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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Academic, Irreverent but very Relevant

Well, this one blew me away. Non fictions generally don’t do that to me. Since they state facts,  or at max hypothesis, they can at best be beautiful, such as Freakonomics, or inspirational, such as Seth Godin’s books. But this is in your face, intensely academic (but not in a pejorative way), very irreverent (rather insulting, to economists, historians, bankers and anyone who ‘theorizes’ on historical data) and bold enough to say – here is the black swan problem, but I don’t know the solution.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book over solitary lunches, dinners and coffee sessions. This one took a long time to read. Last time I recall spending so much time finishing a book was Atlas Shrugged, because digesting Ayan Rand’s thoughts took a while. This one, because Nassim Nicholas Taleb just compels you to believe that most of the professions that involve theorizing on historical data, are fraud. He bashes economists (especially the Nobel laureates), historians, finance professionals (not the traders though). His strongest tirade is against the philosophers, who NNT believe should stand most scrutiny since their only job is to think and help society through their though. His attack is mild against people who hold ‘real’ jobs – doctors, engineers, factory workers.

Basic Premise

Book’s basic premise is – there are very few but fiercely strong incidents that shape our future (of economy, evolution, behaviour, any profession) and we can’t predict them. NNT calls them Black Swan and these could be negative (wars, market crash, epidemic) or positive (accidental invention/discoveries, book sales). Even though we can’t predict them, we should cushion ourselves against them (in case of – Black Swan) or take speculative bets to benefit from them (in case of + Black Swan).

What I learnt from the book

I couldn’t have predicted that Jiju will die suddenly in March. But I definitely could have ensured that his Life insurance, Mediclaim and other paperwork is in order. My personal learning from the book is:

  1. I can’t predict strong events in my life, but I should insure my risks
  2. 80% of my portfolio in safe investments – FD, real estate and gold. Rest 20% in intensely speculative bets – options trading, lending start-up capital in lieu of shareholding and others that I have to figure out
  3. Past behaviour is not an indicator of future performance (even though every MF document says it, very few actually understands it, and even fewer take corresponding action)
  4. Competition theory – the race to the top slot only needs a little difference in ability over your competitors. Try a little harder, and you may get it.
  5. No Evidence of Disease doesn’t equate to Evidence of no Disease.
  6.  A data point that disconfirms your assertion/theory is way more important than 100s of data points that confirm it

Overall, a highly recommended read. But beware of the strong language. It is a necessary evil.

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How I got hold of the book

Once in a while I used to be amused by the Office Humor column Cubiclenama at the business newspaper Mint. Then I stopped reading mint. Maybe a year later, a friend recommended following Sidin on twitter and reading his Cubiclenama. But that’s not how took up this book.

Some time back, I prepared a reading list of Indian Novels based on genres. One of these genres is lightweight reading published recently (say last 3 years). Dork was in it, Sidin was recommended and luckily, it was present in my office library too. So, borrowed it and voila! Finished reading in two straight sittings. You can actually finish in one but I didn’t want to read it beyond midnight.

The Good Stuff

  • Office humor – especially consulting humor
  • Writing style – as diary entries. I haven’t read any novel in this format earlier. Update (a little online search later): The genre is called epistolary novel i.e. a novel written as a series of documents, in the form of a journal entry, letters etc. That said, I remember Nehru’s Letters of a Daughter being of such format. Never read it though.
  • Light read

Some funny stuff

  • Kart(h)ik called Yetch and Kartik called Rajni
  • Youtube video of Einstein flying – 300k hits in a  few days
  • Flip flop between Megha and Gouri when Megha wears short skirts
  • Ball bearing episode
  • The ‘testimonials’ from William Dalrymple’s biggest fan’s youngest sister and the likes
  • Malayali brotherhood – there was no code of ethics when it comes to two Malayalis (Babykutty)

Didn’t understand

  • Getting proposed for a threesome from a girl who saw Dork pissed drunk thrice

Could have been better

  • Sudden ending
  • Work at JHA was too long

Quotes:

  1. She is hot. In a Nandita Das sort of way.
  2. Yogita. Idiot. Cow.
  3. 5 is awesome and 1 is deep shit
  4. None of the phones in the Corporate Communications department is working
  5. Only Principals and Partners could create information
  6. Amelie has a flashback. Only I had a flashforward.

Conclusion

Would recommend this for a light reading, if you can get the book for free (or minimal cost) – a library, a friend, a gift. Or at max from a roadside pirated bookseller. Not otherwise. INR 200 is too costly for this.

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How I got hold of it?

I have a Kwench membership (through my office, and you can get it here) and while browsing their store online I bumped across this book. Since I’m practicing Yoga these days anyways, I thought of giving the book a try. Free stuff doesn’t hurt 🙂

The Good Stuff

The book is huge repository of Yoga poses. It has pictures, of each pose which makes it a pretty good watch. The poses are inspiring, as they are challenging.

The Poor Stuff

But the book looked more like a self-publicity for Mr. Iyengar rather than being useful. Primarily because:

  1. There are no thoughts on categorizing the Asanas as being in basic,  advanced or expert category. I wanted to use the book so that it helped me practiced Yoga, not just look at the various postures of Mr. Iyengar
  2. No thoughts on what posture has what benefits, or prohibitions. A Diabetic person shouldn’t do these Asanas, or this Asana will tone your abs, or a combination of this and this Asana is beneficial for ……

Conclusion

If you are a beginner and want to get started with Yoga, DONT pick this book. Even if you are at an advanced level, you would find plenty of Asanas very difficult.

