August 22, 2017
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 146 (16-Aug to 22-Aug)

1. Kakutani’s signs a multiple-book deal with Crown’s Tim Duggan Books

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2. Hugo awards 2017: NK Jemisin wins best novel for second year in a row

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3. The DSC Prize For South Asian Literature’s Longlist

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4. ‘Bigger, Broader’: The German Book Prize Releases Its 2017 Longlist

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5. Authors voice fury at Russian publisher cutting gay scene from novel

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August 21, 2017
by Neelima

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 Mastery, The 48 Laws of Power, The 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 requisite 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.

August 16, 2017
by Neelima

Hieroglyphics and Facebook Robot Language @ Link Wanderlust

In light of the recent news of Facebook’s robots having created their own language, Candida Moss goes back to the story of decipherment in her story Inside the Deadly Pursuit of Unsolved Languages. It was almost 218 years ago, she says, that the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 and with that the deciphering of hieroglyphics. The author traces the reasons that the stone was understood at all as a combination of Napolean’s ambition and the genius of a child prodigy called Francois Champollion.

Another indeciherable script that remains so is the language used in the Indus Valley in 2600-199 BCE. It never had a Rosetta Stone equivalent(which had three languages imprinted on it, owing to which there was a breakthrough in understanding the script). Rongorongo, the script used at Easter Island; Cretan hieroglyphics; Proto-Elamite, a 5000-year-old ancient Iranian writing system, and markings used by Bulgarian woodcutters continue to surprise and even led to a tragic death in recent times
during the Cold War. To know more about this, read the essay.

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August 14, 2017
by Neelima

Exile and Justice @ BYOB Party in June 2017 (Part 7)

I’m in the process of reading Roberto Bolaño’s Last Evenings on Earth, his first short-story collection in English. The stories have a dreamy quality to them and speak about nameless faceless characters, probably signifying the feeling of exile and conflict that the Chilean exiled diaspora is so familiar with. I particularly enjoyed his stories about failed writers who grapple with failings within themselves and on a lighter note with poor marketing skills. I was excited to find this story about Bolaño’s writing style and watch this video about the man himself.

While Bolaño explored how the lack of justice could fragment societies and individuals, Michael Sandel writes about what exactly justice means. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel is a book based on a Harvard course taught by this esteemed professor. Sandel brings clarity to various issues in America including affirmative action, the conflict between utilitarianism and libertarianism, limits of the market, etc, and he links it to theories of justice by Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, etc.  “We need something like this pertaining to the Indian context,” Abhaya said.  Satish mentioned a surprising anecdote about the games he used to play as a thirteen-year-old, which included visiting an older intellectual friend who did very much what Sandel is doing in this book- outlining difficult cases and discussing possible solutions. Apurba, a lawyer herself, talked about a case similar to one that Abhaya had picked out of the book and she compared the situation to the one in the book and movie Life of Pi.

Abhaya also talked about the fictional representation of the paradox of utilitarianism in Ursula Le Guin’s powerful short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

And with that, we have come to the end of an intense BYOB Party. Looking forward to the next one!

August 10, 2017
by Neelima

Censorship in Soviet Russia @ Link Wanderlust

In the essay, The Writers who Defied Soviet Censors, Benjamin Ramm chronicles the story of samizdat, which is really the story of self-publishing in Russia vs state publishing. The author goes back in history to understand how information in the form of ‘political tracts, religious texts, novels, poetry, speeches and music’ was secretly circulated by anonymous writers. Russia, previously the USSR, has a long history of radical pamphlets, jailed writers and revolutionary zeal often quashed.

The complete process was summarised pithily by dissident Vladimir Bukovsky: “Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend jail time for it myself”.

This essay is fascinating as it brings the present crises across countries into the spotlight- think Wikileaks and internet gags. The medium may change but the problem of censorship remains the same. Can a writer armed with nothing but her fingers change a narrative controlled by huge players? Impossible as it may seem, the writer tries.

