October 18, 2018
Great thinkers are often misunderstood, says Julian Baggini, and this is normal as misreading is usually the case. The author of the essay mentions how Nietzche’s aphorisms have ‘never recovered from the fascist makeover’. You see what you want to believe and you read to corroborate what you already think you know.
His aphoristic style made this kind of misrepresentation easy. When you write memorable and striking lines like “A declaration of war on the masses by higher men is needed!” and “To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more”, you’re almost inviting people to take them out of context.
Nietzsche even had an aphorism for those who would abuse his aphorisms in that way. “The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole.”
You may want to check out Nietzche’s misunderstood aphorisms in How to Misread and gauge for yourself if this may have been the case.
October 15, 2018
Mugdha started off an engaging discussion with the book Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, a book by award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe. She got wind of this book while listening to one of the episodes of a quirky podcast called No Such Thing As a Fish. Women seem to be having their moment, what with skeletons tumbling out of closets and hashtags dedicated to the gender equality phenomenon, so a discussion on menstruation in a society that encourages a culture of menstrual silence or menstrual whispering is a welcome change.
The book talks about how society deals with women, tilting the scales toward scientific solutions vs cultural ones. The author of the book is a comedian and she doesn’t find women’s bodies funny. Neither does she understand why sexy women need to stare at you from billboards everywhere in the world. She doesn’t understand why menstruation is so big a deal and the fountainhead of so many bizarre rituals and why child-bearing is the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence. One way to deal with cultural biases is to weigh the scientific feasibility of decisions- so if child marriage is acceptable in society, science clearly shows that pregnancy could put an underage girl’s life at risk. Feminism doesn’t apply here, only common sense. If you can’t vote and drive, then why get married?
Deepti’s book followed the woman theme too. She enjoyed listening to the author Natasha Badhwar at a literary festival and picked up her book My Daughter’s Mum, a series of essays compiled from a popular column in Mint Lounge. The author talks about the conscious decisions she made to spend time with her family away from the madness of urban life. A media professional, she quit her job and focused on her children and the vagaries of being a mother. “It almost feels like the author is following her children with a notebook and a pen as she records the lightest moments and makes them meaningful!” Deepti said. She read out a passage where the author describes her daughter in such a heartwarming way; everyone listening immediately connected with it.
You might enjoy an interview with the author at the IVM podcast.
It’s not just writers, artists too share the ordinary life in endearing ways. Take Catana Comics.
Badhwar’s ability to turn the mundane into the endearing is a trait that many authors share. Abhaya talked about how Rohit David Brijnath, a veteran Indian sports journalist, bought along the same kind of flare when he wrote sport.
More books in Part 4.
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October 11, 2018
So have you been guilty of trying to read a book completely even if you didn’t want to? That seems to be a common enough offence and one that Katie Heaney talks about in her essay Why It’s So Hard to Stop Reading Books You Don’t Even Like. Sometimes it’s a review that leads you to a book and you keep reading, waiting for the five-star feeling even when there is none. Researchers have coined a term for this — gritty. A gritty reader never gives up, going ahead, and probably feeling guilty that she can not finish.
Another essay I came across called Millenial Reading Habits have Changed the Definition of a Classic by
Ajinomoh Ozovehe Caleb deconstructs the shrinking lifespans of popular books. There was a time when books like Dr. Zhivago stayed on the bestseller list for over 20 weeks but now a good book stays on the bestseller list for a week and then it’s time for another one. Why is this happening? Caleb blames it on the larger output of books and changing dynamics of readership. Read the story for more.
October 8, 2018
Akshay spoke about The Difficulty of Being Good, a book by Gurucharan Das. If there is an epic that probes into life’s difficult questions, it is the Mahabharat and Das goes back to the epic to look for answers to the problems that we face today. How can the dharma be enacted when the odds are against the good? Interestingly, he looks at other epics including the Homeric ones and compares how wrong done is not pondered on; from the Mahabharat came the Bhagavad Gita, a mature philosophical treatise that weighs the pros and cons of to be and not to be. “The characters in the Mahabharat are grey. The Pandavas may have Krishna on their side but still they are fallible and even use unfair means to win,” Akshay said. “So goodness is not absolute and one does act for the sake of dharma, one acts because one must.”
Srikanth had read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The book is becoming a regular topic of discussion at our BYOB Parties and it makes sense as it is an anti-war book. Vonnegut focuses the book on the World War II bombing of Dresden. The book is part sci-fi (reminiscent of the movies Arrival and Interstellar), part memoir and was a hard book to write. Srikanth was impressed by the way Vonnegut wrote about the phenomenon of being unstuck in time- so the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is a pilgrim of sorts traversing the world and galaxies and for him, time is not linear; it’s a series of peaks and troughs. The book is very philosophical, besides being humorous. You could listen to the entire book here.
Abhaya mentioned how Shashi Deshpande played with the idea of time in her book That Long Silence. The conversations in the book seem to between different aspects of the same person. Other books about time that cropped up were The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
More books in Part 3.
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October 4, 2018
The Atlantic has a lovely series called By Heart which I’ve featured a couple of times here on the blog. Today I came across another gem called E. B. White’s Lesson for Debut Writers: It’s Okay to Start Small.
The passage that Nicole Chung quoted and that forms the crux of this essay is a quote by E.B. White about sailing. Chung is Korean by descent and many times in her life she’s played the role of outsider. When you read her interview, you notice how the patterns of her life unfold and how her love for sailing becomes a metaphor for her writing journey. When E.B. White talks about his writing process, he emphasizes on starting small and Chung follows this maxim with all her heart.
I think it’s useful for everyone, no matter what stage of their career they’re at, to know it’s okay to write for yourself first—sometimes only for yourself. There are going to be things that you might need to work out on the page, alone, before you’re ready to share them more widely. I don’t think there’s always a rush. It’s okay to take the longer voyage.
Reading Chung’s essay is a boost in the arm for any writer’s imposter syndrome affliction. Even if you are afraid to write your story, you can start small. Sometimes it’s these small ripples that begin the wave.