High School, Africa and Omens @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 3)

Image result for perks of being a wallflower bookSanchit spoke about how difficult and traumatic it had been to read Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. “I only wanted a light read,” he said. “But all that romanticism and capitalism blew my mind away and not in a good way. I needed a break from it.” That’s why he ended up picking up the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. “The movie is good too. You know the one starring the Percy Jackson guy and Emma Stone?”

The novel is written in a series of diary entries (what is known as the epistolary novel) by an introvert high school boy called Charlie. Charlie’s letters are thoughtful and his rambling entries talk about the suicide of his friend and the death of his aunt.  Charlie’s life changes when he befriends Patrick and his sister Sam. “I could identify with Charlie as I was shy too,” Sanchit said. The novel talks about love, drama, emotion and friendship.

“I just love the way he describes simple things like Sam’s eyes: “Sam has brown hair and very, very pretty green eyes. The kind of green that doesn’t make a big deal about itself.  Isn’t that amazing?”

Incidentally, in case anyone is still filled with trepidation at the thought of Ayn Rand, it would be a good idea to check out an Introduction to Objectivism and books that are far lighter than Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, some of which have been added to this Ayn Rand book list.

Anand spoke about several books. Although he thought about mentioning Italo Calvino literature, he had second thoughts and read to the group instead two passages, one from the incredibly original short story writer Lydia Davis and the other from the marvelous Ben Okri.

Image result for lydia davis collected storiesExcerpt from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis:

If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English-language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment in his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last, he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck.

Image result for the famished road amazonExcerpt from The Famished Road by Ben Okri

In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry. In that land of beginnings spirits mingled with the unborn. We could assume numerous forms. Many of us were birds. We knew no boundaries. There was much feasting, playing and sorrowing. We feasted much because of the beautiful terrors of eternity. We played much because we were free. And we borrowed much because there were always those amongst us who had just returned from the world of the living. They had returned inconsolable for all the love they had left behind, all the suffering they hadn’t redeemed, all that they hadn’t understood, and for all that they had barely begun to learn before they were drawn back to the land of origins.

They had returned inconsolable for all the love they had left behind, all the suffering they hadn’t redeemed, all that they hadn’t understood, and for all that they had barely begun to learn before they were drawn back to the land of origins.

Image result for things fall apart amazonGeorge has always been impressed by Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece Things Fall Apart. It was the first book he chose as reading material for a two-person long-distance book club. Things fall apart for the great wrestler Okonkwo when he kills a man and goes into exile. On his return, however, his world has changed. Christianity had entered his community and the world as he knew it had fallen on its head with this clash of civilizations. “Reading this book was like drinking a glass of extremely pure water. Pristine,” George said.

You must watch the stalwart Chinua Achebe speak about his book here.

Image result for good omens book amazon“A lighter book I picked up was Good Omens,” George said, “the result of a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. What started as a short story by Gaiman was later expanded upon by Terry Pratchett resulting in a spoof of the horror movie Omen with its delightful casting of angels and demons, agents on Earth replicating a Cold War situation leading up to the last days on Earth.”

I found a delightful article on how Neil Gaiman collaborated with Terry Pratchett. Read it!

More books in Part 4.

Love, War, Gore and Utopia @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 2)

Image result for bitter honeymoon amazonWe started the BYOB Party talking about whether the drives within us to succeed are to be harnessed and overcome or fulfilled. Ayush moved on to the realm of romance. A friend challenged him to write a humorous love story, and during his research he realized that most love stories were badly written, displaying sexism and a very black and white unrealistic understanding of characters. Except for one book which was hidden at the end of a shelf.

Bitter Honeymoon and Other Stories by Alberto Moravia was one such book. The book talks about the need for physical intimacy for love to happen and also how this very same intimacy can lead to problems in love. “I enjoyed the intelligent exposition of love,” Ayush said.

Image result for monarch in the glen comptonTo understand more about writing humor, Ayush picked up a book called Monarch in the Glen by Compton Mackenzie, a British novelist who wrote over a hundred novels, plays, and biographies. The story chronicles the evils of capitalism and revolves around Chester Royde, an American millionaire who goes to Scotland and an ensuing war declared on a bunch of hikers. The hilarious laugh riot has been adapted into a TV series as well.

