Books

My Favourite Non-Fiction books

The following are the 10 non-fiction books that I have loved and cherished the most.

10. Freakonomics – Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt

The description says it is a work of a rogue economist who explores the hidden side of everything. The book supposedly merges economics and sociology, but the importance of statistics in all this is what fascinated me about this book. I had scant regard to statistics. I often felt that it supposedly illuminates the truth with data, but too obscure to grasp. This book made me see it in a different light. It may be more sociology than anything else. But it definitely shows us a thing or two about how systematic collection of data is crucial to the pursuit of truth.

9. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

The tag line says “The power of thinking without thinking”. I am not a huge fan of the word “Intuition”. It is a pretentious word that people use to describe emotions that they have not bothered to place yet and Blink is a book almost entirely about intuition. Gladwell explores how we may not know what we know. I do agree. There are plenty of things our subconscious knows more than the conscious mind. Nice book. I still don’t like that word.

8. Naked Ape – Desmond Morris

This book explores humans as it would explore any random animal and gives wonderful insight into many things we take for granted. This is the first book I ever read on the topic and I have a soft corner for it. The most interesting part for me was getting to know the territorial behavior in animals. There was a part about rearing the young that went clearly over my head when I read it first. Maybe I should give this one a try again.

7. Tell-tale brain – V.S. Ramachandran

V.S.Ramachandran makes topics like Capgras syndrome, mirror neurons more approachable. As someone who loves shades of colors with a passion, I found synaesthesia quite fascinating. People with synaesthesia can see sounds, taste colors and have other perceptions that a normal person does not have. After doing some cursory browsing on the given topics, I found that what Ramachandran has said in his book about mirror neurons has faced a certain extent of criticism. But then again, who wants to read a book that hasn’t faced enough criticism.

6. Cosmos – Carl Sagan

Cosmos is less a book about the cosmos and more a book about the men who made sense of the cosmos. We learn a lot about the men who first thought that the earth was spherical and those who found that the Sun was the center of the solar system. While we are at it we learn something about ancient beliefs. Sagan had the knack of being profound without sounding like a bore.

5. Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens begins around the Ice age and guides through the major historical events. We have come to equate history with wars, but Harari guides us through the beginnings of agriculture (which he deems a bad thing), domestication of animals, the advent of money, religion and other things which we now take for granted.

4. Red Queen – Matt Ridley

So Zog, the alien, lands on earth and learns all about sexual reproduction. They just clone themselves when they feel like having a baby and they are fascinated by our world of love, marriage, attraction, sexual jealousy etc., which are frankly… alien to them. Before giving her a top rating, her boss asks her what sex is for. Why is it any better than asexual cloning? Zod admits that even the humans did not know the answer for sure. From there the first third of the book, tries to go to the world when sexual reproduction first made its mark on planet earth. Ridley himself admits that this part maybe boring for most people, but was a fascinating read. Later the book treads regular Mars-Venus arguments but with more élan.

3. How the mind works – Steven Pinker

This book has taken up a rather sprawling subject and you’d think that it would struggle to find a direction. But this book was a wonderful journey in facts and thoughts. He begins explaining what robots do and then explains how even simple human tasks are much more complex than what the most complex robots can do. This is of course a given. We all know that even simple organisms are more complex than robots. But it is not a straw man argument. He kind of uses it to explain the complexity of the stuff we do on an everyday basis. He moves on to more familiar territory of how evolution shaped human emotions to be what they are.

2. Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins

Definitely the best book Dawkins ever wrote. My #1 favorite is also by Dawkins but technically, this is his best. Selfish Gene was not easy to understand as I involuntarily objected to everything Dawkins was saying. Molecules of DNA acting as if it has a mind of its own and individual animals and plants being merely steps DNA’s progress to immortality is not something I could grasp immediately but it is a powerful allegory to explain something rather difficult to understand. But once I did understand what he was getting at, I felt a sort of ephemeral happiness.

