Money and Moguls @ BYOB Party in Jan 2020 (Part 4)

Ankit likes to read books on personal development in all spheres – financial, emotional, spiritual, etc. ” I know you don’t encourage the odd bestseller but here I am,” Ankit said as he talked about what he called the Bible of financial awareness — Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. This is a story about two dads one who lacks money and one who loves money. The book is framed around six main teachings and lessons from both dads.

Kiyosaki mentions his biographical details to give context. He talks about his business decisions, free enterprise, risk-taking and investment options.

Jaya added a word of warning, “There is no doubt that the book introduces many readers to financial literacy. However, the advice is careless at times.  You need to be careful before making business decisions.”

Then there is the argument that while 80% of people are employees or small business owners. it’s the 20% risk-takers who own 80% of the world’s wealth.  “This is nothing but survivorship bias,” Abhaya said, “We only hear success stories. What about the many who have failed?”

“Reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb will overturn any such mental distortions,” Bindu said.

Cohen countered this with his belief that even business and investment can be understood via fiction. “Books by entrepreneurs don’t really read as fiction,” he said. He then elaborated on the famous book A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which tells an entrepreneurial story of Jean Paget, a woman who works in Malaya and must flee when the Japanese attack. She ends up setting shop in Australia.

Cohen likes books of the didactic sort that reminisce on the human condition. “When I ran out of fiction by Ayn Rand, Bernard Shaw, Robert Pirsig, Nevil Shute and Paulo Coelho, I turned to books about civilization and society. Fantasy fiction like LOTR is actually history in a non-factual way. I like this kind of history, so much better than the ridiculous dates and facts that we use to teach children in the classroom.

“I’ve also enjoyed reading  RK Narayan though I found VS Naipaul’s interpretation of Indian culture in India: A Wounded Civilization completely off the mark. On that note, I would like to introduce you all to Travels in the Mogal Empire by Francois Bernier.

“It’s astonishing to read an account by someone who witnessed firsthand the succession battle that took place between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb. It had an almost Game of Thrones feel. With fiction, maybe you couldn’t really ask the question why did Voldemort do such and such but with a real life account you do ask that question and that quest leads you to history or what really happened. There’s a fine level of detailing in this translation. Occasionally we get glimpses of Aurangzeb’s chaste conversation in Dakhani Urdu, not to mention the emotions, personal insults, betrayals, brutalities and intrigue that filled the Mughal courts. For some reason, Shikoh’s murder reminded me of Bernard Shaw’s famous play Saint Joan where a young peasant girl on a mission is branded a witch — a classic example of a politically motivated murder. Travels in the Mogal Empire is better than any historical narrative fiction I have read after Babarnama.”

Other historical fiction book titles that cropped up in the ensuing discussion were White Mughals by William Dalrymple, Partitions by Kamaleshwar and Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar.

More books in Part 5.

Short Story Collections @ BYOB Party in Jan 2020 (Part 3)

Image result for alice munro 1974 bookThere were short stories galore discussed at the BYOB Party. Sonal started off the short story scrutiny with some Southern Ontario Gothic.  She spoke about the Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro’s short story collection Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.
As it is with most Alice Munro’s characters, expect laidback narratives with revelatory insights. Munro moves artfully back and forth in time and dabbles with memory. Sonal elaborated on two stories, both about relationships, one about the relationship of a woman with her ex-husband and the other of a woman’s relationship with her mother. All the characters exhibit shades of gray.  Sonal read out one of her favorite passages from the book:
“The problem, the only problem, is my mother. And she is the one of course that I am trying to get; it is to reach her that this whole journey has been undertaken. With what purpose? To mark her off, to describe, to illumine, to celebrate, to get rid, of her; and it did not work, for she looms too close, just as she always did. She is heavy as always, she weighs everything down, and yet she is indistinct, her edges melt and flow. Which means she has stuck to me as close as ever and refused to fall away, and I could go on and on and on, applying what skills I have, using what tricks I know, and it would always be the same.”
What did Sonal find so touching about the stories?  “Munro’s stories touched me at an emotional level. Relationships fascinate me.”
The conversation veered to whether reading books about struggling characters is a boon or a bane. Contrary to the idea that reading a sad book can leave the reader miserable, it can also leave a reader relieved that she does not need to face the same predicament as the characters.
Another question that came up is how to deal with short story phobia, the terrible fear of a story building up and then exploding too quickly for your own good. “I wouldn’t think I would face such a problem,” Sonal said, ” These short stories at least helped me to bring a semblance of order to the khichdi in my mind.” Priya remained traumatized by the idea of reading short stories- the book Dubliners by James Joyce shook her resolve completely.
“Try reading Woman to Woman: Stories by Madhulika Liddle,” Abhaya advised. “It might help to get over this fear.”

