Dragons, AI and the Nobel @ BYOB Party in November 2017 (Part 7)

Ravi talked about Eldest by Christopher Paolini, the second book in the four-book series The Inheritance Cycle. The story is a mature fantasy based on the adventures of Eragon and his dragon Saphira. Other fantasies that were mentioned were the Kingkiller Chronicle, a fantasy series by Patrick Rothfuss and The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

Bhargavi spoke about how Homo Deus was the most depressing book she had ever read. While Yuval Harari’s Sapiens is a mega-favorite, this book chronicles an eerie future for the human race, a future where Artificial Intelligence will pull strings and shove humans off of the pedestal they have lurched themselves precariously on. If you are in the mood for some science fiction reading, you may want to try reading Asimov’s short story.


The 2017 Nobel Prize for literature went to Kazuo Ishiguro and what better way to end the year then a mention of his book, Remains of the Day, a book that Ishiguro wrote in four weeks! The story is written in the perspective of a butler. The narrative contains diary entries and the story veers on the relationship that Stevens shares with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper. The book won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989 and was adapted into a Hollywood film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Piya spoke about how enamored she was by the way Ishiguro would make the reader arrive at the place he wanted them to arrive at, no mean feat and the sign of a skilled craftsman.

And with that we end our round-up of books for 2017!

Twin Paradox and Lost Umbrellas@ BYOB Party in June 2017 (Part 4)

Now for some books with strange elements.

Ratnakar brought in an element of science fiction into the BYOB Party with the book Time For the Stars, a book published in 1956 from his Juveniles series, a series with young heroes set in the near future. Heinlein was one of the most important science fiction writers of the time along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. In this book, Heinlein examines the Twin Paradox, a thought experiment that explains how relativity works. The premise is if one out of a pair of identical twins is accelerated away from Earth and the other stays on Earth, more time passes on Earth and so the twin who remains on earth grows older while the space twin will not have aged that much. Twins are also said to have twin telepathy so they can communicate faster than the speed of light. Although the book may seem outdated today, the premise is strong enough to convince the hard-boiled cynic. Some interesting conversation did come up revolving around twins, communication and physics.

Watch this if you want to see what one of the world’s most foremost science fiction writers had to say about Apollo 11 space mission.

Satish got a fantasy read. He’s a big fan of China Miéville and loves his YA books the most. Not many people in the room had heard of China Miéville, a sensational science fiction writer who has won two Arthur C Clarke awards and several other prizes as well.  Un Lun Dun or Un-London is a place below London. The story revolves around the adventures of Zanna and Deeba. They find a door to another London, one filled with old computers and obsolete technology and an army of umbrellas. Miéville’s linguistic prowess- his puns and nomenclatures- and bizarre characters keep the reader riveted. His illustrations add richness to the book. Satish read out a passage of a part where Deeba climbs up a ladder in a library. He saw her act of climbing into books as allegorical in a way and this is typical of many of China’s novels. Another one he mentioned was Railsea, an allegory of Moby Dick, where the search is for a white mole, rather than a white whale. Comparisons were made to another popular British author Neil Gaiman. You might like to listen to this fascinating interview of this writer who has also confessed his attachment to garbage and octopuses and trains.


Short Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

Earthsea - the first four books by Ursula K. Le GuinSBR: We are talking about the first three novels of the Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin. My fantasy reading before this is limited to A Song of Ice and Fire series and Harry Potter. The former is more drama than fantasy, and the latter, hardcore fantasy readers don’t consider fantasy at all. Meaning, I am not a fantasy reader. That might be the reason why these acclaimed books didn’t work for me. I hope I am not blaspheming here, but I found too much fantasy and too little plot or character in the books.

To read or not to read: Going by the fame, fantasy readers will not want to miss it. Others may not want to start reading fantasy here. Or they may want to. Because apparently a lot of latter fantasy writing took inspiration from Le Guin.

Dragons, Fish and White Tigers @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 4)

This is turning out to be one long book party!

earthseaIn my quest for the perfect fantasy novel, I chanced upon Ursula Le Guin’sEarthsea. She is a magician, I think. Fantasy writing is very challenging- the characters need to have magical qualities and achieve magical feats. Le Guin’s character Sparrowhawk’s rites of passage is a coming of age story of a boy who becomes a wizard. So he has all the qualities that a wizard needs except that he is ambitious and extremely human. Le Guin’s craft lies in how she makes words magical as well and she gives a premise for the entire world that she creates. It is not just a make-believe world- the logic of all magic lies in the True Speech, the basic words that give the one who utters them great power. I particularly enjoyed the Dragon of Pendor; what is a fantasy without dragons?

Jaya has been reading a couple of not-so fantasy novels, but novels that deal with the unreal all the same like the Game of Thrones series and the irresistible Harry Potter, though after reading Le Guin, it feels like you’ve been through all the sorcerer apprentice adventure stories created.”I don’t know if   Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy counts, but it was an other-wordly book!” said Jaya.

“No one beats Terri Pratchetts’s Discworld series,” Veena said, “If you want to explore the fantasy genre, start there.”

“And Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card if you want a dash of military sci-fi,” Abhaya said.

The_White_TigerDone with dragons, we moved to a much darker terrain of poverty in a book called The White Tiger that Anil, the software engineer, was reading. Since the book was a Booker winner, he thought he’d have a go with it. It was the first serious piece of literature that he had tackled and it wasn’t exactly the right choice. The White Tiger has many admirers and many detractors as well. Some criticized it for its rawness and treatment of extreme poverty. Some praised his effort to translate something so stark and bleak. It’s not that literature has never mentioned poverty- take Charles Dickens, but Dickens was an optimist and Adiga can not sugarcoat his voice.

There are parallels to Slumdog Millionaire. It isn’t a question of why India is depicted as poor, but how the depiction has been done in the first place.Phanishwar Nath Renu is a writer who tells reality as it is but he is an insider to the grim reality, so his voice is authentic,” Jaya said. “It’s not the depiction of unpleasantness that is jarring, it’s how it is depicted.”

“So a book like Em and the Big Hoom is a sad book but Jerry Pinto’s treatment is so touching, he changes your perception of the subject matter,” Arun said, “In fact, we interviewed many authors and to our surprise we found that most authors write without keeping an audience in mind.”

Baraa Al Manour, the Syrian writer, agreed,” If you think of what others want to hear, you will not write.There would be just one book, if we focused only on the reader.”

Dragons and white tigers later, Abhaya talked about his journey with Samanth Subramanium’s book called Following Fish. Being a fishitarian, the book was enlightening. “Subramanium  takes us along the edge of the peninsula in nine essays and explores not just fish as cuisine but fish as industry. He talks about the bar food in Kerala, the different kinds of cuisines in Mumbai and the very secretive angling community in Goa.”

What you eat says a lot, doesn’t it? What are you reading today?