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:

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“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.

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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.

Mental Health and Milk Teeth @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 2)

Shruti talked about two books – Everything here is Beautiful by Mira. T. Lee and Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale.

Image result for everything here is beautiful amazonEvery Here is Beautiful is a stunning debut,” Shruti said. The story is about two sisters, Miranda, the older sister, and Lucia who is schizophrenic. In spite of her precarious mental health, Lucia lives a life of no compromise and it is Miranda who tries to help her sister in time of need. The novel, which featured as a Top 10 debut, talks about a variety of issues from love, mental health, marriage to immigration and displacement.

“It seems autobiographical,” Shruti said. “The experiences outlined in the book are so real that it can not be otherwise.” Mira T. Lee is familiar with mental health issues in her family. She’s also invested heavily in research.

“This is one of the better books on mental health, I have been told. The book particularly interested me as the author talks about schizophrenia impacting young mothers. It’s amazing that many of us can wake up in the morning without feeling depressed and be able to spend time with our children with a sense of joy. You just feel blessed,” Shruti said.

Theater is an excellent medium when it comes to educating the public about mental health disorders. For those of you in Bangalore on June 14, you may want to catch a play called Broken Images starring the talent Shabana Azmi, written by Girish Karnad and directed by Alyque Padamsee. The theme of the play centers on schizophrenia.

Image result for milk teeth amazonAnother book Shruti found fabulous was Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale. The story hosts a number of parallel plots. Tenants, landlords and developers each have their own agenda at a time when the landscape of Bombay was changing drastically.  The book does share the theme of real estate in Mumbai with Adiga’s Last Man in Tower but there the similarity ends.

The conversation moved onto the delight of children’s books these days and the beauty of native stories brilliantly translated by writers like A. K. Ramajunan and Arunava Sinha. It was debatable whether the English language could provide the range of experience that native languages were able to.

More books in Part 3.

Sieges and Whales @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 1)

Image result for Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City amazonThe best thing about the BYOB Party is that you discover new writers. “What better way to escape from reality than by reading sci-fi and fantasy?” Sudharsan said as he kicked off the discussion talking about Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by  K. J. Parker (incidentally that is a pseudonym. The author’s real name is Tom Holt, a secret he managed to keep for 17 years), a cult fantasy author. What makes Parker’s books so unique is that he goes into the period in question with mind-boggling precision and he avoids magic (he does use magic in his short stories though), the usual staple of fantasy writing. You only have to read his account on sieges to glean the depth of his research. Some of the prominent themes in his works are the use and misuse of power and technology.

In this book, a siege is approaching and the city is ill-prepared. Sieges were a way of life in the Middle Ages and civilization was built in the making of fortresses and the breaking of them. It is up to dishonest Orhan to save his people from slaughter. “I really enjoyed this work,” Sudharsan said. “It is just so different from conventional fantasy reads.”

You can listen to the author speak about his writing journey here.

Image result for billion dollar whale amazonAnother book that Sudharsan picked up was totally unrelated to fantasy —Billion Dollar Whale by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. This book hailed as the story of a modern Gatsby was a huge success. It was named Best Book of 2018 by the Financial Times and Fortune. The book chronicles the 1MDB scam with its roots in Malaysia, spreading out its tentacles to turn into a white-collar crime on a global scale.

,Jho Low, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, took the help of Goldman Sachs and others to siphon money out of an investment fund. Low was a flamboyant character and didn’t hide the money he made- he threw humongous parties and financed Hollywood movies like The Wolf of Wall Street. In spite of facing criminal charges, Jho Low remains a fugitive. If you are a fan of the biggest heist story of this century, you may want to read this book.

“It’s interesting to read about how power and money work,” Sudharsan said. Watch the writer dissect this plot here.

The question came up whether the book was banned. Not in India anyway though India does have a tradition of banning specific books. Take The Polyester Prince:  The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani by Hamish McDonald, The Descent of Air India by Jitender Bhargava and Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. More banned books mentioned here.

More books in Part 2.

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party on May 18, 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 at the Pothi.com office on May 18,2019.