Image result for dr jekyll and mr hyde amazon bookPrerana is no fan of classics but she took a chance with the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and she did not regret it. The author explores the notion of the double,  a popular theme in the nineteenth century (take Dostoevsky’s The Double and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Stevenson explored the theme of the Victorian gentleman’s split personality. Stevenson speaks about the life of a doctor in those times and the ills of the society that drove him into personality disorder. Someone in the group reminisced that the story resembled that of the Incredible Hulk and mentioned the Lucifer effect, a psychological term that explains how good people turn evil. You might want to know more about William Brodie who inspired this tale.

Image result for seeking begumpura amazon bookPriya spoke about an interesting book called Seeking Begumpura: The Social Vision of Anticaste Intellectuals by Gail Omvedt. This book features versions of the Indian utopia. It was a bhakti radical called Ravidas, a tanner, who envisioned a place called Begumpura, a casteless city. Omvedt brings to light progressive voices from medieval India like Chokhamela, Janabai, Kabir, Ravidas, Tukaram, the Kartabhajas, Phule, Iyothee Thass, Pandita Ramabai, Periyar and Ambedkar.

Image result for time traveler's wife amazon book

Priya returned to the love story theme when she mentioned a chronological tale called The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The story revolves around a strange relationship where the husband is able to travel through time since he suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically adjusts itself, causing him to go to the past or the future. You can watch Niffenegger speak about her book in interviews Part 1 and Part 2.

More books in Part 3 next week.

Rest and Leisure @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 1)

This time, we hosted the BYOB Party with Meera Iyer at The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit organization set up in 1984 with a mandate to protect and conserve India’s vast natural, built and cultural heritage.

Image result for alex kim restSamarth kicked off the BYOB Party with a much-needed book called Rest. In times like these when our overworked burnt-out lives are governed by timetables, schedules, logbooks and to-do lists, Rest, a book by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a Silicon Valley consultant, helps us understand that work and rest are equal partners in the success of an individual.  Leisure is underrated and ‘Deliberate rest’ is the keyword if you want to achieve more. Children and adults should learn the pleasures that come with being unplugged and simple delights such as napping, walking and playing should be the norm, not the exception.

Samarth had a lot to say about this gem. The book revolves around the single theme of high-performing individuals and what sets them apart. You all know how Malcolm Gladwell talked about the 10,000-hr Rule in his book Outliers. Pang describes how concerted effort and non-effort can actually get you to a more successful zone. The role of leisure in high performing individuals is often ignored. We worry more about the absence of work and underestimate how vital leisure can be to the creative process. We generally squeeze as much time out of leisure as possible in the name of career advancement and consider leisure to be a time-consuming nuisance. This rationing of leisure would have cost us great achievers like Darwin, Stephen King, Da Vinci and Newton. For them, work and play were complementary.  Leisure gave deep satisfaction and they partook of it in the form of long walks and socializing. They made great contributions not in spite of leisure but because of it. The long hours they spent in silent contemplation were vital to their creative breakthroughs.

The book also focuses on research done by prominent people about the creative process, incorporating inputs from experimental psychology, neuroscience, philosophical theorizing, etc.  Says Samarth, “It’s wrong to say that high achieving individuals run on hormones and drive alone. They know when to stop and take rest. Pang touches on ordinary people like us too. How do we handle long hours in bureaucratic settings and the threat of being relegated to low-paying jobs and underemployment if we have underperformed? The book offers no prescriptions. It’s not a self-help book but it is helpful in the goal to help us lead a good life.”

Check out this website for interviews with Alex Pang and more about Deliberate rest.

More books coming up in Part 2.

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party @ INTACH on Aug 10, 2019 (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 INTACH on August 10,2019.

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 May 18, 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:

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, 245, 9th A Main Rd · Bengaluru

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 INTACH

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 Ayush (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in May 2019

We spoke to Ayush, an avid reader.

Describe your journey as a reader.

I used to read a great deal of children’s literature. In fact, I was gifted books for any achievements I made at school or at home. So because of this encouragement, reading became a staple in my life. I spent a great deal of time during my formative years in the library reading different genres. It was when I started reading literary fiction that I realized that I could partake of a huge palate of ideas. I write and my inspiration has always been fiction.

Your favorite genre.

I have a soft spot for crime fiction.  And I am guilty of reading cheap romantic literature.

Why is it bad to read romantic literature? 

