives.

Image result for pankaj mishra empire amazonPankaj Mishra’s work is arresting and a must-read as it tells the story of how the non-Western world rose to the challenge of western oppression and rethought alternative ways of governance. Mishra navigates through the Asian intellectual perspective and is refreshing for readers who would like a perspective closer to home. Mishra represents important thinkers like Al-Afghani. 

“What strikes me is that democracy was perceived to be created by people who did not themselves believe int he ideals that they preached. This is where reactionary elements came from,” Jaya said.

The book has been written in a chronological manner and it’s a collection of Mishra’s commentaries: a story of thought or a history of ideas around certain broad themes. It was shortlisted for Orwell Prize, 2013.

You may want to read Edmund Wilson in Benares by Pankaj Mishra to get a taste of his effortless writing style.

Image result for gaata rahe mera dil : 50 classic amazonAditya’s choice of book was the sole light book in the discussion. He got a book called Gaata Rahe Mera Dil  by Balaji Vittal (Author), Anirudha Bhattacharjee. For lovers of old Bollywood music, this book is a collector’s item. The composition of classics and the anecdotes of the making of these songs make this book a delightful read. Aditya particularly enjoyed the part where Sharmila Tagore forgets her lines when she meets Shashi Kapoor.

On that light note, we come to an end of the BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar.

 

Firefly and Nihilism @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 5)

A question lingered about whether fiction did a better job of illustrating history. Arvind spoke about a work of fiction that showed how important the individual human struggle acts effectively as a mirror of human society. The book called The Accusation by a North Korean writer with the pseudonym Bandi (which translates as firefly) gives a relatively clear account of North Korea in seven short stories. Arvind was initially skeptical about reading the book fearing propaganda but many positive reviews later, he started and was then enamored by the panorama of the North Korean society that sprang up before him. Bandi has been described by some as the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Pyongyang, courtesy the dissident literature that Solzhenitsyn penned during the Stalinist era. Very little is known about Bandi except for the literary merit of his work and his Chekhovian eye. His translator Deborah Smith has added to the beauty of the work. An account of one short story that peeked into the unfortunate life of a party loyalist was shocking, to say the least. Perhaps the beauty of his prose could be attributed to Bandi being marooned by the politics of his country and uncertain of any target audience at all. His prose caters to nothing but the truth.

So storytelling is really an exercise in truth-telling.  Like Jaya said, “Regarding the fiction vs non-fiction question as ideal for representation, I think fiction wins hands down Learning anything factual requires that you understand the story behind it. The story of history matters when you understand what happened to the people who lived at that time on a day-to-day basis. So the author outlines their daily grievances, which may not necessarily amount to the critique of the regime.”

Image result for notes from undergroundSamarth spoke of another writer who was revolutionary in his approach. Fyodor Dostoyevsky chronicled the second half of the nineteenth century. Russia and all of Europe were going through an extraordinary transformation of culture and industrialization. It was a time of intense polarization. Dostoyevsky was a traditionalist and in his groundbreaking novel Notes from Underground, his unnamed defiant narrator broods all day and all night and pens a contradictory memoir that serves as a looking glass to society around and is a scathing attack on the hypocrisies of the society that he lived in. This is what his memoir sounds like:

“I am a sick man. … I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have,” But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well–let it get worse!…. I have been going on like that for a long time–twenty years. Now I am forty.”

Samarth was so impressed by the way the weakness of will of the narrator was depicted that he drew flowchart chronicling the movement of the narrator’s thoughts. The narrator is seized by a paralysis of will; perhaps a godless rationality that left him incapable of striving. Dostoyevsky’s ideology was an amalgam of Orthodoxy, rationality, Western ideals and romanticism and this seminal novel has influenced the breed of existential thinkers in Europe. The idea of free will that was discussed led to the discussion of a book called Against Nature  by Joris-Karl Huysmans that follows the life of a decadent, ailing aristocrat who retreats to an isolated villa and descends into depravity.

More books in Part 6.

