October 16, 2018
October 15, 2018
Mugdha started off an engaging discussion with the book Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, a book by award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe. She got wind of this book while listening to one of the episodes of a quirky podcast called No Such Thing As a Fish. Women seem to be having their moment, what with skeletons tumbling out of closets and hashtags dedicated to the gender equality phenomenon, so a discussion on menstruation in a society that encourages a culture of menstrual silence or menstrual whispering is a welcome change.
The book talks about how society deals with women, tilting the scales toward scientific solutions vs cultural ones. The author of the book is a comedian and she doesn’t find women’s bodies funny. Neither does she understand why sexy women need to stare at you from billboards everywhere in the world. She doesn’t understand why menstruation is so big a deal and the fountainhead of so many bizarre rituals and why child-bearing is the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence. One way to deal with cultural biases is to weigh the scientific feasibility of decisions- so if child marriage is acceptable in society, science clearly shows that pregnancy could put an underage girl’s life at risk. Feminism doesn’t apply here, only common sense. If you can’t vote and drive, then why get married?
Deepti’s book followed the woman theme too. She enjoyed listening to the author Natasha Badhwar at a literary festival and picked up her book My Daughter’s Mum, a series of essays compiled from a popular column in Mint Lounge. The author talks about the conscious decisions she made to spend time with her family away from the madness of urban life. A media professional, she quit her job and focused on her children and the vagaries of being a mother. “It almost feels like the author is following her children with a notebook and a pen as she records the lightest moments and makes them meaningful!” Deepti said. She read out a passage where the author describes her daughter in such a heartwarming way; everyone listening immediately connected with it.
You might enjoy an interview with the author at the IVM podcast.
It’s not just writers, artists too share the ordinary life in endearing ways. Take Catana Comics.
Badhwar’s ability to turn the mundane into the endearing is a trait that many authors share. Abhaya talked about how Rohit David Brijnath, a veteran Indian sports journalist, bought along the same kind of flare when he wrote sport.
More books in Part 4.
October 11, 2018
So have you been guilty of trying to read a book completely even if you didn’t want to? That seems to be a common enough offence and one that Katie Heaney talks about in her essay Why It’s So Hard to Stop Reading Books You Don’t Even Like. Sometimes it’s a review that leads you to a book and you keep reading, waiting for the five-star feeling even when there is none. Researchers have coined a term for this — gritty. A gritty reader never gives up, going ahead, and probably feeling guilty that she can not finish.
Another essay I came across called Millenial Reading Habits have Changed the Definition of a Classic by
Ajinomoh Ozovehe Caleb deconstructs the shrinking lifespans of popular books. There was a time when books like Dr. Zhivago stayed on the bestseller list for over 20 weeks but now a good book stays on the bestseller list for a week and then it’s time for another one. Why is this happening? Caleb blames it on the larger output of books and changing dynamics of readership. Read the story for more.
October 9, 2018
October 8, 2018
Akshay spoke about The Difficulty of Being Good, a book by Gurucharan Das. If there is an epic that probes into life’s difficult questions, it is the Mahabharat and Das goes back to the epic to look for answers to the problems that we face today. How can the dharma be enacted when the odds are against the good? Interestingly, he looks at other epics including the Homeric ones and compares how wrong done is not pondered on; from the Mahabharat came the Bhagavad Gita, a mature philosophical treatise that weighs the pros and cons of to be and not to be. “The characters in the Mahabharat are grey. The Pandavas may have Krishna on their side but still they are fallible and even use unfair means to win,” Akshay said. “So goodness is not absolute and one does act for the sake of dharma, one acts because one must.”
Srikanth had read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The book is becoming a regular topic of discussion at our BYOB Parties and it makes sense as it is an anti-war book. Vonnegut focuses the book on the World War II bombing of Dresden. The book is part sci-fi (reminiscent of the movies Arrival and Interstellar), part memoir and was a hard book to write. Srikanth was impressed by the way Vonnegut wrote about the phenomenon of being unstuck in time- so the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is a pilgrim of sorts traversing the world and galaxies and for him, time is not linear; it’s a series of peaks and troughs. The book is very philosophical, besides being humorous. You could listen to the entire book here.
Abhaya mentioned how Shashi Deshpande played with the idea of time in her book That Long Silence. The conversations in the book seem to between different aspects of the same person. Other books about time that cropped up were The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
More books in Part 3.
October 4, 2018
The Atlantic has a lovely series called By Heart which I’ve featured a couple of times here on the blog. Today I came across another gem called E. B. White’s Lesson for Debut Writers: It’s Okay to Start Small.
The passage that Nicole Chung quoted and that forms the crux of this essay is a quote by E.B. White about sailing. Chung is Korean by descent and many times in her life she’s played the role of outsider. When you read her interview, you notice how the patterns of her life unfold and how her love for sailing becomes a metaphor for her writing journey. When E.B. White talks about his writing process, he emphasizes on starting small and Chung follows this maxim with all her heart.
I think it’s useful for everyone, no matter what stage of their career they’re at, to know it’s okay to write for yourself first—sometimes only for yourself. There are going to be things that you might need to work out on the page, alone, before you’re ready to share them more widely. I don’t think there’s always a rush. It’s okay to take the longer voyage.
Reading Chung’s essay is a boost in the arm for any writer’s imposter syndrome affliction. Even if you are afraid to write your story, you can start small. Sometimes it’s these small ripples that begin the wave.
October 2, 2018
October 1, 2018
The BYOB Party in September started with a discussion of a book that is not typical Murakimesque. When you speak of the writer who currently withdrew his name from the Alternate Nobel Prize, you talk about a surrealist cult writer. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a conversation that the author has about running, of course, and endurance and writing and many things. It’s a slim book and a practical one with life lessons. Do you remember the Review and a Half post that we done about this book a long time ago? Here’s the link in case you are interested.
Mukesh and Sowmya, both fitness fans, enjoyed reading the book. I’ve read about how Murakami became a writer many times but it is one of those tales that does not tire you and Murakami seems to know this for he talks again about how he sold his jazz bar to do writing full-time. Fitness has been an integral part of the discipline that is needed to wrote as prolifically as he does and running has been the fulcrum of his fitness plan.
To run you need to prepare and execute and endure, something like writing.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.”
“Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago.”
Another book that focuses on running is Running: A Novel by Jean Echenoz. This book tells the story of Emil Zátopek who was a factory worker with contempt for athletics. His participation in a single race changes his perspective and he acquires a passion for long-distance running.
Sowmya identifies with Murakami’s logs.
Says Murakami, “No matter how mundane some actions may appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes contemplative and at some point it is meditative.”
“Even cooking and reading are therapeutic for some people. But you never start happy….it’s a struggle to keep up everyday. Until you get on the road it’s hard, then you are sorted. Taking the step is good enough-that is the motivation- finishing 1 km. And the energy is contagious after a while.” Soumya talked about the marathons she attended in Mumbai and the sweetness of the encouraging crowd. “It’s different in Bengaluru; runners are seen as traffic stoppers and resented sometimes. Whatever is the case, fitness should never be compromised.”
Running is a journey and Murakami writes about in the true spirit of a committed runner. More books in Part 2.