June 18, 2018
by Neelima
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Blue Eyes and Feisty Centenarians @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 3)

The noisy debates were taken over by the lull of storytelling when Alok spoke about Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye. The central character of the book is a young girl called Pecola Breedlove. She is a young black American girl who dreams of blue eyes; the perfect trope to explore expected standards of beauty. The book is not a streamlined story but layered instead with flashbacks that hover over the African American identity. If you want to know more about the making of this story, listen to the Nobel Prize Winner speak about what compelled her to write about the least privileged and vulnerable. Click here.

Mugdha was fascinated by the Swedish writer, Jonas Jonasson, who wrote the book The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The story begins in a nursing home where a hundred-year-old decides to escape, perhaps prompted to action by excessive vodka. His adventure takes him through many humorous moments but the story also delves into Allan Karlson’s past. His work as an explosives expert has taken him around the world. Like Forest Gump, he has met prominent leaders of the twentieth century and using his irreligious stoic attitude as a microphone, the author talks about the history in an impartial voice. The same voice punctuates another book that was discussed at the BYOB Party called The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden: A Novel.

More books in Part 4.

 

June 14, 2018
by Neelima
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Gender and Race @ Link Wanderlust

michael fassbender films GIFWhich is your fave Charlotte Bronte book? You would say that she wrote only one book – Jane Eyre. But this is not true. She is little known for a book called Villette, a book far superior to the one she is known for. Joanna Russ talks about the dangers of restricting the gamut of female achievement. For one thing, by recognizing one book over others it reflects what perpetuates the stereotype. While Jane Eye is ultimately a love story, Villette is not.

“If a woman writes homosexual love poetry, suppress it and declare her an unhappy spinster—Amy Lowell.

If you still have trouble, invent an (unhappy) heterosexual affair for her to explain the poems—Emily Dickinson.

If she is not easy to edit, writes ten-act plays about women going to war to rescue their men, plays about women’s academies becoming more popular than men’s academies, and endless prefaces about men, women, sexist oppression, and the mistreatment she herself endures, forget it; she’s cracked—Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle.

If she writes about women’s relationships with women and “women heroes” (in Hacker’s phrase), print a few of her early lyrics and forget the rest—H. D.

If she writes about women’s experiences, especially the unpleasant ones, declare her hysterical or ‘confessional’—Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton.”

black panther avengers GIF by Marvel StudiosNowadays what was once the status quo is being disrupted at every turn. Tim Whitmarsh
the A G Leventis Professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge brings to our attention the “controversy” of the skin-color of the ancient Greeks. DId Achilles resemble Brad Pitt? Probably not.

The author investigates the nature of Achilles’s appearance and here he takes linguistic cues to decode skin tone and hair color. Not that the Greeks would straight jacket themselves in this way;

“The presence, in at least some early Greeks’ minds, of black Africans on the battlefield at Troy, however, might be thought sharply to reduce the possibility that the Greek forces themselves included warriors whom we would call black today. The big question, of course, is whether we can say anything about what Greeks themselves looked like. Here we have to tread especially carefully, because there are a lot of traps. People often and very easily refer to ancient Greeks as ‘European’, as if the meaning of that term were self-evident. But ‘Europe’ is a historical construct, not a fact of nature.”

Read Black Achilles for more.

June 11, 2018
by Neelima
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Ethics and Economics @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 2)

Image result for ethics blackburnSamarth started the ethical debate with Ethics by Simon Blackburn.  This book is part of the OUP series of Very Short Introductions to various topics from philosophy to quantum theory. In this book on ethics, Simon Blackburn talks about human conduct and the moral dilemmas that have led to the systems that govern us. Ethics is a branch of philosophy among others including ontology, metaphysics, etc. Blackburn touches on contemporary issues or problems from time immemorial and makes sure that this very complicated subject becomes accessible to the lay reader. The prose is elegant and this makes this slender volume a pleasant read. The immediate takeaway that Samarth had was about the all-encompassing nature and ubiquity of ethics. In a way, ethics is based on some impulse and the gratification of some desire. You have to justify how viable your behavior is in the long term and how it affects the welfare of the people around you. You may think you are operating outside this purview but there are unavoidable questions that steer our life. The book doesn’t have all the answers; it starts a dialog in your mind about human behavior. Abhaya spoke of a similar book, one on democracy, from the OUP series.