Well, the stories have no realistic premise whatsoever.

eBook or Paperback?

I don’t mind either though the benefit of reading a paperback is that you can gift it to someone once you read it!

Favorite literary fiction author?

Undoubtedly, Virginia Woolf.  I love her writing- In her book To the Lighthouse, she describes transitions. I still get the chills thinking about it. She is relevant even today, particularly her feminist work. Another writer I admire is Amitav Ghosh.

Reading habits?

Erratic. Luckily I get a chance to read a great deal even at the workplace. So I juggle reading multiple books and multiple genres at a time on my Kindle and paperbacks.

Do you finish the books you start?

Always.

Even if the books are bad?

Particularly if they are bad. I can’t start a new book until I finish the ones I started.

Audiobooks?

Haven’t tried them yet although my friends have recommended the audiobook experience.

Favorite books?

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barret Browning

Thanks, Ayush! Was really great talking to you.

 

Mind and Maverick @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 7)

Image result for lolita book amazonSudeep spoke about Lolita by Nabakov, a book he has mixed emotions about. He appreciates that Nabakov succeeded in taking up such a challenge- turning the abhorrent actions of a pedophile into beautiful text and elaborating on obsession, lust and delusion. “Russian authors have always delighted me,” Sudeep said. The subsequent discussion about ‘Lolita’ covered a book called Reading Lolita in Teheran by Azar Nafisi and the realization that pedophilia is a staple in many cultures in the world. Read this essay about why reading Lolita can be so difficult.

Image result for The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science amazonBut Sudeep was more taken by a book about meditation called The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science by Culadasa John Yates, Immergut Matthew and Jeremy Graves.

“It’s as comprehensive a book on meditation as you will ever find.  The book provides a step by step guide to meditation and incorporates Buddhist teachings, neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Some things the authors mention include the importance of daily meditation, how to stabilize attention, settling distractions and building attention, challenges a meditator faces.”

You can listen to Culadasa to get a brief introduction to the subject of how to calm your mind.

Ralph fancied a book about how to get inside your customer’s mind. Since in India, a large number of entrepreneurs are into the services industry, this topic sparked off a long discussion about the effectiveness of  UI, communication secrets, climbing the ladder, etc.

Image result for Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual WorkplaceAri picked a non-fiction book on similar lines called Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace by the successful Brazilian entrepreneur, Ricardo Semler. “Semler’s company is the most democratic, the kind of place where future bosses are interviewed by existing employees. When he inherited the company from his father, he decided to give the employees more of a say. They arranged the office with the decor they desired. They even decided on their own salaries. I genuinely feel that micro-level practices like these will benefit larger companies.”

You may want to hear a Ted Talk by Ricardo Semler.

And with that, we come to the end of the BYOB Party in May!

The Fabulist and the Feminist @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 6)

Ayush spoke about Foxy Aesop by Suniti Namjoshi published by Zubaan, a feminist publishing house. The story playfully creates a dialogue between Aesop and a feminist narrator who disagrees with him on many counts. Ayush read out a beautiful passage from the book:

Image result for foxy aesop amazon

“A few weeks ago when I was at the Temple of Hera I heard an old woman beseeching the goddess. Noisy there.Other worshippers were imploring the goddess for whatever they wanted – children, no more children, money, even more money and so forth, There were street sellers selling fast food, flowers, bribes for the goddess—offerings, whatever the supplicants thought would work. Somehow the cries of the old woman got through to Hera. Perhaps the old woman had a penetrating voice? Who knows? She did not look particularly meritorious.

“Well what do you want?”inquired Hera. “Health. Wealth. Beauty? Whatever it is I will give you a little as you have been going on at me for a long time. “

“O glorious goddess Hera,”the old woman said plopping on her knees, “What I would like is a measure of luck.”

“Granted,” said the goddess, “From henceforth, whenever you go outdoors,if it is raining, it will stop raining.”

“I am grateful,” replied the old woman. “But please couldn’t I be a little luckier than that?”

The old woman was pushing her luck but the goddess was patient.

Every time you go out, you’ll find a few coppers lying on the ground,’ the goddess told her.

“Oh thank you,” cried the woman. ‘And might I have a tiny bit more of luck please?

‘Now what is it?” asked the goddess. She sounded exasperated.

