July 17, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 190 (11-July to 17-July)

1. Alternative Nobel literature prize planned in Sweden

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2. German author sues Random House for not releasing book on Islam

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3. A ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ Drawing Sets a New Auction Record for a Book Illustration

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4. J.K. Rowling’s Lethal White gets September release date

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5. Homer Odyssey: Oldest extract discovered on clay tablet

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July 16, 2018
by Neelima

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.

July 12, 2018
by Neelima

Female Spies @ Link Wanderlust

Do you like reading about female spies? If you do, head to the YA section as contemporary spy fiction hardly has female leads. There are usually femme fatales or helpless female victims in books by John Le Carre and Ian Flemming.

“YA spies are based on a fantasy (teenage spies don’t exist), not the reality of the intelligence world (as contemporary spy fiction draws from).”

Ally Carter, Robin Benway, Shannon Greenland, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Kat Carlton, T.A. Maclagan, Annabel Monaghan, Laura Pauling are some authors who have written contemporary YA books featuring female teenage spies. Contemporary fiction, however, is ‘the province of men’. Did you know about Stella  Rimington, the first female Director General of MI5, who wrote a fictional series about a female intelligence officer called Liz Carlyle?

Read more here: Why Don’t Female Spies Grow Up? Women in Contemporary Spy Literature.

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July 9, 2018
by Neelima

Yiddish, Right to Education, and Elephants @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 6)

Image result for love in exile isaac amazonApurba is fond of reading remote narratives about obscure places and people. This time she chose a Hebrew writer called Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote in Yiddish.  Love and Exile is the story of Singer’s own life from his childhood in Poland until the time he went to New York. It’s the story of the birth and growth of a writer, a Yiddish one at that. Once Hitler came to power, his family fled from Poland; he finally ended up going to the US following the heels of many of his friends who had emigrated to other countries including Palestine because they had the money. Apurba identified with this Nobel Prize Winner’s candor. In his late 20s, he was as disillusioned and clueless about life as many of us are. He wrote in Yiddish, which was a dying language.  Even when he was in the US, he found it difficult to gel with the east coast Jewish population. His older brother was more established than he was. In fact, the first thirty years of his life were pretty unremarkable. This was heartening to Apurba as here was a man who lived an ordinary life and talked about, including all his failures and the alienation of displacement.

Here’s a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer if you want to get hold of his fantastic prose right now. Click here.

Image result for dear mrs naiduAbhaya got a children’s book this time, a delightful read called Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian.  The story revolves around Sarojini whose best friend moves out of her basti. She now wants to go to his school which is better than hers; the Right to Education Act then makes its appearance and using the story of a friendship and letters to the freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu, Mathangi Subramnium creates a very informative and educational book with the message that good intentions alone are not enough for implementation. Comparisons of the book with the Bollywood movie Hindi Medium were made. Although the book is for children, Abhaya found it well worth a read to make sense of this controversial act.

Image result for swimmer among the starsamazonSwimmer Among the Stars, a collection of short stories, by Kanishk Tharoor did not disappoint. Sowmya looked forward to yet another Tharoorian waft of prose. and she was delighted. “He’s a master with words,” she gushed, ” His stories are simple but very different. In fact, my favorite story is one about an eyelash.” His stories are diverse featuring elephants, cooks, space and armies. His historical epic take of the world is punctuated by myth and folklore and influences of Italo Calvino and Borges appear from time to time.

Click here to read an interview with the master craftsman.


More books in Part 7.

July 6, 2018
by Neelima

Visual Friday: Amusement Parks in Books

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July 5, 2018
by Neelima

When Suicide Forgets @ Link Wanderlust

In light of the recent spate of suicides in the news, it is comforting for a reader to know that books can also miraculously pull you out of the murkiness of depression or wake you up if you are seized by a momentary desire to die. Kevin Powers writes with great honesty about how he had lost his will to live and used drink as his crutch. He knows that the war was one reason for the way he shut things out but he does not lay the blame squarely on what happened to him. He does remember from the blurred years of his going adrift that he attempted to read:

As I drifted further and further into my quarantined stupor, my attempts to read anything became ridiculous, often resulting in a book held diagonally in a trembling hand, examined with one eye squinted and the other shut, until I eventually added the reading of books to the many other higher order activities that had once separated me from the rest of the nonhuman animal kingdom and that I could no longer reliably perform. But one day, for some reason, I picked up “The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas” and found that the following oft-quoted lines of Thomas’s provided me with a moment of, for lack of a better word, grace: “These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.”

Enough said. Read What Kept Me From Killing Myself by Kevin Powers.

July 3, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 189 (27-June to 3-July)

1. Desmond Elliott Prize: King Lear retelling named winner

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2. Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra’s biography will be out in 2019

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3. Donald Hall, US poet laureate and prize-winning man of letters, dies at 89

4. Little House on the Prairie Author’s Name Removed from Book Award

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5. Orwell books prize goes to Poverty Safari by Scottish rapper Loki

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July 2, 2018
by Neelima

Strange Loops @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 5)

Image result for i am a strange loop amazonWaseem got a book called I Am a Strange Loop: 0. It is Douglas Hofstadter’s first book, a cognitive scientist’s mathematical look at consciousness. The idea is that the idea of the self is, in fact, the result of an abstract feedback loop within us. The book is about abstract calculable stuff and so it would be far better to quote the reader’s views.

“This book gives you an understanding of consciousness. You are a self-referential loop. Everything you think you are is the result of what is happening around you, so you are dependent on external circumstance.  You can’t evolve on your own. This is the basis of evolution- from the human eye to everything else. The self is the result of various interactions. It is the highest form of abstraction there is and a manifestation of downward causation- there is so much going on to prop up the I. You exist because a bunch of cells prop you up and what you call you is built over it and over it and over it ad infinitum in a paradoxical loop, so you are constantly imbibing what you see around you and you are a reflection of what you have learnt. Over a period of time, all these instances create symbols like fear, for example. The role of external stimulus is undeniable and the image becomes highly complex.  The more you interact with others, the more loops are created.”

The book is confusing but by using analogies that relate to biology and mathematics, the author succeeds in making you think very deeply about abstractions. The one takeaway that Waseem had from this book was the necessity to invest in other people as the image of ourselves is a reflection of everything we take from others.

It’s the kind of book that deserves an entire blog post to itself. More books in Part 6.