It was our first one in the cold winter sun- we sat outside on the office terrace. The sun got too hot in a while, so we shifted our chairs back inside. We all liked the idea of talking about books on the terrace. And so it happened that on the first Friday of December a book club was born.
This Book Club is a little different from the conventional idea of a book club. We don’t focus on a single book or genre- we just talk about the books we are reading. We interrupt each other and we take notes. We also immediately steal the other person’s book once the book club is done.
“I’m reading women novelists this year,” Abhaya said and he held out a book called The Thousand Faces of Night. He aims to read 40 books by the end of the year and there are three more books to go.
The book won the 1993 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. It’s a slender volume with an extremely promising prelude. Feminism is woven with mythology- so there is the story of Amba and the story of Gandhari. Did Abhaya like the book?
“I’d give it 2-3, no 3,” he said.
A political satire and a short book– Animal Farm was the book Srishti read. Everyone likes a short book, so we had all read it and we started interrupting her when she spoke. “I like the part when the pigs say alcohol is banned and then they get drunk,” said Srishti. “It’s the same kind of hypocrisy that we see in all political systems that Orwell talks about.”
As it is with political satires, books like Animal Farm can turn your head and discussions as well. Suddenly everyone was talking about V for Vendetta, a graphic novel by Alan Moore. As far as political books go, there is 1984 and War and Peace. What’s on par with Animal Farm?
Jaya held on to a massive tome by Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy. “Philosophy is the basis of everything,” she said. It turns out that all disciplines spring from this strange obsession we have with what we can learn about the human life.
Jaya is in comprehensive reading mode- so she went into great detail about what Utopia really meant to Plato. Utopia may mean a world of perfection to us, but the idea of Utopia was grounded in Spartan life—incidentally the Spartans had a reputation for communal living and being very hard on themselves indeed. It was not an ideal society- weak babies were left to die and slaves were a given. A very different kind of Utopia if ever there is one.
Philosophy is quite delightful by the way. Jaya read out some fun portions; don’t we all know about the mystic mathematician Pythogarus?
“Pythagoras is one of the most interesting and puzzling men in history. Not only are the traditions concerning him an almost inextricable mixture of truth and falsehood, but even in their barest and least disputable form they present us with a very curious psychology. He may be described, briefly, as a combination of Einstein and Mrs. Eddy. He founded a religion, of which the main tenets were the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. His religion was embodied in a religious order, which, here and there, acquired control of the State and established a rule of the saints. But the unregenerate hankered after beans, and sooner or later rebelled.
Some of the rules of the Pythagorean order were:
- To abstain from beans.
- Not to pick up what has fallen.
- Not to touch a white cock.
- Not to break bread.
- Not to step over a crossbar.
- Not to stir the fire with iron.
- Not to eat from a whole loaf.
- Not to pluck a garland.
- Not to sit on a quart measure.
- Not to eat the heart.
- Not to walk on highways.
- Not to let swallows share one’s roof.
- When the pot is taken off the fire, not to leave the mark of it in the ashes, but to stir them together.
- Do not look in a mirror beside a light.
- When you rise from the bedclothes, roll them together and smooth out the impress of the body.”
Jaya will be telling us a lot more about this book in our next Talking Terrace meet.
I talked about MAUS- a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. What I liked about this Pulitzer Prize winning comic strip was how the two narratives focused on one man, the artist’s father. This biographical tale talks in the present and past tense about a man who survived the holocaust. Survival doesn’t mean you forget suffering—at least this is the message I got from this book. Ironically, life after struggle (at an individual level) is the same as anyone else’s struggle-free life.
“The irony of the comic strip for me,” said Srishti,” was that even after Vladek (the artist writer’s father-protagonist of the story) went through so much racism inflicted pain, he was a racist himself.”
Which goes to show that reading graphic novels can bring up the big questions that need to be discussed today.
We all can’t wait for our next book club meeting. Reading books is not enough; talking about those books you invested time in is very rewarding.
Tell us what you’ve been reading.