May 23, 2017
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 134 (17-May to 23-May)

1.The Orwell prize for books 2017 shortlist

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2.Burglars steal Harry Potter prequel written on postcard

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3.George RR Martin says Game of Thrones spin-offs will all be prequels – and announces a fifth

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4.Channel 4 Acquires MGM’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for the U.K

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5.Amazon Charts is a Weekly Best-Seller List

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May 22, 2017
by Neelima

Cyber Psyche and Bureaucratic Algorithms @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 3)

In today’s screen age, the book that Sreeraj talked about is pertinent. The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online by Mary Aiken, the world’s leading expert in forensic cyberpsychology, talks about how the cyber world is intruding on our way of life, the minds of our children and the way people interact or not with each other. From the madness of trolling to excessive sexting, Aiken navigates the corridors of cyber crime and addictive behavior. The book is not academic in flavor but goes on a case by case basis, providing stats and trends that may want us to shut down our laptops for a while and rethink appeasing our children with digital tablets.

Ralph mentioned a companion book to this called Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil. The book talks about how algorithms that are making life simpler by helping make decisions about whom to give a loan or a scholarship to are as biased as people. On one hand, there’s the view that engineers need to be empathetic as their biases rub off in the algorithms they create. But the problem is not so clear cut. Data-driven decisions are based on what the mathematical models are learning continuously. While biases are inevitable, algorithms end up being the new bureaucracy.

“Be afraid,” Jaya said.

More books in Part 4.

May 18, 2017
by Neelima

Why Witches Look the Way they do @ Link Wanderlust

Stumbled on an essay by Jon Crabb. He starts his essay Woodcuts and Witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when England was witnessing a publishing revolution in the form of pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts. It was also a time of witch hunts (around three thousand so-called sorcerers were executed in England alone) that had papal endorsement. Today witch hunts still exist in places like Papua New Guinea but around five hundred years ago this was a punishable offense in the western world.

One of the earliest and most notorious British witchcraft pamphlets was published in 1579: A Rehearsall both Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile, alias Rockingham, Mother Dutten, Mother Deuell, Mother Margaret, Fower Notorious Witches. Stile was a 65-year-old widow and beggar accused of bewitching an innkeeper. The pamphlet describes her association with three other old women known as Mother Margaret, Mother Dutten and Mother Devell, as well as a man named Father Rosimunde, who could transform himself “into the shape and likenesse of any beaste whatsoever he will”. Woodcuts show these old women and several animal familiars, which they reportedly fed on their own blood.

A witch was usually an old woman who lived on her own and owned a cat. A woodcut chronicling the Damnable Life of Doctor Fian, a Notable Sorcerer, who was Burned at Edenbrough in Januarie Last, 1591, had a stock image of witches with devils swimming around a cauldron. These images that were part of popular culture back then have stayed. Witches still have pointed hats, stir bubbling cauldrons and travel on broomsticks, though now they play Quidditch on broomsticks. Muse on that.

Castle, Cat, Evil, Female, Fictional, Flying, Full Moon






May 16, 2017
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 133 (10-May to 16-May)

1.Dylan Thomas prize goes to Australian ‘genius’ Fiona McFarlane

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2.Francis Spufford wins the Ondaatje prize with Golden Hill

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3.BBC doctor Chatterjee wins book deal after six-way auction

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4.Milo Yiannopoulos to Sue Simon & Schuster, Self-Publish Memoir

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5.Andy Weir is publishing a new crime book set on the moon

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May 15, 2017
by Neelima

Seeds of Disaster and Lords of Finance @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 2)

Ralph found yet another academic book called Seeds of Disaster, Roots of Response: How Private Action Can Reduce Public Vulnerability edited by Philip E. Auerswald. The book is the first systematic attempt to make sense of how private leadership can provide critical services during bad times. The book stresses the importance of both the public and private sectors joining hands as a prerequisite to accountability in society. The book presents multiple perspectives and draws on experts from various disciplines. Ralph drew on his observations of crises in India and the fallacy of resilience as a tool to mitigate disaster.

One book Mandar was particularly inspired by was Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed, a writer of Pakistani origin. The book was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2009. The book delves into the economic recession of the 1930s that led to WWII. He speaks of the four central bankers of the premier banks of the world who mismanaged the crises since the 1920s which ultimately led to the Great Depression. He also mentions how John Maynard Keynes’ economic predictions were conveniently ignored for the sake of short-term interests. Mandar mused about how there are many lessons in this book for dealing with the current economic crises, though as is usually the case, history tends to repeat itself. Mandar read out an interesting passage from the book about remonetization:

“The task of keeping Germany adequately supplied with currency notes became a major logistical operation involving ‘133 printing works with 1783 machines . . . and more than 30 paper mills.’  By 1923, the inflation had acquired a momentum of its own, creating an ever-accelerating appetite for currency that the Reichsbank, even after conscripting private printers, could not meet. In a country already flooded with paper, there were even complaints of a shortage of money in municipalities, so towns and private companies began to print their own notes. Over the next few months, Germany ex-perienced the single greatest destruction of monetary value in human history. By August 1923, a dollar was worth 620,000 marks and by early November 1923, 630 billion.

