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.

Statesmen, War and Illness @ BYOB Party in March 2018 (Part 5)

Manjunath described himself as someone who never read books at all until he picked up Rich Dad, Poor Dad while he was on a trip. This book got him hooked to reading like nothing else. He talked about Chanakya: The Master Statesman by Roopa Pai.  Chanakya is still a talking point and this kingmaker set precedents for politics that are unmatched even today. What attracted Manjunath to the book was the political gamesmanship that happened even centuries ago.

Image result for humphrey hawksley dragon fore amazonAnshuman talked about book called Dragon Fire by former BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawksley. The story corresponds to the doom and gloom prophecies that we saw in some parts of the Party. Humankind is necessarily evil and one more world war can only confirm this further. Dragon Fire tells the story of nuclear war in the subcontinent and though the story is a fast-paced thriller, it almost seems to mirror political situations that exist in the world today. Hawksley catches on to the strengths and weaknesses of military systems across the world which makes the book an educative read.

Image result for when breath becomes air amazonRishabh got the famous book When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi which seems to be a favorite as we have seen the book popping up at several BYOB Parties. Rishabh enjoyed the way the dualities of life are presented in a beautiful, touching and heart-rending way. It’s only when life runs out that the meaning of success changes; Paul Kalanithi has everything a successful neurosurgeon in the US could dream of but his terminal illness twists the plot of his life and although death is the end of the story, his words carry the elixir of eternal life lessons.

More books in Part 6.

Loneliness and Mortality @ BYOB Party in July 2017 (Part 4)

Sumit was in the mood for some poignant novels, the saddest one he has ever read being A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry but the book he got to the BYOB Party was the memoir Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing.

“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.” This is how Laing talks about the emotion that most of us are ashamed of. Loneliness, unlike introversion and aloneness, is a lack, a void that needs to be filled. Laing explores how life in a new city forced her into a self-imposed loneliness that technology only widened.  It was art that helped her to capture her emotion and celebrate it.

“Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee.”

Since the book talks about art, Sumit enjoyed going to the internet to see the paintings that she referred to. Emotions can be rendered in words and with the palette as well.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

A discussion ensued about terribly moving books like The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and how solitude, contrary to loneliness, provides the fuel for the self-churning that results in great works of art, scientific innovation and philosophical insights.

Aravindh talked about an extremely moving book called When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The saddest part of the book for Aravindh was that this was the only book of the lucid neurosurgeon that he would ever read. The book is memoir and relates the tale of a life of inquiry cut short by inoperable lung cancer.

“While all doctors treat diseases, neurosurgeons work in the crucible of identity: every operation on the brain is, by necessity, a manipulation of the substance of our selves, and every conversation with a patient undergoing brain surgery cannot help but confront this fact. In addition, to the patient and family, the brain surgery is usually the most dramatic event they have ever faced and, as such, has the impact of any major life event. At those critical junctures, the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living. Would you trade your ability – or your mother’s – to talk for a few extra months of mute life? The expansion of your visual blind spot in exchange for eliminating the small possibility of a fatal brain hemorrhage? Your right hand’s function to stop seizures? How much neurologic suffering would you let your child endure before saying that death is preferable? Because the brain mediates our experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer this question: What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”

The questions that Kalanithi asks make the reader stop for a moment and evaluate his or her own life, if only for a fleeting moment. Other books that deal with these profound questions include Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture and Christopher Hitchen’s Mortality.

More poignant books in Part 4.