Mise en abyme, Polymaths and Trains @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 6)

Image result for the counterfeiters amazon primeSamarth got the BYOB Party back into fiction mode by deconstructing The Counterfeiters by French novelist André Gide. This immersive book hosts multiple characters and points of view as well as various plotlines including Mise en abyme (a novel in a novel) and is considered as the precursor to the nouveau roman. In this philosophical novel, the real counterfeiters are not the makers of false coins but the writers themselves – Édouard and Gide himself.  The book deals with identity, the nature of truth, alter ego, deception and the Parisian culture of the time.

You may be interested in reading Andre Gide’s  Nobel Prize winner’s acceptance speech here.

Image result for the man without qualities amazonRakesh explained how difficult his quest for a definite favorite book has been but he finally did find one, while on a quest for the thickest book- an obscure and prestigious book of ideas called The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. It’s a book of ideas that he keeps going back to, the story of the Viennese Ulrich who was a soldier, a polymath and sceptic. The book is populated by emotional and logical characters and the ideas that percolate through a single chapter of the book gives enough for you to chew on for days. Rakesh read out a passage:

“At this moment he wished to be a man without qualities. But this is probably not so different from what other people sometimes feel too. After all, by the time they have reached the middle of their life’s journey few people remember how they managed to arrive at themselves, at their amusements, their point of view, their wife, character, occupation and successes, but they cannot help feeling that not much is likely to change anymore. It might even be asserted that they have been cheated, for one can nowhere discover any sufficient reason for everything’s coming about as it has. It might just have well as turned out differently. The events of people’s lives have, after all, only to the last degree originated in them, having generally depended on all sorts of circumstances such as the moods, the life or death of quite different people, and have, as it were, only at the given point of time come hurrying towards them.”

Tempting book indeed!

Image result for last train to istanbul amazonAnshuman got an interesting fiction called the Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin, a screenwriter whose experience with cinematic narrative seeps into her novels. The title reminds you of Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh but there the similarity ends. Kulin explores multiple themes like ethnicity, the politics of migration, the impossibility of love and the irony of human situations. The plot is pretty complex – a Muslim girl falls in love with a Jewish boy and since this is faux pas, they flee to Europe just when Nazi flags fly high and become part of an elaborately planned escape. Definitely a page-turner.

More books discussed in Part 7.

 

Going Organic and Mollusks Who Are Shy @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 5)

Image result for silent spring amazonRalph initiated a dialogue on environmental pollution and the inevitability of human beings at the receiving end of their own pesticide practices. The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is a seminal work about human folly. The book received a great deal of attention, provoking chemical lobbies to try banning it. “It’s a hard book to read,” Ralph said, “Almost like a horror story.”  Watch this. Carson predicted global warming and has been credited for bringing in the ecology back into the consciousness of the people. The discussion ensued about how paganism and worship of trees and rivers were actually strict ecological checks that we are better off following. Organic certification itself is a dicey issue; how much of what we eat is poisonous? Most of it, apparently. Since everyone is a stakeholder- individuals and the government- incentives to create healthier alternatives should be encouraged but the situation on the ground right now is very bleak.

Image result for the soul of an octopusamazonSanjana stuck to the natural theme and spoke about The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist and writer.  The book deals with her experiences with her favorite molluscs, octopi in closure and ones in the wild.  She doesn’t anthropomorphize the octopus but the octopus and all animals play a pivotal role in her life- she sees them as creatures with souls and her friends. Her octopi have names like Athena and Emily Dickinson and distinct personalities, some are shy and probably extend a tentacle to you in greeting and then vanish while the more aggressive ones take you around their environment. Octopi have extremely complex nervous systems and unique reproductive destinies (death comes quickly after their eggs are laid), squirt ink playfully, change color and camouflage(mostly those who are in the wild are adept at this) and open locks. This is a unique book with an extraordinarily compassionate and curious writer. You can watch Sy Montgomery speak about her friendship with animals here. She just might change your mind about mollusks for good.

Not surprisingly both these avid environmentalists are women.

More books in Part 6.

The Checklist and Simple Rules @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 4)

Image result for the checklist amazonAalok got two books, both by the same author- Atul Gawande, a renowned Indian origin American physician. We’ve talked about his books at the BYOB Party before. In spite of all the advances in medicine, there is still room for error and this can be easily avoided, says Gawande in his book The Checklist Manifesto. How? By following a simple tool like a checklist, a method used by people employed in industries as distant from medicine as construction. Many small cautionary steps could make the difference between life and death – hand washing, taking a tally of the instruments and something as simple as having the team members introduce themselves could improve productivity in hospitals. Hospital tales followed about how tiny omissions wreaked havoc post-surgery and skewed patient-doctor ratios led to the checklist implementation having failed in India.

Image result for being mortal amazonThe other book he talked about was Being Mortal which deals with how a doctor’s and caregiver’s role is not only to extend lives but provide a meaningful extension of life. Quality of life is often ignored in an attempt to save the patient and the soul is quashed. While making life decisions, the patient should be consulted as well if indeed it can be done. So while one patient may be emotionally ready to undergo a risky surgery that could leave him paraplegic, another patient may not feel the same way? So what is the next best option? We see this kind of discussion even in Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air when the husband and wife in the book discuss important choices. An inevitable death is no excuse to avoid dialogue. However painful, these conversations that the doctor has with the patient and the patient has with her caregivers can alter the final moments of a patient’s life.

Image result for simple rulesamazonA question arose about whether human error that could be countered with a checklist only meant that medicine was better off with more automation but Deepak countered this argument with the book Simple Rules by Kathy and Sull, Donald Eisenhardt. The environment that Gawande talked about had unstructured complexity, so in such a case manual feedback is essential and mere automation and algorithms will not do.  Deepak mentioned various real-time situations and talked about simulations of schools of fish to throw light on how to navigate complexities in the world by adhering to a few simple rules. Go to this link to understand more about Simple Rules.

 

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.