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

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

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

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

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

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

More books in Part 6.

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

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

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

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

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

More books in Part 5.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

More books in Part 4.

Caring @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 2)

Image result for Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral EducationImagine a world where Care is the guiding principle and Compassion the moral compass?

This is what Indira spoke about and this set the tone of the entire BYOB Party. She chose a non-fiction that she considers to be her Bible- a book called Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education by Nel Noddings. It’s a difficult book if you don’t understand philosophy. The book talks about the basis of moral action, how altruism can be acquired and how when it comes to caring, the act of caring and the memory of being cared for is crucial. This book is important as it emphasizes the importance of moral sensitivity- an ethics based only on rationale is not the need of the hour.

Indira laid out the basic tenant of Western philosophy that Kant had arrived at, a reasonable stand at the time, that Reason was Supreme and Emotion only clouded one’s Logic. Women were hardly ever given the benefit of the doubt and were seen as creatures who could hardly behave dispassionately. The question is how one can respond to a child without basing her response on the immediacy of the environment. Noddings doesn’t advocate moral relativism; she builds her theory entirely based on care.

“This commitment to care and to define oneself in terms of the capacity to care represent a feminine alternative to Kohlberg’s “stage six” morality. At stage six, the moral thinker transcends particular moral principles by appealing to the highest principle – one that allows a rearrangement of the hierarchy in order to give proper place-value to human love, relief and suffering. But women, as ones-caring, are not so much concerned with the rearrangement of priorities among principles; they are concerned, rather, with maintaining and enhancing caring.”

To explain the idea, Indira mentioned the biblical sacrifice of Abraham, a moral and ethical dilemma. There are many such examples across religions, but could a woman ever hold her child hostage to some supra-ethical maxim? Even if she did, it would be the exception more than the rule.

However, Nodding is by no means denouncing Kant as his theory of ethics stands on solid ground. The conversation moved in various directions. Take the case of mothers who confronted the demons of their terrorist children, the Eichman trial, the Bhagavad Gita, Buddhism and the killing fields of Cambodia. Phew!

Watch this to understand more about Kant and his categorical imperative. If you want a more humane response to ethics, you may like to read a bit about Martha Nussbaum, also known as the philosopher of feelings.

This quote by Kurt Vonnegut is a great way of summarizing this session:

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

More books in Part 3.

 

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party on Sep 15, 2018 (Saturday)

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

RSVP on Meetup OR RSVP on Eventbrite

BYOB Party is back at Pothi.com’s office this time and on a Saturday.

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 September 15 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 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.

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.

Ten-thousand Hour Rule and Hot Streak @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 1)

This time we hosted the BYOB Party with JustBooks at the cozy JustBooks library, Sahakarnagar. It was an extraordinarily intense set of discussions that we had.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and indoor

Image result for outliersSrikanth talked about a book called Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  It’s the age of the non-fiction book, isn’t it? Lots of non-fic books were discussed in this session. Everyone wanted to know how to be successful, a question that Gladwell could provide no self-help magic potion for. He gives you the facts, tells stories and deconstructs myths of success, e.g., people with a high IQ are not necessarily successful. The question came up about what success really can be defined as and what contributed to success.  One theory attributes success to the environment. There are also periods and places in history where success was common, take the 1950’s baby boomer generation. Gladwell lays out the controversial 10,000-hour rule, easier to illustrate with skill-based success stories, e.g, violinists, chess players and plumbers who spend 10,000 hours on their craft are bound to succeed.

We learned many new things. Conversation threw up the broken windows model of policing, first described in 1982 in a seminal article by Wilson and Kelling. Then the Black Swan Theory was discussed.  Watch this one-minute video. Another idea was the Hot streak, a period in a professional’s life that is markedly improved over others. Watch this interesting video analyzing data collected about thousands of professionals’ winning streak moments.  If you trace the large-scale career histories of individual artists, film directors and scientists, you can identify the success from the cost of their paintings, the success of their movies and the number of citations they have received, respectively. One interesting fact that emerges from this analysis is that you can nail the hot streak regardless of age or career, thus drilling a hole in the theory that musicians and mathematicians must be young. Success among scientists also depends on the ‘hotness’ of the field itself.

A book that elicited a great deal of discussion was a non-fiction book about Caring. Let’s talk about this book in the next post.

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar on July 21, 2018 (Saturday)

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

BYOB Party is back and this time JustBooks Sahakarnagar will be co-hosting it with us.

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 July 21 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 and swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue:  JustBooks, No 30, Above G.K.Vale, Behind Ganesha Temple, 13th Main, CQAL Layout, Sahakarnagar-560092

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 JustBooks Sahakarnagar.

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 group, RSVP on Meetup, and come over!

If you are not on meetup, you can also register on Eventbrite.

 

Gender, Identity and Fishermen @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 9)

Image result for shikhandi devdutt amazonBhavish spoke about Shikhandi by Devdutt Pattanaik. This book has been the subject of a couple of our previous BYOB Parties. Bhavish appreciated the way Pattanaik explored queerness in Indian mythology, revealing how Indians were remarkably casual about gender fluidity and the entire spectrum of gender at one time. The book is a series of short chapters with an explanation that follows and illustrations to match. A lot of accepted norms have been shattered. Take the story of the king who refused to heed his wife’s advice and realized later that he accepted her advice when she had taken a hermit’s form, the moral being that the source of wisdom is not necessarily reserved for one gender only. The conversation veered to Section 377, Victorian ethics and people’s complete ignorance of examples of queerness within their own culture. “Perhaps it was glossed over as the primary narrators of the great epics that explored queerness as well were our grandparents,” Bhavish said.