Aesop pauses and looks at me. I nearly intervened to warn the stupid woman , but then thought better of it.

I frown at Aesop for calling the woman ‘stupid’.

What I mean is irritating goddessesis not a good idea,” Aesop explains. He continues, “Anywaythe old woman persisted, ‘Could the coppers turn out to be gold please?’

Oh you are a greedy woman!” scolded Hera . ‘Just for that I’m taking away the luck I’ve given you. Instead, when you step out, it will always rain.’

Sorry great goddess, said the old woman humbly and disappeared into the crowd.  But I’ve heard since that she has done well for herself. She’s much in demand as a rainmaker.”

 

Image result for if on a winter's night a traveler amazonSuniti Namjoshi has worked in the capacity of officer in the Indian Administrative Service and has also held several academic posts in India and abroad. You can learn more about her feminist perspective here.

Ayush also spoke about the multi-layered book If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. The story talks about the search for the complete story. The reader’s search for the story leads to a number of narratives-  a detective adventure, a romance, a satire, an erotic story, a diary and a quest.

Another book that was discussed during the BYOB Party was The Art of the Good Life  by Rolf Dobelli, a book of 52 shortcuts for better decision-making skills. This book seems to be a non-fiction favorite and has made the rounds several times.

More books in Part 7.

Orphan Trains, Wars and Atheism @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 5)

We got talking about the bestselling book Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. The book talks about the real life orphan trains that ran between 1854 and 1929.  These train carried destitute children from the east coast to the midwest where they would be put up for adoption. The story chronicles a ninety-one-year-old protagonist with a hidden past. Kline explores the many dynamics of adoption and foster care in the early twenty-first century. The book was Kline’s fifth and a book that took the book club world by storm.

Image result for the forever war amazon

Another interesting book discussed was The Forever War by Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner and MIT faculty Joe Haldeman. It’s an interesting sci-fi book that explores the premise of what the US would do if it picked a never-ending war with aliens. A conscript from Vietnam himself, Haldeman chronicles the story of Private William Mandella who is to fight in a thousand-year conflict. Time dilation causes a strange predicament for when Private Mandella returns the Earth will have aged far more than he has.

Listen to Joe Haldeman here.

Image result for hitch 22 amazonJoshua expounded on a memoir called Hitch 22 by the renowned atheist and philosopher Christopher Hitchens. “He’s the kind of writer whom you want to emulate as he is so erudite. He inspires you to read as he is well-read himself. He wrote Hitch 22 after he was diagnosed with Stage 4, esophageal cancer. He has touched on some controversies like support for  America’s actions in Iraq, something he regretted later on. The reason for his support could be that wanted an end to fanaticism and since he visited all the conflict zones he talked about, he wasn’t just intellectualizing about crucial policy issues. He was against totalitarianism in any form.”

Joshua advised us to savor the poetry and philosophy of Hitchen’s many debates, especially this one with Stephen Fry. Hitchens was also an ardent supporter and friend of Salman Rushdie.

In the memoir, Hitchens speaks effortlessly about his childhood, the relationship he had with his mother, his philosophies and misgivings. It is a book that offers much.

The subject of atheism led to the idea of a new kind of World Order, a world with new Gods. The book American Gods by Neil Gaiman came to mind.

More books in Part 6.

India and World War II @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 4)

Image result for farthest fieldApurba enjoyed reading Farthest Field, a book by Raghu Karnad, Girish Karnad’s son. Incidentally, Girish Karnad the veteran writer passed away today as I write this post.

Farthest Field is a nonfiction epic that tells the little known story of India’s role in WWII. There were over 2.5 million men who served in the Indian Army and though the war in Europe was fought on principles like freedom, there was a lot of hypocrisy on show. The Indian soldier who laid down his life was given a raw deal. Raghu Karnad had dismissed the pictures of three soldiers that hung on the wall of his ancestral house. It was only after his grandmother, a potential source of narration, had passed away that he learned about the lives of the characters, Manek, Ganny and Bobby, within that frame. The stories of these characters also weave the stories of Europe, North Africa, West Asia and Indo-China in those heady days of war.

“I couldn’t help thinking about the Bengal Famine too, in around the 1940s, and the discrimination that soldiers of color faced in the American army,” Apurba said about the marginalization that was the norm back in those days. She also advised us to go on historical walks like the Bangalore walks.