Basic necessities were now priced in the billions—a kilo of butter cost 250 billion; a kilo of bacon 180 billion; a simple ride on a Berlin street car, which had cost 1 mark before the war, was now set at 15 billion. Even though currency notes were available in denominations of up to 100 billion marks, it took whole sheaves to pay for anything. The country was awash with currency notes, carried around in bags, in wheelbarrows, in laundry baskets and hampers, even in baby carriages.”

Ralph mentioned another financial story called Fault Line: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram Rajan (Governor of the Reserve Bank of India between September 2013 and September 2016) who warned about the impending financial crises before it occurred. Raghuram exposed not just the central bankers but the chinks in the economy and spending habits that could lead to such crises. This is the first time that we have had such an extensive discussion of financial books at the BYOB Party and it opened up the need to understand the economy better. A sick economy once nurtured Nazism and could only be cured by the ensuing destruction of a World War and now the financial crises that plague the world reflect directly in a real politik and the rise of populism world over. Food for thought.

More books in Part 3.


May 11, 2017
by Neelima

Project Ocean and the Books in your Head @ Link Wanderlust

What would happen if every single book on earth was accessible on a single website? It almost happened.

The Google Books Project codenamed Project Ocean was an ambitious one.  It would give you access to the full text of everything ever written. And you would not just be able to read them but search and copy paste them. But the universal library is not to be. A legal agreement that would have changed the fate of books was rejected by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“In August 2010, Google put out a blog post announcing that there were 129,864,880 books in the world. The company said they were going to scan them all.

Of course, it didn’t quite turn out that way. This particular moonshot fell about a hundred-million books short of the moon. What happened was complicated but how it started was simple: Google did that thing where you ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and forgiveness was not forthcoming. Upon hearing that Google was taking millions of books out of libraries, scanning them, and returning them as if nothing had happened, authors and publishers filed suit against the company, alleging, as the authors put it simply in their initial complaint, ‘massive copyright infringement.’ “

To know more about the Authors Guild v. Google fiasco, read Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria by James Somers.

Books, Door, Entrance, Italy, Colors, City, Scenography

Science facilitates ideas like these. Take another one- what if you upload a book to your brain, what then? While Google has in its database millions of books that cannot be read, another idea by futurists suggests that our brains ‘might someday interface directly with non-biological forms of intelligence, possibly with the help of nano-bots that travel through our capillaries.’

This means you longer have to read War and Peace. Besides the copyright issues involved if books can be uploaded to your brain, another issue the author talks about is relevance. What would a book like The Brothers Karamazov mean if was in your brain already. Part of the beauty of a book comes from rereading it at different times in your life so that new meanings come forth.

Read the story What If We Could Upload Books to Our Brains? by Cathy O’Neil.






May 8, 2017
by Neelima

Hindi Poetry and Dialogs with God @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 1)

The session kicked off with a Hindi poetry book, Kuchh Ishq Kiya Kuchh Kaam Kiya, by Piyush Mishra, an Indian film and theater actor, music director, lyricist, singer, scriptwriter. Being a part of Bollywood, his writing is popular, Jay observed. It is very difficult otherwise for an unknown writer of poetry to be read and enjoyed. Since Mishra is one who has seen life in all its facets, his writing is informed by experience and the contemporary life. His style is to the point and devoid of unnecessary frills. Ari read out a couple of poems and the BYOB party took on an air of lyricism.

Archana spoke about a series that she was impressed by for its therapeutic and cathartic value- Conversations with God, a sequence of books, running up to three-thousand pages, written by Neale Donald Walsch where Walsch asks questions and God answers. Walsch wrote the book during a low period in his life when he was looking for answers.The first book published in 1995 became a publishing phenomenon, staying on the New York Times Best-Sellers List for 135 weeks.

Here is an interview with the author in case you want to listen to some words of wisdom from a spiritual messenger, where he talks about fundamental spiritual questions:

Abhaya mentioned that Muhammad Iqbal, a celebrated Urdu poet, has written two controversial books in a several vein (this is much earlier, some time before the 1920s) called Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa. While the first part of the book addresses questions to God and attracted much ire from Muslim scholars, the second part was welcomed and praised.

More books in Part 2.