November 15, 2018
by Neelima

Readability and Literary Fiction @ Link Wanderlust

When Anna Burns won the Booker for her novel Milkman, there was much applause and criticism. Her book threw up the question of readability. Is great literature necessarily difficult?

Sam Leith explores the layers of difficulty in a book- it really depends. It is not necessarily an authorial flaw or snootiness that makes a novel hard to fathom. It could be the difficulty of format or theme. If the reader is unfamiliar with the author’s milieu that presents another kind of difficulty. Commercial fiction is tailored in such a way that the reader need only focus on the plot while in literary fiction there is a deliberate attempt to slow things down.

Let’s not assume that challenging work is like some sort of joyless high-fibre diet…

Leith lists some impossibly difficult books as well. A very easy-to-read story on the impossibility of comprehending some kinds of literary fiction.

Read Pretentious, impenetrable, hard work … better? Why we need difficult books.

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November 13, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 207 (7-Nov to 13-Nov)

1. Amazon’s AbeBooks backs down after booksellers stage global protest

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2. Peter Rabbit brought to life on augmented reality app Bookful 

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3. ‘Single-use’ as Collin’s dictionary’s word of the year

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4. Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ Adaptation ‘The Watch’ Lands At BBC America

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5. Remarkable Writing Tablet Updated With Remarkable Handwriting OCR Feature

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November 12, 2018
by Neelima

The India Story and Clear Thinking @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 7)

Image result for attitude is everything amazonNow for some non-fiction books. Subrit followed the tradition of book lovers who are inspired by self-help books. Attitude is Everything is a book by a motivational speaker called Jeff Keller. He prescribes three maxims to arrive at your true potential: Think, Speak and Act! Sounds simple enough.

Image result for india unbound amazonRohan talked about the second Gurucharan Das book of the day called India Unbound, the  story of post-independent India. “We were only taught the pre-independent India story and this book talks in-depth about social, cultural and economic aspects of contemporary India.” Rohan went on to read a passage from the book:

“Today India’s caste system is in a state of transition. A half century of democracy has raised the status and esteem of the lower castes. Periodic elections have created vote banks, the lower castes have used to politics to to rise socially, and there is a social revolution under way, especially in the backward northern states. Its biggest prize is that half the government jobs and places in colleges are now reserved for the lower castes.What democracy has done for the lower castes in the twentieth century, capitalism will do in the twenty-first. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and there is little to stop it from continuing to grow between 6 and 8 percent a year for the next couple of decades. At this rate there will be unprecedented new jobs, and this will create new opportunities for everyone. The better jobs, it is true, will go to the better educated. But as the lower castes begin to realize that the better jobs are in the private sector rather than in the government, they will turn, one hopes, to education rather than reservations.”

Abhaya clarified that in spite of this hope, in India there remains an overwhelming preference for government jobs imprinted in employee DNA.

Image result for the art of thinking clearly amazonThe Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli is a book that’s come up a couple of times before in the BYOB Party.  Varun opined that understanding cognitive neuroscience is a great start if you want to overcome biases. The book contains a series of snippets. He doesn’t see the book as self-help, rather he sees it as a book that helps build self-awareness, although it is arguable how far the distinction lies. So how do you know if you have biases? If you are not willing to change your mindset on any topic, it means you probably have biases in that area. And also, the general assumption that everyone has biases can not be ruled out.

This is an interesting website that helps you think about thinking better.

And with that, we come to the end of this BYOB Party.

November 8, 2018
by Neelima

Dystopia @ Link Wanderlust

Dystopian fiction has attained cult status. Take The Handmaid’s Tale, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go. The new-found popularity of these novels reflects the preferences of a readership who are unable to make sense of the grim realities of the present day. Adam O’Fallon Price explores various premise that need to be taken into account to comprehend the construction of worlds that have been annihilated. He identifies patterns in dystopian fiction – the concept of memory is warped and misinterpretation of time leads to the damage in the first place.