Image result for magical women amazonBindu got an unlikely book, considering that speculative fiction is not her favorite genre. She spoke about a couple of stories from the book Magical Women, a collection of short stories edited and compiled by Sukanya Venkatraghavan. The collection introduces the reader to all kinds of mythical creatures and goddesses. Bindu was quite taken by the stories Gul and Gandaberunda. “It’s a commendable effort to rope in so many Indian women writers and weave a fantasy story collection but what I felt is that there was invariably too much social commentary couched with magical women characters. In every story, I was struck by the need to find hidden symbols that highlighted oppression.”

Many other short story collections were discussed including Breaking the Bow and Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean.

Image result for shashi deshpande short storiesVeena spoke about Collected stories by Shashi Deshpande. She was inspired by the author during her book launch of a recent book. Says Veena, “I loved the way Deshpande spoke- she was so articulate and down to earth that I was tempted to read her stories. I’m also interested in books about Bangalore. The book I picked up was an older book and it goes deep into the human psyche and talks about fleeting thoughts and how we judge people harshly. It’s really refreshing- she’s not embarrassed to write about all kinds of things that run through people’s minds. She’s famous for being a feminist but when she spoke, she mentioned how she didn’t like being seen as a feminist author or an Indian author or a woman author. She just likes being called an author and so I read her book through an undistorted lens and without any bias. Had I not heard it from her, I would have read the book differently.”

Another book that made it to the discussion was Shadows in the Sun.

There was then a prolonged discussion on the merits and demerits of Audible. How small font size intimidation can turn you into an Audible slave and how perfectly good books can suffer from bad narration. It was also confirmed that all good writers are not necessarily good narrators and that though Audible was ‘a kind of cheating’, it had its benefits especially when it came to reading among older populations.

Watch Shashi Deshpande talk about the English language, content and discontent.

Meditation and Memory @ BYOB Party in Jan 2020 (Part 2)

Krishna enjoyed the book Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama where he speaks about his experiences with teachers like Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, and Ramana Maharshi.
Swami Rama throws up quite a few interesting results on google…on the one hand he is a pioneer of meditation and on the other he has had a controversial reputation
Sreeraj found the title of this book by a Japanese author interesting and hence began to read. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa is speculative mystery fiction. The premise is interesting- disappearing things on an island lead to loss of memory of those things. The Memory Police ensures that not a shred of memory remains on the island; even calendars are removed as time is linked to memory. Even the island forgets that it exists. Ogawa creates a techless dystopia where memory itself is a crime and examines the irrationality posed by extreme surveillance. “I enjoyed the way there is a novel within a novel in this book and how Kafkaesque the premise is,” Sreeraj said.
Mention of Kafka led to discussion of the surrealist writer Murakami’s prose and as usual the BYOB Party readers were divided into two camps- one who were exasperated by Murakami and the other who saw merit in his work and saw benefit in reading in a certain chronology if Murakami was to be done justice too. I personally think Murakami’s short stories are a great introduction to his writing style and to see his true genius The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is a good place to start.
Another dystopia that made it to the discussion was The Wall by John Lancaster, a book that talks about post environmental apocalypse Britain. It was even nominated for the Booker Prize last year.
More books in Part 3.