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August 8, 2017
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 145 (2-Aug to 8-Aug)

1. Sam Shepard, Actor and Pulitzer-Winning Playwright, Is Dead at 73

2. Microsoft Adds Read Aloud Feature to Word

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3. David Leadbeater wins the first Amazon Kindle Storyteller award for self-published archaeological thriller, The Relic Hunters

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4. Sadiq Khan in £40k library funding pledge

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5. James Comey, casualty of Trump’s ‘Russia thing’, signs $2m book deal

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August 7, 2017
by Neelima

Coffee Shops, Kabul and Elephant Whisperers @ BYOB Party in June 2017 (Part 6)

Ranjini got what one of the regulars of BYOB Party calls a light book. We can’t have a BYOB Party without that sort of book- light on the mind and easy to read. She picked up The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, a book by Deborah Rodriguez, from Blossom Book House, Bangalore’s most well-known second-hand bookshop.

Although the title of the book seems ironical today as one would not associate coffee shops with Kabul, the author has worked in this part of the world and created a beauty salon to empower women living there (she’s also written a book about this called The Kabul Beauty School). War is the backdrop of her story but the characters she talks about are five women- Sunny, the proprietor of the cafe; Yazimina, a young pregnant woman; Candace, an American woman with an Afghan lover; Isabel, a journalist; and Halajan, a sixty-year-old, with a unique love affair and a difficult relationship with her son. The book can’t be categorized as chick lit as the situation that the women find themselves in is grave at times. It was interesting to read about Halajan’s relationship with society- she was a product of less conservative times and so she has her hair cut short and has a lover, all very embarrassing behavior as far as her son, a product of more conservative times, is concerned. The conversation veered to how different Afghanistan was once upon a time and how when the Russian tanks rolled in, the country rewrote its story.

Divya got a very different book called The Elephant Whisperer: Learning About Life, Loyalty and Freedom from a Remarkable Herd of Elephants by Lawrence Anthony, a conservationist. This is a true story of how the author was asked to accept a herd of rogue elephants at the Thila Thula game reserve in Zululand and in spite of the risks involves, he went ahead as this was the last chance for the herd to survive. Anthony writes about the relationships that he observed among the elephants and the relationship that he forged with the animals themselves.

Elephant lovers may like this link to a story by Jose Saramago now adapted into a play in Hindi about an elephant that trudged 3000 kms from Lisbon through Spain, the Alps and Vienna. Gajab Kahani tells the story of Solomon the elephant and Subhro, an imagined Bengali mahout.

Also, a story excerpt featuring an elephant, from Kanish Tharoor’s book Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories by Kanishk Tharoor.



August 3, 2017
by Neelima

Are you Reading More or Less? @ Link Wanderlust

Has it happened to you that you were once an avid reader but find that now more and more you are just in a hurry and are not reading enough? This is what Philip Yancey talks about in The death of reading is threatening the soul. The author of the essay talks about how books define him and how he used to read three books a week. Now he finds that his commitment to reading is faltering and it’s not because of a dearth of books.

The Internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around. When I read an online article from the Atlantic or the New Yorker, after a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links. Soon I’m over at reading Donald Trump’s latest tweets and details of the latest terrorist attack, or perhaps checking tomorrow’s weather.

Sounds familiar?

The internet is giving too much of a dopamine rush and this prevents many potential readers from deep reading. Many successful entrepreneurs make an effort to read and they talk about it.

When asked about his secret to success, Warren Buffett pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will…”

Tell us if you are reading more books than ever before or if it’s the other way round.


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August 1, 2017
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 144 (26-July to 1-Aug)

Man Booker Prize 2017 longlist

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Sherman Alexie’s mother’s ghost prompts him to cancel book tour

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Publishers in Japan Produce LGBT-Themed Books for Students

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Naiyer Masud, India’s enigmatic storyteller, dies

Game of Thrones: Winds of Winter could be out in 2018, says George RR Martin

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