Image result for identity kundera amazonSunil spoke about a book called Identity by Milan Kundera. Unlike Kundera’s usual flamboyant books, Identity is a surprisingly compact book. “To speak about this book, you need to speak about the author first,” Sunil said, “Kundera talks about abstract, disparate and paradoxical ideas like identity, philosophy, perception and friendship. He reminds you of Camus for the simple reason of what reading his books does to you. It shakes you. Take the example of friendship, for instance. Aren’t friends just a mirror? A measure of where you stand when you reminisce upon your place in the world?”

Makes you want to read the book, doesn’t it?

Image result for the fishermen book amazonI added to the list of sad and powerful books by talking about The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. Compared to none other than Chinua Achebe, Obioma is a master craftsman who does a good job of exploring the Nigerian cultural landscape using the lens of one family in particular. Benjamin narrates the story of his mother, father who is always away and his three brothers. The story speaks about a country broken into two because of staunch belief systems- one of Christianity and the other the shamanistic reality that pervades all of Africa. When the children visit the forbidden river, they meet a shaman who predicts a horrible death for one of the brothers. This self-fulfilling prophecy is enacted on the pages with so much life force. Obiama combines African folklore and regular prose effortlessly. Read it.

And with that, we finally come to the end of the BYOB Party in May 2018.

Mental Health Issues, Secrets and BRICS @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 8)

Image result for the bell jar amazonRoheet spoke about a book that has been described by many readers as chilling. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath who wrote under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas is the tragic story of a poet who loses her mental health. The book is autobiographical and this adds to its authenticity and accuracy in capturing the dark. Plath committed suicide within a month after writing this book, a cry for help. The plight of mental health patients in as recent a time as the 1960s was terrible as adequate treatment methods were still not available. Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953 and she is hopeful about her dazzling future as a writer but she slides. Plath takes a snapshot of her emotional spiral with dark humor and honesty. Little did she know that her work would become a bestseller.

Image result for crow blue amazonPiya has been reading books from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries. She spoke about a book called Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa. The story revolves around Vanja who has lost her mother and goes in search of her biological father. The book is a timely read, what with all the headlines about immigration. Vanja is half-Portuguese, half American and she’s a teenager. ” It’s a coming of age story, very well-written and smoothly done. You could finish it in four-five hours straight. The book goes back and forth, covering the gory history of Brazil and the guerilla wars. If you are unaware of the history of that time, is a good book to read. What I particularly enjoyed were the way the author picked up generalizations that were made. For instance, Brazilians do not speak Spanish; they speak Portuguese.”

What happens in the story? “Well, all I can tell you is that this not your typical Bollywood movie ending; it’s a mature ending. It goes beyond the Indian immigrant experience and is a light book, though I wouldn’t say that it is not layered. It is and satisfyingly so.”

Image result for beyond the secret amazonChethan spoke about a book called Beyond the Secret by Brenda Barnaby. He liked the way the author dealt with the Law of Attraction and how the world and the individuals populating it could be changed. The author uses various philosophies from across the world to find solutions within the subconsciousness.

More books in Part 9.

 

Hyperspace, Flatland and Endurance @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 7)

Vatsal got a book called Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku. It explores ten-dimensional space and Kaku’s Theory of Hyperspace. The book was far too heavy to comprehend for us three-dimensionals and then a discussion began about the book Flatland, a 2D world occupied by geometric figures where men are polygons and women are straight lines. It’s a dream that leads the narrator, a square, to go to a 3D world called Spaceland.

Image result for when breath becomes air amazonAbhishek decided to end the debate once and for all by bringing up a book that dealt with a non-debatable subject — death. This led to a groan from the audience; no prizes for guessing which book is being spoken about. When Breath Becomes Air has been discussed in many previous BYOB Parties as well, making this BYOB Party a celebration of repeats. Abhishek described how the book chronicled the life of the surgeon and how his life changed post-diagnosis. He was blown away by the maturity in which the doctor and his wife conducted themselves. Dr. Paul Kalanithi was fascinated by death and this why he opted to become a doctor despite his love for literature. Some readers asked Abhishek if they thought the doctor was brave. That was a given; the beauty of the book lies in how it explains how one must conduct oneself in troubled times. Decisions can be made in spite of instability. The doctor had a child at this time. Here’s a passage that Abhishek read out; it’s one of those books that makes you cry:

“The family gathered together. During the precious minutes after Paul’s decision, we all expressed our love and respect. Tears glistened in Paul’s eyes. He expressed gratitude to his parents. He asked us to ensure that his manuscript be published in some form. He told me a last time that he loved me. The attending physician stepped in with strengthening words: “Paul, after you die, your family will fall apart, but they’ll pull it back together because of the example of bravery you set.” Jeevan’s eyes were trained on Paul as Suman said, “Go in peace, my brother.” With my heart breaking, I climbed into the last bed we would share.”

Image result for endurance lansingamazonDivya was tired of the excessive debates too and decided to present a non-controversial story, a true story about an Antarctic expedition called Endurance by Alfred Lansing. The story is astonishing, well-researched and undeniably true. Lansing spoke to ten of the survivors of the Endurance’s final trip and has meticulously recreated the expedition, where for ten months Shackleton and his crew tried to battle the odds. “A huge part of the book is technical and filled with ship terminology,” Divya said. “In spite of that, the book keeps you on edge and since it’s not a fiction, the treatment is different. No iceberg collision takes place at all when you expect it. It’s not a typical read.”

More books in Part 8.