Feminism, Shakespeare and Joy @ BYOB Party in Jan 2020 (Part 1)

Welcome to the first BYOB Party of the year!
Sravani told us about a book that she had picked up a year ago. She chose to talk about Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi as the book had made a huge impression on her. Dr. Nawal El Saadawi is a radical feminist and has dedicated a large part of her life to fighting against the oppression of women and the ghastly practice of female genital mutilation. More about this inspiring writer here. Firdaus’s story is harrowing and an awakening all at once. It was Saadawi’s meeting with a female prisoner who wished to tell her story that was the spark for this book.

 

Priya is a voracious reader.  She does not remember Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand with much fondness as it took a long while for her to finish with it. She now tries to read at least a book a month. She chose to speak about Romeo and Juliet. “We all know about the book but how many of us have actually read it? When I read the well-known play, I thought it was too romantic, too over the top. Actually I thought had he published this book in 2020, it would have not worked out at all.” Why was this? It wasn’t about getting past the censors but the dialogues are just too sweet and dramatic to be convincing. He’s crossed the threshold of cheesiness- take the balcony scene. Jane Austen works better for me.”

Readers concluded that it was hard to bridge the gap between centuries but Shakespeare is immortal. For a version of Shakespeare that is perhaps closer to the present day, watch this short film Star Cross’d: Romeo and Juliet retold.

Image result for city of joy book amazonPriya also talked about a book that is extremely close to her heart- The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. She found the book from the gratitude wall at Lahe Lahe. The story is set in an Indian slum in Calcutta and tells the tale of a Polish Catholic priest who wants to make a difference. “The biggest takeaway for me from this book was how little people understood about poverty. The story has no distinctive plot and drama as such. Instead, the author tells the stories of the lives of the people of the slum. If there is a villain in the story, it is poverty.” Priya is apprehensive about watching the movie as she enjoyed the book very much.

Watch Dominique Lapierre in conversation with Rajiv Mehrotra here.

More books in Part 2.

Reader Interview of Sreeraj (The Regular) @ BYOB Party in October 2019

We spoke to Sreeraj whose taste in books covers fiction, poetry and translations.

There were always a lot of books and magazines in the house, in both English and Malayalam, as everyone in my family read. Some magazines I remember are Mathrubhumi, Manorajyam, Kumkumam. My favorite author at that point was the detective story writer, Kottayam Pushpanath, and I especially liked his detective character, Pushparaj.

As I grew older, a writer who really influenced me was literary critic, M. Krishnan Nair. His weekly column Sahitya Varaphalam introduced me and many readers back in the 1970s and 80s to world literature. He suggested many rare authors and this kind of curation in pre-internet days was beneficial to learn about unknown books from foreign countries. I was a regular library goer and I still enjoy visiting the British Council, which has a huge collection of Commonwealth literature.

How has reading books synced with your career?

I’ve worked as an editor and right now am in the technical writing space. What I’ve learned from books is that to write well you need to read really good fiction and poetry. Writers like Ruth Padel and W.G Sebald have changed the way I think and write — so much depth and beauty in their writing.

How do you discover the writers you want to read these days?

Well, this is the time of Instapoets and Goodreads. I prefer to trust the judgment of reviewers in literary journals like TLS. I gravitate toward European literature a bit more but I must confess my love for Faulkner.

Faulkner’s prose is stellar. What advice do you have to give people who are attempting to read his work for the first time?

Well, no matter whose work it is –Faulkner, Kundera or Kafka– I prefer to close read the book first and then put it into context. Google is the best to dig deep. Identifying which books to read is far harder than reading itself. Social media offers many choices but sometimes visiting curated sites like Words Without Borders throws open to you a wealth of translations that will enrich your reading experience. Non-fiction titles may be popular but if, for instance, you want to understand psychology, reading short stories and novels by Henry James is more effective.

Preferences- eBooks or print books or audiobooks?

Print books, hands down, though I have noticed that the paper quality of books seems to be compromised these days. I’ve never been able to read an eBook that runs into hundreds of pages. Too much trouble. I’ve noticed that when poets read their poems aloud, it is far more impactful.

Thank you for sharing your book story, Sreeraj!

