September 3, 2018
by Neelima

Firefly and Nihilism @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 5)

Image result for the accusation bandi amazonA question lingered about whether fiction did a better job of illustrating history. Arvind spoke about a work of fiction that showed how important the individual human struggle acts effectively as a mirror of human society. The book called The Accusation by a North Korean writer with the pseudonym Bandi (which translates as firefly) gives a relatively clear account of North Korea in seven short stories. Arvind was initially skeptical about reading the book fearing propaganda but many positive reviews later, he started and was then enamored by the panorama of the North Korean society that sprang up before him. Bandi has been described by some as the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Pyongyang, courtesy the dissident literature that Solzhenitsyn penned during the Stalinist era. Very little is known about Bandi except for the literary merit of his work and his Chekhovian eye. His translator Deborah Smith has added to the beauty of the work. An account of one short story that peeked into the unfortunate life of a party loyalist was shocking, to say the least. Perhaps the beauty of his prose could be attributed to Bandi being marooned by the politics of his country and uncertain of any target audience at all. His prose caters to nothing but the truth.

So storytelling is really an exercise in truth-telling.  Like Jaya said, “Regarding the fiction vs non-fiction question as ideal for representation, I think fiction wins hands down Learning anything factual requires that you understand the story behind it. The story of history matters when you understand what happened to the people who lived at that time on a day-to-day basis. So the author outlines their daily grievances, which may not necessarily amount to the critique of the regime.”

Image result for notes from undergroundSamarth spoke of another writer who was revolutionary in his approach. Fyodor Dostoyevsky chronicled the second half of the nineteenth century. Russia and all of Europe were going through an extraordinary transformation of culture and industrialization. It was a time of intense polarization. Dostoyevsky was a traditionalist and in his groundbreaking novel Notes from Underground, his unnamed defiant narrator broods all day and all night and pens a contradictory memoir that serves as a looking glass to society around and is a scathing attack on the hypocrisies of the society that he lived in. This is what his memoir sounds like:

“I am a sick man. … I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have,” But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well–let it get worse!…. I have been going on like that for a long time–twenty years. Now I am forty.”

Samarth was so impressed by the way the weakness of will of the narrator was depicted that he drew flowchart chronicling the movement of the narrator’s thoughts. The narrator is seized by a paralysis of will; perhaps a godless rationality that left him incapable of striving. Dostoyevsky’s ideology was an amalgam of Orthodoxy, rationality, Western ideals and romanticism and this seminal novel has influenced the breed of existential thinkers in Europe. The idea of free will that was discussed led to the discussion of a book called Against Nature  by Joris-Karl Huysmans that follows the life of a decadent, ailing aristocrat who retreats to an isolated villa and descends into depravity.

More books in Part 6.

August 30, 2018
by Neelima

Skim reading @ Link Wanderlust

Have you ever felt that the quality of your reading has suffered because you read books on your iPad or smartphone? Well, there is a difference in reading a print book and a PDF or an epub and what’s different is the entire deep reading process or what involves ‘inference, critical analysis and empathy’.

“This is not a simple, binary issue of print vs digital reading and technological innovation. As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as a society when we innovate, but when we ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. In this hinge moment between print and digital cultures, society needs to confront what is diminishing in the expert reading circuit, what our children and older students are not developing, and what we can do about it.”

Read  Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound by Maryanne Wolf.

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August 28, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 196 (22-Aug to 28-Aug)

1. Amazon could Buy a Movie Theater Chain

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2. The 2018 Hugo Award Winners

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3. The New York Public Library is publishing entire novels on Instagram 

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4. Snoop Dogg to publish cookbook, From Crook to Cook 

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5. Walmart’s latest move to compete with Amazon is a Kobo ebook and audiobook store 

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August 27, 2018
by Neelima

The Story of a Billionaire and the Commentaries of a Hypnotist @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 4)

Image result for Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of Spacex and Tesla is Shaping Our FutureAyush spoke about Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance. This book tells the story of the South African American entrepreneur who sold PayPal for $1.5 billion and the innovator who creates SpaceX and Tesla. Vance pus Musk on the same footing as inventors and industrialists like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs.  Early on Musk knew that there were three things that would change the world – the internet, sustainability and space travel.  After he sold PayPal, he invested all his energy in the very niche area of space travel, his only competitors being individual governments. He is known for his far-reaching plans, risk-taking mentality and unfortunate twitter handle. Reading about him, Ayush was troubled by a thought: To be successful do you need to be mean to others as you want to get things done? Think PhD advisors, Amazon workers in their warehouses and mothers-in-law!

Some answers included:  It is well-researched that many successful bosses have psychopathic characteristics; if you are a boss, people don’t have to like you; society has been constructed in such a way that it is aggressive characteristics that lead to success; empathy doesn’t translate into niceness if you are the boss  and could be purely utilitarian in motive.