A fiery debate ensued about AI ethics- programmers who remain far removed from their actions, bots who imitate human speech, human responsibility to all things not alive, gene editing, molecular cloning….found this interesting article on bot ethics here: https://techcrunch.com/2016/09/16/hard-questions-about-bot-ethics/.

Image result for games in economic developmentPallavi spoke about Games in Economic Development, by Bruce Wydick a book that deals with how strategy is employed in political and economic decisions. The book looks at economics through elementary game theory and offers an all-round perspective across games in natural resource use, education, technology, insurance, etc.

More books in Part 3.

June 7, 2018
by Neelima
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The Story of the Page Number @ Link Wanderlust

You usually take the page number for granted. It doesn’t even figure in a famous book on typography but a lot of thought goes into where the page number should be on the page. It was Jan Tschichold who created the simple page number design as we know it today. A lot of things should be taken into account while creating a page number; for instance, eye movement is taken into consideration. Then other factors including where the page number is first placed, the odd and even placement of numbers on the verso and recto, the bookbinding requirements, etc.

“Merriam-Webster identifies two types of placements: “prominent” and “unobtrusive.” Prominent placement puts the folio on the top upper left and right of the leaf. Unobtrusive puts it anywhere on the bottom. The folios are placed in line with the running head (along which the chapter titles or title of the book rest) if they are at the top, but if the running head contains numbers the folios are better suited to the bottom of the page. The first pages of each new chapter dispense with the folio entirely to avoid clashing with the chapter headings.

Ultimately, the decision to make folios prominent or unobtrusive turns on what function they’re meant to serve in a particular book: a practical or aesthetic one.”

If that fascinates you, read What of the lowly page number by Marlon Ettinger.

June 4, 2018
by Neelima
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Kalaripayattu and Mathematics Graphic Novels @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 1)

Image result for odayan amazonThe BYOB Party in May started off with graphic novels, a segment of books that is growing in popularity in India. Amruta is a big fan of Indian graphic novels, particularly those that do not glorify mythology too much. She discovered a set of two graphic novels called Odayan, a martial art series featuring a mysterious vigilante who wants to give people back the power they have lost to the zamorin. The writer and artists Suhas Sundar and Deepak Sharma illustrate the feudalism that once existed in Kerala.

“I particularly loved the clean lines of the artwork. The vigilante wears something like a kathakali mask; by hiding his mukha (face), his intent is hidden. The story starts with the history of Kerala and how it was formed when Parashurama the warrior threw his axe. The story is distinctly Malayali and not your ususal DC comic.” Amrutha found the second part of the series a little darker interspersed with black magic but  she recommends the series for its originality: “They even have Malayalam words popping out during the fight scenes!”  Suhas Sundar won the best writer award for this work in the Comic Con India awards 2012.

Image result for logicomixVaibhav, a mathematician, also got a comic, one called Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadia, which we’ve discussed at a previous BYOB Party. This BYOB Party was the party of repeats- lots of books that have been talked about earlier popped up. What doesn’t remain the same is the discussions though. Similar books elicit multiple responses each time. Vaibhav expressed how difficult it is to get an accessible mathematical book, let alone a graphic novel that explores this theme. Logicomix tells the story of Bertrand Russell’s life and by way of this character, Doxiadia describes the 1920s, the golden age in mathematics when the foundations of truth and logic were laid. Russell interacts with characters he would not have been able to see in real life. Themes like the Russell’s Paradox came up and non-mathematical beings like myself got acquainted with mathematical greats like Gödel and Bourbaki. This BYOB Party had quite a bit of intense discussion and this was just the beginning!

June 1, 2018
by Neelima
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Visual Friday: Write and Wrong – Writer Moment

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