Reader Interview of Bindu (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in October 2019

We got to speak to Bindu who had been quite disappointed by Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book.

Tell us about your book journey. 

It was academics that led me to read so widely. I did my graduation, post-graduation, M.Phil and Ph.D. in English literature, so I read all the time, be it the classics or contemporary fiction. The ecosystem in which I studied involved books and more books and even batchmate’s book recommendations. It was like falling into a rabbit hole filled with books.

Fiction or non-fiction?

Since I ended up being an academic writer, I continue reading heavy doses of fiction and subject-wise non-fiction.

Do you read multiple books on the same subject?

No, my choices are more random and recommendations matter a lot to me. I work with subject experts so they keep me updated not just on books on a subject but meta-books as well. That’s how I came across an author like Robert Sapolsky, someone I wouldn’t have discovered if it wasn’t for suggestions from others.

Do you read vernacular books?

Not really. No one has recommended any book so strongly. I did read Tamil magazines and stories while in college but the English literature that I was exposed to seemed so far ahead at the time.

What kind of literature do you prefer?

Well, I have been exposed to a variety of subjects including European, American and World Literature. I particularly enjoy the magical realism of writers like Marquez and Rushdie.

Favorite books?

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

Do you read poetry?

Poetry is very cryptic and takes more effort though I must say that I was wonderstruck by Vikram Seth’s poetry in The Golden Gate while it was impossible to finish his magnum opus A Suitable Boy.

Audiobooks or eBooks?

Audiobooks, no doubt. The last book I read or listened to, rather, was Lincoln in the Bardo. It was amazing. There are around 183 characters in the story and what’s available on Audible is the performed version. The main character is narrated by the author himself. I love the audiobook experience as it is completely hands-free and I find an excuse to do the mundane just so that I can get at least an hour’s worth dedicated listening. I’m into the listening culture as I grew up listening to discourses.

How much do you read or listen on average?

I’d say 1-1 ½ hrs every day.

Thank you for sharing your bookish experiences, Bindu!

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party on Jan 18, 2020 (Saturday)

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

Happy 2020! Time for the first BYOB Party of the year and it’s at the Pothi.com office!

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 Jan 18, 2020 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 refreshments and swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue:  #634 (Ground Floor), 5th Main, Indiranagar 2nd Stage · Bangalore

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.

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.

Asuras and Acid Attacks @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 7)

Image result for asura anand neelakantanAnshuman is a mythological history buff, so he had high hopes when he picked up Anand Neelakantan’s Asura:Tale of the Vanquished: The Story of Ravana and His People.

The story is one among several that incorporates the tradition of retelling stories. Anshuman enjoyed the introduction- Ravan is multilayered and not evil incarnate. “Instead of Ramayana, you could call it Ravanayana. There are quite a few glimpses of brilliance in the portrayal of this ruler. He displays great desire to do something for his people,  he sets up his kingdom, meets Mahabali…his flaw is his temper but then why should he control his temper? Why should he become perfect? Why can’t we accept his ten imperfections if he has? What hurt the book would be the editing and the way Ravan becomes the villain that he always had been in more popular versions of the Ramayan.”

Image result for you beneath your skinI read You Beneath Your Skin, a socially relevant book by Damyanti Biswas. The whydunnit takes the reader on a journey through smog-filled Delhi and explores the lives of Anjali Morgan and Jatin Bhatt. Damyanti deals with hard themes with so much panache.  Acid attacks, corruption, poverty, inequality, patriarchy and so many other issues that malign the fabric of the ancient city come into the fore. All author proceeds from the book go to Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.

And with that, we come to the end of the BYOB Party in October 2019.

Startups and Nomads @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 6)

Abhaya spoke about The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz. The book is primarily targeted at CEOs. “It’s a polarizing read,” Abhaya said. “Just go take a peek at Goodreads. Horowitz has a tendency to idolize Silicon Valley and his love for rap music could be jarring for some readers. But he believes in telling like it is as a CEO should. If you do not share information, you are isolating yourself from solutions. Also your credibility increases if you are honest with the people who have been hired to help your business.