Watch Raghu Karnad speak about his book here.

Another book that was mentioned in connection with the war was Panther Red One: The Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot by Air Marshal S. Raghavendran, a member of the small group of future fighter pilots who joined the Indian Air Force in 1947. Jaya spoke about a book called The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Dr. Yasmin Khan, again a book about the largest volunteer army in history, the Indian army in pre-independent India. In this book, the reader learns about how the world war created seismic changes in the subcontinent. Another book this reminded me of was Narrow Road to the Deep North, a horrifying story of the building of an impossible railroad.

Image result for 84 charing cross road bookDiwakar was particularly impressed by the sweet book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a memoir detailing twenty years of correspondence between the author from New York and Frankie, a bookseller in London. In days like these when writing letters is almost impossible and postal services, which were once reliable, have now fallen into disuse in many parts of the world, a book about letters has its charm. Shanina mentioned how she writes letters to her little niece as their own secret way of communication, a charming story in its own right.

Helene Hanff was a scriptwriter with financial problems. She started writing letters to Frank in her quest for antiquarian books. It was the post World War scenario and UK was battling food shortages. Hanff began sending food packets to her new found friends. The letters are unique as they move from the breezy American style to the formal British one. The book was wildly popular and Hanff made a fortune when her book was adapted to radio, theater and a movie. It was her royalties from the book that helped her visit the UK for the first time. She has chronicled this in her second book- The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

Sticking to the World War II theme, Diwakar spoke about another interesting book that gave a new perspective of the war. Most books feature the Allied perspective and this one called First and the Last by Adolf Galland is a book from the Axis point of view. In a very dry and meticulous manner, Galland talks about war as nothing but statistics being raked up. Even personal loss means just another number in the war. Galland looks at how genius war strategy went horribly wrong.

Image result for seven years in tibet amazon bookSushmith spoke the book Seven Years in Tibet, a memoir by Heinrich Harrer about his brilliant escape across the Himalayas and into Tibet. He was in the Himalayas when World War II broke out and then he was imprisoned by the British. He fled to Lhasa, the forbidden city and became friend and guide to the Dalai Lama who was then just a child. The book has been adapted into a movie too.

Read more about this unique friendship here: https://tricycle.org/magazine/born-tibet/

 

Education and Yes @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 3)

Image result for educated tara westoverMichelle spoke about an acclaimed book called Educated by Tara Westover. The book is a memoir detailing Westover’s Mormon upbringing in Idaho. Her father is a fundamentalist and does not trust schools or anything imposed by the government. Her mother is a local healer. Her brother brutalizes her. It’s not a pretty story. In spite of all this, Westover understands that her family’s ideals do not correspond to her own. She finds solace in education, something that had been denied to her but which she later actively pursued, ending up as a Ph.D. holder from Cambridge. Her story talks about a US that is denied education and is okay with it.

“When I read the book, it hit me how much upbringing counts as it influences the very choices we make,” Michelle said.

“Choices, numberless as grains of sand, had layered and compressed, coalescing into sediment, then into rock, until all was set in stone.”

“I was also inspired to start journaling to make sense of things. Tara doubted herself but it was her journals that showed her that she was not to be blamed. Something was wrong with the world she was made to grow up in. Some more quotes that Michelle read out:

“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”

“I could trust myself: That there was something in me, something like what was in the prophets, and that it was not male or female, not old or young; a kind of worth that was inherent and unshakable.”

Watch this conversation between Bill Gates and Tara Westover (recipient of the Gates Scholarship): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7Y6Udf_Nzo.

Image result for year of yes amazonSticking to the non-fiction theme, Shanina from the Netherlands spoke about the books that she liked- Atomic Habits, The Alchemist, The Power of Now and others. The book she wanted to share, however, was none of these. It was a light book she had read a year ago by the inspiring Shonda Rimes, an American television producer, television and film writer, and author best known as creator of the television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal.

Shanina chose to talk about Rhime’s very personal book called Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.

It’s hard to believe that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert who would say no to everything but that was why she took up the challenge of starting to yes, even when she was scared. She worked hard to pull herself out of her comfort zone.

“I love the way she writes, as though she is talking to me,” Shanina said. “It inspires you to say yes to a lot of things you weren’t brave enough to say yes to before.”

Watch Rhimes’ Ted Talk on saying yes.

More books in Part 4.