Self-Help or Not? @ BYOB Party in July 2017 (Part 1)

The BYOB Party in July kickstarted with a discussion on self-help books. We’ve worked on a self-help book infographic which you may want to look at and also published a story on self-help vs helplessness on the blog. In one of our earlier BYOB Parties, Abhaya mentioned a book called Wrong: Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them. So we are familiar with the quandaries of self-help literature.

Nadeem is a big fan of motivational books. The book he spoke about was The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. As the title implies, the one thing is what you need to focus on and that can lead to mastery. The book has helped him to achieve his own design-related goals. He also recommends books by Robert Greene including MasteryThe 48 Laws of PowerThe Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War.

Suprith followed in the self-help trail with a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. Cal was a grad student at MIT doing his Ph.D. in computer science when the economic crises hit. This compelled him to research on how to make a great career. His research led him to address a fundamental question. Is passion really the bedrock of a great professional life? He mentions Steve Job’s Stanford lecture where passion is mentioned as an essential requirement and this led to a tangential conversation about Steve Job’s own passions from calligraphy to entrepreneurship and Zen. Newport spoke to experts in their fields from organic farmers, venture capitalists, screenwriters, freelance computer programmers to musicians and went on to discover that passion was rare and not a prerequisite for success. The book is not just about debunking the passion hypothesis; it also talks about the craftsman mindset which usually involves a more output-centered approach, which jargon aside simply means that a skilled craftsman keeps working on the craft. It’s not pure passion but lots of hard work that gets you from point A to B. So where did the title come from? Turns out it’s a Steve Martin quote.

Pratibha spoke about the captivating book Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. She mused on the problem that the middle-class people face; they are continuously in the rat race and remain middle class. Kiyosaki addresses problems like these by focusing on the importance of tax management and not getting into debt. On the flip side, Jaya warns that as compelling as this bestseller may be, the book is not reliable when it comes to setting your own finances in order. Some of the readers in the group were also concerned about the author himself having had to declare bankruptcy.

Another book that provides unconventional solutions is The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris where he writes about how one can leave a 9-5 job and earn the same amount of money and then there is the book Secret by Rhonda Byrne that talks about how we can use the law of attraction to attract good things into our lives.

While there was a hum of assent for Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, considering how you could go back to the book at varying points in your life and dig out fresh meaning, many readers spoke against the merits of self-help literature in general. After all,  was there any book after reading which you become rich? You may want to listen to the comedian George Carlin making a dig at self-help books. This is a debate that has no clear-cut answers.

Abhaya added that a self-help book that would be useful to readers was How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Some readers in the group were skeptical about whether a book could teach you how to read, but Abhaya went on to describe how this book offers a practical approach to reading difficulties that could crop up depending on genre, length and level of difficulty. For instance, gaining from reading history would require the reading of two or more history books based in the same place. In case of a play, unless it is a closet play that is meant to be read silently, the best way to read it would be aloud.

You may want to go through these book reviews at our Review and a Half segment where we featured this book:

How to Read a Book- Part 1

How to Read a Book- Part 2

More books in Part 2.

Flying kites and the Language of Poetry @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 3)


Vaishali, who co-hosted the party with us, was in search of August, the Month of Winds(Translated from the Russian by Raissa Bobrova). It was a book that she read when she was young, the kind of story that makes an imprint on you, one so deep, that when she spoke of the blind boy in a serious story for children it was almost as though she were flying a kite of her imagination and the story though unavailable to her any longer as a physical copy was forever accessible in a single heart.

Language has a remarkable ability to transport one elsewhere, even in translation. Baraa Al Mansour, a Syrian writer of a book called Look Around You spoke about how Arabic is a language of emotion. “Once  when I was in China,” she said “I saw and beautiful girl and told her that she was beautiful like the moon. That was a little too much, I later understood.” Although she writes in English, her sentiment translates another language.

Shyamala, the wildlife artist, agreed that Arabic was more like French. “May Sarton, a French writer,  preferred to write poetry in French as poetry was too easy. The craft came to her in English”

Baraa expressed how translation could create a distance from true meaning, but even awkward literal translations worked better sometimes as it was closer home to the real thing.
My_Story_Kamala_DasAbhaya who is an ardent reader of Hindi poetry prefers raw untranslated mother tongue as far as poetry goes, “Nothing beats Braj Bhasha poetry,” he said bringing up the true Hindi speech which has ever since been diluted by multiple tongues. He found the case of Kamala Das intriguing. She wrote a great deal of  poetry in English and prose in Malayalam, her mother tongue, Malayalam, a language of southern India as well. The book that Abhaya was reading at the time was a translated version of her prose called My Story, a controversial book. “Perhaps she was able to say things in English poetry that she couldn’t express in Malayalam,” he mused.

“Well as they, you can speak French to your lover, English to an accountant and German to your horse,” Shyamala said. In terms of precision, there is no better language than German as the adage goes.

Cover of In one of the books I had got to the party How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren), there was a section about how to read poetry.  I’ve talked about this book earlier at the InstaScribe blog— it’s a mandatory read for readers of books, as so many times we read books in a hurry and words are lost on us.  Instead of reading becoming an exercise in futility, it is best if we pay attention when we are reading by using a highlighter or a pencil.

When you read a poem, it is best to read it aloud (even plays should be read, Abhaya added). What sounds like gobbledygook makes sense when you listen to the rhythm of the words. A poet wouldn’t necessarily want to make sense in a rational way, so she must be read and listened to with an open mind. Incidentally Shyamala mentioned a book by Adler which focused on how to listen. The book is called How to Speak How to Listen. The interesting thing about listening is how it can be an exercise in formulating your own response rather than paying attention to what the other person is saying.

Attentive listening reaps rewards. The post script to this party was that Nilesh dug up August, The Month of Winds, a book that Vaishali so much craved.

Have you had any happy book surprises you want to share?