Dystopias, like Utopias, succeed or fail based on how convincingly and relevantly they correspond to the real world. Both dystopia and Utopia share the root topos, “place” in Greek, and purport to tell us about the possibilities of our own place through fictional exaggeration. It therefore seems reasonable to expect they might tell us not only about the mess we’re in but how we got into it—and how to escape.

Read How to Live in a Dystopian Fiction here.

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November 5, 2018
by Neelima

Mise en abyme, Polymaths and Trains @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 6)

Image result for the counterfeiters amazon primeSamarth got the BYOB Party back into fiction mode by deconstructing The Counterfeiters by French novelist André Gide. This immersive book hosts multiple characters and points of view as well as various plotlines including Mise en abyme (a novel in a novel) and is considered as the precursor to the nouveau roman. In this philosophical novel, the real counterfeiters are not the makers of false coins but the writers themselves – Édouard and Gide himself.  The book deals with identity, the nature of truth, alter ego, deception and the Parisian culture of the time.

You may be interested in reading Andre Gide’s  Nobel Prize winner’s acceptance speech here.

Image result for the man without qualities amazonRakesh explained how difficult his quest for a definite favorite book has been but he finally did find one, while on a quest for the thickest book- an obscure and prestigious book of ideas called The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. It’s a book of ideas that he keeps going back to, the story of the Viennese Ulrich who was a soldier, a polymath and sceptic. The book is populated by emotional and logical characters and the ideas that percolate through a single chapter of the book gives enough for you to chew on for days. Rakesh read out a passage:

“At this moment he wished to be a man without qualities. But this is probably not so different from what other people sometimes feel too. After all, by the time they have reached the middle of their life’s journey few people remember how they managed to arrive at themselves, at their amusements, their point of view, their wife, character, occupation and successes, but they cannot help feeling that not much is likely to change anymore. It might even be asserted that they have been cheated, for one can nowhere discover any sufficient reason for everything’s coming about as it has. It might just have well as turned out differently. The events of people’s lives have, after all, only to the last degree originated in them, having generally depended on all sorts of circumstances such as the moods, the life or death of quite different people, and have, as it were, only at the given point of time come hurrying towards them.”

Tempting book indeed!

Image result for last train to istanbul amazonAnshuman got an interesting fiction called the Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin, a screenwriter whose experience with cinematic narrative seeps into her novels. The title reminds you of Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh but there the similarity ends. Kulin explores multiple themes like ethnicity, the politics of migration, the impossibility of love and the irony of human situations. The plot is pretty complex – a Muslim girl falls in love with a Jewish boy and since this is faux pas, they flee to Europe just when Nazi flags fly high and become part of an elaborately planned escape. Definitely a page-turner.

More books discussed in Part 7.


November 1, 2018
by Neelima

Ambient Lit and the Death of Storytelling @ Link Wanderlust

Reading is changing. Have you heard of a trend called Ambient literature? I hadn’t until I came across this story – The immersive new book trend you need to know about by Sarah Shaffi. This new kind of literature takes the reader’s environment into account to create a more involved reader experience. So if it is raining outside your window, it will start reading in the book too. The interior spaces you inhabit feature in the story sometimes. The book uses camera apps and maps on the reader’s phone to replicate real-time experiences. Not surprisingly this method has been put to use to create an engaging ghost story.

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Has storytelling really become a thing of the past- there was a time when the loss of oral stories was decried but now social media tells everyone’s story every minute. People craft narratives of themselves to sell themselves, to advertise or merely to be the go-to guide. So Fernandes questions this excess- could curated narratives be considered storytelling?

“The Italian narrative theorist Alessandro Portelli says that when we tell stories, we switch strategically between the modes of the personal, the political, and the collective. The contemporary boom of curated storytelling has involved a shift in emphasis away from collective and political modes of narration toward the personal mode. “

Stories cannot be capsuled for a happy fb moment; there’s so much more that’s needed to understand the true plight of say someone who has been oppressed. Although stories are the talk of the hour and the beginning of many a revolutionary hashtag, we may still need to go back to the ancients who had perfected the oral storytelling method. Do you agree? Read The evisceration of storytelling by Sujatha Fernandes.