The conclusion? People adopt this kind of behavior as a template of success; so they behaving arrogantly with their employees though they lack an innovator’s insight because they think that this guarantees success. However, being a badass success ultimately requires certain merits that not all bosses have.


Image result for my voice will go with you amazonKirthika spoke about a book called My Voice Will Go With You edited by Sidney Rosen. The book focuses on Milton H. Erickson,  the most influential hypnotherapist of our time. He used humor and storytelling to help people see situations differently. This book is a compilation of around a hundred tales and Dr. Rosen’s commentaries.

More books in Part 5.


August 23, 2018
by Neelima

Cross-Border Memoirs @ Link Wanderlust

I stumbled upon an article called The Difficulties of Writing a Cross-Border Memoir in Today’s World by Jean Guerrero, author of a cross-border memoir called Crux. She talks about her Mexican immigrant father and how he spent his life negotiating all kinds of borders, not just physical ones like Trump’s wall.

“One of the biggest challenges of writing memoir is making our personal stories relevant to the world around us without letting them be overtaken by the headlines. Current events are always changing. As a journalist who covers immigration, I have a front-row seat to the rapidfire metamorphosis of the border region. What makes the average book more valuable than the average news story is its longer lifespan; it speaks to something unchanging in the species.”

She explains the challenges of writing memoir as very often headlines try to punctuate the narrative and this is dangerous as headlines are only symptomatic of the past. A memoir picks up the pieces of individual lives and throws light on the broader aspects of humanity.

Read the essay.

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August 21, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 195 (15-Aug to 21-Aug)

1. Ex-Trump aide Manigault Newman spills all for S&S

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2. Hawkins’ Girl on the Train named UK’s most borrowed library book

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3. Alex Rider Series Heads to TV With Sony, Eleventh Hour

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4. Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction to CE Tobisman for ‘Proof’

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5. HarperCollins to publish Thai cave rescue book in December

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August 20, 2018
by Neelima

Poison, Embryos and Polyphony @ BYOB Party at JustBooks, Sahakarnagar in July 2018 (Part 3)

If you found all the conversation about philosophy interesting but you are hesitant to read the great minds, maybe pop philosophy would be a good place to turn to. Abhaya suggested that we read Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel who engages the reader with contemporary issues including same-sex marriages, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, PTSD-related perception, etc.  His arguments help the reader understand more about the dynamics involved in decisionmaking when it comes to politics, ethics, morality and day to day living.

Image result for The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York Reprint EditionMugdha brought along an interesting book called The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York Reprint Edition by Deborah Blum. She’s also the author of another equally fascinating book called Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death which is the story of William James and his fascination for the occult. The Poisoner’s Handbook is a fascinating story of chemistry, poison and the bedrock of forensics. Back in the early 1900s and prior to that, murdering someone using poison could hardly be proved. The coroner’s office was chaotic and it was Charles Norris, a wealthy medical examiner, and a toxicologist called Alexander Gettler who created the field of forensic chemistry and changed the way crime was investigated by providing a proper framework to build investigation upon. “So many things can kill us,” Mugdha said, “So there needed to be some kind of yardstick. These were some questions that needed answering. How much arsenic led to poisoning? What alcohol level in the blood could be surmised as legal?” Many ideas sprang up about the way gas lamps killed people by causing carbon monoxide poisoning, how the Russians were experts when it came to all matters toxic, the death of Napolean by arsenic, the suspicious deaths of well-known celebrities and exogamy in the Indus Valley.

Image result for sing you home jodi amazonPrerna spoke about a book that carried forward the theme of ethical dilemmas that ran throughout the BYOB Party. Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult tells the story of three characters who have trouble conceiving. Zoe, the principle character, is a music therapist. She moves on to a same-sex relationship while her husband moves in with his picture-perfect brother and wife. A legal battle over the existing embryos leads to fundamental questions being raised. Who exactly constitutes a family? Is one kind of family superior to another?

Homosexuality, the concept of deviants, the rights of embryos, egg-freezing employee benefits and surrogacy were discussed. Also since the book is told in multiple voices, there was a long aside on the merits of this kind of storytelling as compared to the less democratic first person point of view.

Literature assists in seeing the other side or all sides by using multiple points of view. Indira mentioned a book by Barbara Kingsolver called The Poisonwood Bible. We’ve talked about this book in a previous BYOB Party too. You also have books by George R. R Martin and Dostoevsky. A famous example of one of the first polyphonous novels is Dangerous Liaisons or Les Liaisons dangereuse by French writer Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The novel tells the story of the moral decadence of aristocrats and ex-lovers Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont who embark on a game of seduction and manipulation for which they face unintended consequences.

More books in Part 4.

Visual Friday: Five Must-Read Books About Freedom

August 17, 2018 by Neelima | 0 comments

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