“In the over-advised world of startups, Ben manages to address some things no one else would address. And those things that come only from someone who has been in the trenches. Your key customer disappearing in a snap, right before you are about to make a big move, finding cracks in your accounting right before a deal, have the external world explode just when things were beginning to look good. If you stick around long enough, the question is not if these things will happen. Question is when.

I do not agree with everything he says… but I would suggest that every startup founder to read this. This is not a template on how to run your startup and you do not have to make the same choices but it will give you a taste of battles that lie ahead or remind you of those that you have yourself fought.”

You can read Abhaya’s Goodreads’ review here.

Another book Abhaya talked about was The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad a book that throws light on the nomadic people who live in the FATA area. Abhaya enjoyed reading the vignette style short stories that shared a story arc.

Quote from his Goodreads review: ” The author spent large part of his life as a civil servant in the FATA area and seems well acquainted with the area, the tribes, the history. The writing shows his love for the people but there is also a certain detachment. He describes both good and horrific as a neutral observer, never taking a judgmental tone, letting your own reactions and emotions to color the bleak landscape he is describing.

The stories show various facets of life in these areas. We get to see the disruption caused to nomadic lifestyle by the firming up of national borders, the strict tribal codes of behavior, interplay between the government machinery and age-old tribal culture and the status of women in the society.”

More books in Part 7.

Dice, Idleness and Coffins @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 5)

Sandeep read Dice Man by George Cockroft, who used the pseudonym Luke Rhinehart. The premise of the story is fascinating. A psychologist decides to make life decisions by casting dice, thus changing his life from a predictable one to a game of chance. The book has had its share of controversy as it encourages a permissive mentality and the protagonist had disturbing similarities to the author himself. The premise of the book reminded one of the readers of what he called the monkey syndrome, an actual study conducted where a blindfolded monkey throws darts at a newspaper’s financial pages to select a portfolio. Don’t be surprised that the monkey does about as well as an expert.  The best book to read on randomness has to be The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Shravani enjoyed reading the very humorous book Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: A Book for an Idle Holiday by Jerome K. Jerome. This is an old book, published in the nineteenth century and is available at Gutenberg.org. Yet it is fun to read and whimsical in content. “I found this book on one of my tours to Sikkim. I picked up the book at an obscure cafe and what really hit me was this line-‘It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.’  The essayist talks about a host of topics from weather to babies. The idea of witticisms led to a short detour on the writings of Mirza Ghalib and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi.

Apurba picked up the conscientious writing of Nobel Prize Winner Svetlana Alexievich. Boys in Zinc is set in the background of the decade when the Soviet troops engaged in war in Afghanistan. The peace mission had turned ghastly as more and more Russian soldiers, young men, who went to Afghanistan with noble ideals and came back in coffins.

“The book teaches you the nature of war. War is not just soldiers being sent. It’s about young men (many of them during Brezhnev’s premiership didn’t have adequate military training), who went as soldiers, clerks, part of the medical contingent, etc, and the women who were mostly exploited.  The book was a revelation to me. There are things that the interviewees (the book itself is a series of interviews) say, mostly mothers, things like people should not go to war at the drop of a hat- think of the blood, sweat and tears it takes to birth a child. The situation was so pathetic that soldiers were ill-equipped and fought with old weapons and even ate the food that was available to them from the rations of WWII.

“People on the ground did not understand what was happening. There was a lot of deception- when the coffins came in, people were declared dead, not that they had been killed. How could healthy young soldiers just fall down and die? When we are young, we are taught to die for the nation but war is senseless,” Apurba said.

Svetlana Alexeivich’s Nobel Lecture is one to read. Check it out.

The general consensus was that war could only be fought by those who were heavily invested in the geographical place in question.  While war is senseless and endlessly repetitive as lessons are never learnt, one way of implementing systemic change would be to make sure that kingmakers do not shy away from the war effort. On a completely tangential note, the Kerala government school system has succeeded because teachers send their own children to these schools and hence invest heavily in teaching well.

More books in Part 6.