If you want to look at the various poses, you may pick the book though, and marvel at how BKS Iyengar could have such flexibility.

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Eleven Minutes

Paulo Coelho‘s The Alchemist is one of the most effective yet simplistic books I have ever come across. Lets see whether he lives upto my expectations in his new novel.

No, no friend of mine suggested this book. Neither did I learn of it from the net or some review in some Newspaper or Magazine. Wandering in streets of Delhi in search of a novel (Well, the search was not really for a novel. It was for pineapple juice at Nehru Place) brought me to a hawker selling the book at a cool Rs 60/-. ‘Saare Paulo Coelho 60 rupaye mein’, he said. The impeccable price – author combo led me to buy it. And in two days , I was through with the novel.

The novel starts with ‘Once upon a time there was a prostitute’, which is out of ordinary for a story to start with. It is the story of an ordinary girl leading an ordinary life and having ordinary ambitions – finding her Prince Charming. The girl goes out of her shell in search of that illusive entity – call it money or call it fame or call it realisation of a long lived dream, and lands up in the murky waters of real life. The story traverses through her several love encounters, her conclusions from each of those affairs and her consequent actions.
The novel has its moments of glory. Coelho gets philosophical at times, churning out statements in the diary of the protagonist, Maria, which are worth being noted down in a diary of the reader, or even scribbling them on the hostel rooms. He talks of Original Sin, of omens (remember, The Alchemist) and of course S E X, which is the central theme of the story. He calls it Sacred Sex.

There are quite a few intimate scenes, scenes of love between Maria and … wait I will not reveal the plot. These scenes have variety of shades from sadism-masochism to sheer passion, from amateurish to strictly professional, from loosing virginity to regaining it (Wait. ‘Regaining Virginity‘. What the hell does that mean? Read it for yourself). The sex scenes are on the borderline of Erotica and Porn, each treatment being one or the other. Female Orgasm is dealt in detail and Coelho tries to dispel a few misconceptions related to it.

There is an overdose of Sex in the book, sometimes even the very scene, the very concept is repeated. Language is too simplistic, though I don’t blame Coelho for this. The translator is responsible for the language, not Paulo Coelho.

But certain ideas are original. Like the phrase Sacred Sex, or the concept of regaining Virginity, or the alternative interpretation of the Original Sin or the detailed description of indecision. Apart from this, certain philosophical statements are really good.

All in all, an ordinary book with minimal freshness in ideas or events and one which is not expected after The Alchemist.

Related:
Review of Interpreter of Maladies

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Kudos to Mr… Donno his name. But yes, he speaks English. He calls himself a ‘Friend of students’ and sells books at Nehru Place, New Delhi at throwaway prices, literally. I got it at Rs 60/-. No, it was not original, but pirated version of the Pulitzer Prize winner book in 2000. Printed, I guess, somewhere in or around Delhi. Thats how I came across Interpreter of Maladies. A collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, her first one. Nine stories make up the 270 odd pages book, one of the finest collection of short stories I have come across.

The book is rightly sub-titled Stories of Bengal, Boston and Beyond. It captures in words, the feeling called Nostalgia in myriads of ways. How you long for your own country, your own people, your own culture while abroad. How you start comparing with your home everything starting from food, dresses, markets to the way people talk and behave in a party, or in bed. How you wish to go back to your roots. Not because the new place is not good or people are rude or you are fed up with the job. But because you miss the faces you were so used to, or you miss that special Adda with your friends, or you yearn for fresh fish and frown at the lack of variety.

I dont really know whether the author lived in Bengal. But the way little things are presented makes you feel right inside a typical Bengali kitchen, or in a Calcutta fish market, or in that 3-storied building at Dacca, or in that building where Boori Maa lived. Bengali sentiments attached with fish, sindoor and Calcutta are taken care of rather objectively. You feel as if you were not reading a book, but watching a movie.

The characters are real-life. You might have seen them while you were sipping a cup of coffee at the Coffee House, or while working out at the Gym, or in a Railway Station, or your next door neighbor, or your colleague. Or, in some case, it might be you. Like the estranged couple, or the Bangla Professor in US in times of domestic turmoil, or the infidel executive, or the lady who happily becomes a mistress and then, suddenly, relents having done so.

Some stories take a sudden turn, sometimes tragic, sometimes what you would just like it to turn into. Like the story of two married, yet estranged people over the death of their child. Like the story of an Interpreter(read the story to know what this word means, literally and metaphorically) and a tourist lady when the former interprets the malady of the lady. But unlike the story of Boori Maa.

The only worthless story is that of a couple who keep on finding several ‘blessed’ objects like statues of Jesus and Mary, or a tablecloth with Jesus and the like. I hate to see such a story in this, otherwise, excellent book. When a story ends, you crave for more. You think ‘Why the story ends at all?‘. You are not going to stop for anything less than a full length novel on each of the bunch of characters.
I guess, I better start with The Namesake now.

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