The Story of a Billionaire and the Commentaries of a Hypnotist @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 4)

Image result for Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of Spacex and Tesla is Shaping Our FutureAyush spoke about Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance. This book tells the story of the South African American entrepreneur who sold PayPal for $1.5 billion and the innovator who creates SpaceX and Tesla. Vance pus Musk on the same footing as inventors and industrialists like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs.  Early on Musk knew that there were three things that would change the world – the internet, sustainability and space travel.  After he sold PayPal, he invested all his energy in the very niche area of space travel, his only competitors being individual governments. He is known for his far-reaching plans, risk-taking mentality and unfortunate twitter handle. Reading about him, Ayush was troubled by a thought: To be successful do you need to be mean to others as you want to get things done? Think Ph.D. advisors, Amazon workers in their warehouses and mothers-in-law!

Some answers included:  It is well-researched that many successful bosses have psychopathic characteristics; if you are a boss, people don’t have to like you; society has been constructed in such a way that it is aggressive characteristics that lead to success; empathy doesn’t translate into niceness if you are the boss  and could be purely utilitarian in motive.

The conclusion? People adopt this kind of behavior as a template of success; so they behaving arrogantly with their employees though they lack an innovator’s insight because they think that this guarantees success. However, being a badass success ultimately requires certain merits that not all bosses have.

Image result for my voice will go with you amazonKirthika spoke about a book called My Voice Will Go With You edited by Sidney Rosen. The book focuses on Milton H. Erickson,  the most influential hypnotherapist of our time. He used humor and storytelling to help people see situations differently. This book is a compilation of around a hundred tales and Dr. Rosen’s commentaries.

More books in Part 5.

 

Poison, Embryos and Polyphony @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 3)

If you found all the conversation about philosophy interesting but you are hesitant to read the great minds, maybe pop philosophy would be a good place to turn to. Abhaya suggested that we read Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel who engages the reader with contemporary issues including same-sex marriages, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, PTSD-related perception, etc.  His arguments help the reader understand more about the dynamics involved in decisionmaking when it comes to politics, ethics, morality and day to day living.

Image result for The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York Reprint EditionMugdha brought along an interesting book called The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York Reprint Edition by Deborah Blum. She’s also the author of another equally fascinating book called Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death which is the story of William James and his fascination for the occult. The Poisoner’s Handbook is a fascinating story of chemistry, poison and the bedrock of forensics. Back in the early 1900s and prior to that, murdering someone using poison could hardly be proved. The coroner’s office was chaotic and it was Charles Norris, a wealthy medical examiner, and a toxicologist called Alexander Gettler who created the field of forensic chemistry and changed the way crime was investigated by providing a proper framework to build investigation upon. “So many things can kill us,” Mugdha said, “So there needed to be some kind of yardstick. These were some questions that needed answering. How much arsenic led to poisoning? What alcohol level in the blood could be surmised as legal?” Many ideas sprang up about the way gas lamps killed people by causing carbon monoxide poisoning, how the Russians were experts when it came to all matters toxic, the death of Napolean by arsenic, the suspicious deaths of well-known celebrities and exogamy in the Indus Valley.

Image result for sing you home jodi amazonPrerna spoke about a book that carried forward the theme of ethical dilemmas that ran throughout the BYOB Party. Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult tells the story of three characters who have trouble conceiving. Zoe, the principle character, is a music therapist. She moves on to a same-sex relationship while her husband moves in with his picture-perfect brother and wife. A legal battle over the existing embryos leads to fundamental questions being raised. Who exactly constitutes a family? Is one kind of family superior to another?

Homosexuality, the concept of deviants, the rights of embryos, egg-freezing employee benefits and surrogacy were discussed. Also since the book is told in multiple voices, there was a long aside on the merits of this kind of storytelling as compared to the less democratic first person point of view.

Literature assists in seeing the other side or all sides by using multiple points of view. Indira mentioned a book by Barbara Kingsolver called The Poisonwood Bible. We’ve talked about this book in a previous BYOB Party too. You also have books by George R. R Martin and Dostoevsky. A famous example of one of the first polyphonous novels is Dangerous Liaisons or Les Liaisons dangereuse by French writer Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The novel tells the story of the moral decadence of aristocrats and ex-lovers Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont who embark on a game of seduction and manipulation for which they face unintended consequences.

More books in Part 4.