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

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


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

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

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

Watch Dominique Lapierre in conversation with Rajiv Mehrotra here.

More books in Part 2.

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.

Luck and Objectivism @ BYOB Party in September 2016 (Part 4)

At the BYOB Party in September, we dealt with autobiography and sci-fi. Now for a bit of self-help and fiction.

13-steps-to-bloody-good-luckRajeev Moothedath is an HR professional and author of the book Straight from the Heart. The book he talked about is Ashwin Sanghi’s first non-fiction book 13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck. Sanghi believes that there is one percent of what is called bloody luck and it turns out that luck is created by other factors like recognition and response. Sanghi has a business background himself and probably did not anticipate being a bestseller author in India. His book is a collection of anecdotes and some simple guidelines in the line of self-help.

Pramit Pratim Ghosh who holds the distinction of having been president of Toastmaster’s International had a tough time choosing between two books that he wanted to talk about. He finally settled on Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

atlas-shruggedThe book was Ayn Rand’s last book and her longest. This story is set in the US in an unspecified future time. The protagonist Danny Taggart is the Operating VP of a railway company. Rearden is a steel magnate and John Galt, Taggart’s love interest and the hero of the book.

“There are two kinds of people- the capable ones or the prime movers and those who are not capable but get ahead by treading on other’s toes,” Pratim said. In the story, corruption prevents any real progress. When skillful people disappear one by one, Danny Taggart goes in search of them only to find herself in a utopia where creativity is rewarded and not shunned. This book expands on Ayn Rand’s own philosophy of Objectivism where Rand promotes selfishness as a virtue and calls altruism evil. If everyone works towards their own benefit, the world would be a happier place. Her work is a Bible for Capitalists. To understand her philosophy, a visit to this link would be a good idea: https://www.aynrand.org/ideas/overview.

the-light-of-his-clanJaya got a book called The Light of his Clan by a contemporary author Chetan Raj Shrestha. The story is about Kuldeep Chandanth, an ex-Minister of the Sikkim government, whose power is fast becoming a thing of the past.  The narration is matter of fact  and tongue in cheek. The sense of entitlement that Chandanth has and the subtle satire that runs throughout the book makes it worth a read.  The beauty of the book lies in the fact that Sikkim is the backdrop, without any obvious saying so. The journey traced is one of every politician from the heyday of his power to the unpleasantness of  fading away.

Some books about politics like P.V.Narasimha Rao’s The Insider and Through the Corridors of Power by P.C.Alexander also came to mind.

More books in Part 5.