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.

Orphan Trains, Wars and Atheism @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 5)

We got talking about the bestselling book Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. The book talks about the real life orphan trains that ran between 1854 and 1929.  These train carried destitute children from the east coast to the midwest where they would be put up for adoption. The story chronicles a ninety-one-year-old protagonist with a hidden past. Kline explores the many dynamics of adoption and foster care in the early twenty-first century. The book was Kline’s fifth and a book that took the book club world by storm.

Image result for the forever war amazon

Another interesting book discussed was The Forever War by Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner and MIT faculty Joe Haldeman. It’s an interesting sci-fi book that explores the premise of what the US would do if it picked a never-ending war with aliens. A conscript from Vietnam himself, Haldeman chronicles the story of Private William Mandella who is to fight in a thousand-year conflict. Time dilation causes a strange predicament for when Private Mandella returns the Earth will have aged far more than he has.

Listen to Joe Haldeman here.

Image result for hitch 22 amazonJoshua expounded on a memoir called Hitch 22 by the renowned atheist and philosopher Christopher Hitchens. “He’s the kind of writer whom you want to emulate as he is so erudite. He inspires you to read as he is well-read himself. He wrote Hitch 22 after he was diagnosed with Stage 4, esophageal cancer. He has touched on some controversies like support for  America’s actions in Iraq, something he regretted later on. The reason for his support could be that wanted an end to fanaticism and since he visited all the conflict zones he talked about, he wasn’t just intellectualizing about crucial policy issues. He was against totalitarianism in any form.”

Joshua advised us to savor the poetry and philosophy of Hitchen’s many debates, especially this one with Stephen Fry. Hitchens was also an ardent supporter and friend of Salman Rushdie.

In the memoir, Hitchens speaks effortlessly about his childhood, the relationship he had with his mother, his philosophies and misgivings. It is a book that offers much.

The subject of atheism led to the idea of a new kind of World Order, a world with new Gods. The book American Gods by Neil Gaiman came to mind.

More books in Part 6.

Norse Gods and Assamese Short Stories @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 5)

Akshay got a book called Norse Mythology by the celebrated writer, Neil Gaiman. While in Indian mythology, a great deal of writing and interpretation has been made of mythical characters, not many are familiar with the Norse gods. Whatever we know of Norse mythology is circumscribed by Marvel’s depiction of Loki and Thor. Gaiman goes on an odyssey in the Norse world showing readers how the nine worlds were formed, how Odin got his knowledge and the story of valhalla.  “It’s the kind of book that leaves you wanting more,” Akshay said. It seems to be by far the ‘lightest’ book he has got to the BYOB Party.

Amrita spoke about a book translated from Assamese. A Game of Chess is a collection of short stories compiled by Dhirendra Nath. Amrita enjoyed the substance of the stories and felt that they would be appealing to anyone curious about Northeast India. However, she observed that unlike many translations she had read of writers from other languages, this attempt was closer to a transliteration than a translation.

“It’s strange how foreign writers always have better translators,” she said. A famous translator was mentioned to dispel her disappointment- Arunava Sinha is probably the best translator there is right now in the subcontinent, said another reader.

“But the themes stand out- lonely women, anxious fathers and changing times. As far as translations go, even a writer like Tagore’s work is never justified by a worthy translation. Pick up the book if you are looking for a nice easy read.”

More books coming up.

Myths and Fractured Fairytales @ the BYOB Party in June (Part 1)

At Worth A Read, we love books and what better way to celebrate than chat about books? The book scene in India is robust and bursting at the seams with possibilities and books are now a huge part of the Great Indian Conversation.

The idea behind the Bring Your Own Book(BYOB) party is to get people from various walks of life to talk about their favorite books. While last time round, we had a variety of books on various topics as diverse as shipping containers and historical fiction, this time we had a few binding threads. One was myth.

We’ve been talking about myth a great deal lately. The problem with myth is that it is prone to reinterpretation and is thereby  misunderstood. Aditi  Kulothungan, a children’s book specialist and a book marketing expert from Book Sense, believes that what is most important is that myths are taken in context, “There was magic in the lives of those people that is absent to day. This is the Kali Yuga! We have our god men, but I’m afraid the magic stops there.”

The word myth is a magic spell though- the discussion veered to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Business Sutras and Irawati Karwe’s yuganta-cYuganta. Aditya Sengupta, a biologist, who spoke about science the last time round was armed with his favorite epic interpretation. “The Mahabharata is one of those epics that you can’t really call heroic. Unlike the Ramayana, the characters are grey; no character is truly impeccable. In Yuganta, Irawati Karve treats the epic in a very non-religious way. She was a sociologist in Pune and the first edition of the book came out in the 1950s. Her daughter translated it in the 1960s but I must tell you that some of her observations would be unthinkable today. Most of the retellings that you hear about are from her observations- it is surprising how much of a  bedrock she is to Indian mythological retelling and how little acknowledgement she is given.”

sita-s-sister-400x400-imaefcmzkgctvhuxThere are many retellings indeed- Karna’s Wife and Sita’s Sister by Kavita Kane were mentioned by software engineer Kanica Jindal.  These were similar to a book that Jaya talked about called Mahabharati- which is a Hindi retelling of Draupadi’s point of view. Now Draupadi is a representative of polyandry in a society. Though she was wedded to the five Panadava brothers because they had to share whatever they received as per their mother’s dictum, her heart was only with one man, Arjuna. “Incidentally Karwe talks about how Arjuna was more in love with himself, and the man who truly loved Draupadi was Bhima,” said Sengupta. This is in a nutshell the story of the acclaimed Malayalam classic Randammoozham by M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

Fairy tales did not fall far behind during the discussion. While once fairy tales summoned names like Grimm’s and Hans Sleeper-spindle-coverChristian Anderson, today the word fairy tale translates into Neil Gaiman. Aditi was spellbound by the twisted fairytale of Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty in the The Sleeper and the Spindle, and the characteristic metal ink illustrations by Chris Riddell. If you really want to start with Gaiman and you don’t know where to begin, Aditi advises to start with Corraline, of course the entire Sandman Series.

Fractured fairytales make interesting conversation. In a way the fairy tales started out as dark, I’m guessing they were scary tactics to get unruly kids to behave. Now fairy tales have been sanitized and you don’t want your children to be exposed to the horrid wolf or child molester in Little Red Riding Hood or the terrifying Baba Yaga of Russian folklore.  But reversing the story entirely by making the three little pigs evil and the wolf good or throwing the truth at the kids the way Lan Smith does in The Stinky Cheese Man is outright hilarious. Some fractured tales reviewed here.

Shruti Garodia, a content writer, had an interesting take on how to tell your children stories if you didn’t want to frighten them. “You could contextualize the stories and customize it depending on how old they are. So as they grow older, you keep twisting the tale. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are books that have dark echoes to them and they seemed so much more different when I read them when I was older.”

“I remember how upsetting the real version of the Little Match Girl was,” said Aditi,” but that’s the story I would want to share with my children. Children should know the truth as they are exposed to so much.”

And that’s the kind of story kids want to listen today. “Imagine a book like The Fault in our Stars. We have two dying protagonists,” said Aditi. There are many more where that came from- Dorothy must Die, Love Letters to the Dead, The Perks of being a Wallflower (which did you like-the movie or the book?)

Sick lit is the in-thing now, especially for the younger generation, while myth has floored older folk. Have you been reading anything on these lines this week? Tell us about it.