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:  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.

Reader Interview of Ayan (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019

We caught up with Ayan about his reading experiences.

Tell us about your book journey.

My first memory of books is reading The Fountainhead when I was in the twelfth grade. Another book I secretly read during my exams was Catch 22 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve always enjoyed good mystery thrillers and comedies. Particularly loved The World According to Garp.

It’s only recently that I have started non-fiction. I don’t naturally take to these books but since it helps in team management and leadership it really helps. Books like How to Win Friends and Influence People are a good place to start. I like to keep myself on top of things as you can’t experiment with a team. It’s too risky.

When do you make time to read?

I set aside a specific time in the mornings to read or learn something new via an online course.  Right now, I’m reading The Pillars of Earth by Ken Follet.

Does bingeing on Netflix series affect your reading?

Definitely. If you watch a series for three-four hours, that’s the last straw. You’ll be too tired to read after that.

Kindle or print books?

I understand the benefits of Kindle but I read mostly online, on my phone or laptop. It’s much cheaper and far easier to find books online.

Was great talking to you, Ayan!

 

Audiobooks, Marathons and Natural History @ BYOB Party in Feb 2019 (Part 7)

Image result for born a crimeSankharshan spoke about a stand-up comedian who faced the heat of controversy in India recently– Trevor Noah who wrote Born a Crime. Since Sankharshan has a long commute to work these days, he invests in audiobooks: “It works out fine if the narrator has a sense of humor and if he knows how to breathe when he talks.”

Trevor Noah has the perfect audio voice and his book arrived at a time when Sankharshan was trying to understand more about how geographies can determine the history of political action. The memoir of someone whose very birth was a crime tells you a lot about the geography in which he was born. Today Trevor Noah is the host of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show and a popular stand-up comedian but the backstory of his radical candor was the hard reality having a Dutch father and a Xhosa mother during the Apartheid era in South Africa.

Image result for Let Your Mind Run: Thinking Your Way to VictoryApurba also talked about an audiobook, the first time at the BYOB Party that we had two audiobooks in a row. Let Your Mind Run: Thinking Your Way to Victory by Deena Kastor, Olympian runner, is a New York Times Best Seller. Kastor has faced her share of hardship. She was on the brink of burnout when she met her coach Joe Vigil who taught her the art of self-care as an essential component of securing long-distance running wins.

Says Apurba, “I loved listening to Deena Kastor talk about how she shifted from sprints to long-distance running. Although I hate self-help books, I could identify with Kastor’s positivity. She learned not to beat herself for not reaching a goal and empathized with herself as running is hard work and involves many sacrifices such as eating right and discipline.”

Apurba mentioned how she almost gave up on a marathon. When she congratulated herself on how far she had come, she was able to finish the marathon. “Many times, we all berate ourselves even when we all have come such a long way. We need to appreciate ourselves more and see how far we have come.”

It’s not the first time we have talked about running at the BYOB Party. Murakami and his marathons are a hot topic. Many writers are good runners. Besides Murakami, Erich Segal was another writer who ran the Boston Marathon every year.

Image result for Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian SubcontinentAbhaya talked about Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent, the first definitive natural history of the Indian subcontinent, by Pranay Lal.

Lal covers facts. Although he is a biochemist, his deep interest in the geological narrative of India helps create a compelling read. He talks about how the Ellora caves are hewn from igneous rock, Bengaluru’s relatively more pleasant climate (at least until recently) being the result of tectonic events that took place 88 million years ago and the Rajasaurus.

“The book has risen from curiosity and a sense of play. The timescale is much bigger than Harari’s Sapiens but the book doesn’t leave you with lingering larger than life questions, only the pure unadulterated joy of finding things out. So now when I visit Chitradurga or Lal Bagh, I look at the earth beneath my feet differently. A children’s version of the natural history and geography of India would also be interesting, Indica’s detailed bibliography and colorful layout make for such a fun read that I also hope for something like this for Indian philosophy,” Abhaya mused.

Watch this interview with Pranay Lal.

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