1.     Ancestor’s Tale – Richard Dawkins

The book starts with modern humans taking a journey to the beginning of life. We meet our ancestors –Ape-like ancestors, Monkey-like ancestors, early mammalian ancestors and fish-like ancestors and then the journey continues into invertebrates and finally those proto-creatures than were neither plants nor animals. It is safe to assume that most people aren’t very interested in worms or fungi. But Dawkins makes it all sound so fascinating and I do plan to read it one more time when I can.

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Book Extracts, Books, Uncategorized

The American Native and the Moon Spirits

An extract from Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I found it delightful. 🙂

In the months leading up to their moon voyage expedition, the Apollo 11 astronauts trained in a remote moon-like desert in the western United States. The area is home to several Native American communities, and there is a story – or legend – describing an encounter between the astronauts and one of the locals. One day as they were training, the astronauts came across an old Native American. The man asked them what they were doing there. They replied that they were part of a research expedition that would shortly travel to explore the moon. When the old man heard that, he fell silent for a few moments, and then asked the astronauts if they could do him a favour.

‘What do you want?’ they asked.

‘Well,’ said the old man, ‘the people of my tribe believe that holy spirits live on the moon. I was wondering if you could pass an important message to them from my people.’

‘What’s the message?’ asked the astronauts.

The man uttered something in his tribal language, and then asked the astronauts to repeat it again and again until they had memorised it correctly.

‘What does it mean?’ asked the astronauts.

‘Oh, I cannot tell you. It’s a secret that only our tribe and the moon spirits are allowed to know.’

When they returned to their base, the astronauts searched and searched until they found someone who could speak the tribal language, and asked him to translate the secret message. When they repeated what they had memorised, the translator started to laugh uproariously. When he calmed down, the astronauts asked him what it meant. The man explained that the sentence they had memorised so carefully said, ‘Don’t believe a single word these people are telling you. They have come to steal your lands.’

Books, Harry Potter, On Writing

Where do I begin?

I am not sure why don’t write regularly on the blog anymore. It isn’t as if I don’t have time. I do. It isn’t as if I don’t have topics anymore. I have plenty of those. And it isn’t as if I have moved on to any other platform to express myself. I do not know anything better than a blog to express your thoughts.

I want to write about Hermione and what she means to me. I want to write about voyeurism. I want to talk about the story tellers who told me more than just stories. And that is just the beginning.

It is just that I am now getting very aware of how difficult writing can be. None of the topics I want to pick next is going to take an hour or two. Each is worth a month of obsession. But how long can a woman wear a swimsuit and stare at the deep end of the pool? Some day you have to take a plunge.

The next post will be about the Potterverse. So what intrigued you most about the Harry Potter Universe? Tell me so I know where to begin.

Books

Waiting in the Wings by Melissa Brayden

Was it George Bernard Shaw who said that a woman will ask you for advice listen very attentively and then go out and do exactly as it pleases her? Hmm. That is exactly what I did. I asked you all for some recent fiction that you enjoyed and going by the synopsis of most of your recommendations, I could see that you knew what you were talking about. But I finally chose something completely different.


I chose “Waiting in the wings” by Melissa Brayden as it was high time I sampled LGBT fiction. And I chose a light read that did not have disapproving straight people breathing down the protagonist’s neck and I chose well. I had been going through a few behind the scenes videos of Ballet performances and could very much connect with the theatre backdrop of this sweet novel. No one disapproves of Jenna or Adrienne just because they are lesbians. All the problems are regular people problems that any woman in a relationship can face. That said, it wasn’t exactly a read that gripped my heart and soul. It was good in a mild ‘one time read’ way.

It had a lot of ‘Oh, how can I admit my deep love? I am not sure if the other person loves me back’ hand wringing and that is somehow not something that grips me. The girl on girl hotness is something that was quite sweet without any cheesiness. Romances of recent times seem to be often about the protagonist’s struggle to choose between their career and their relationship. That is the main conceit of this novel. Jenna has delightful straight friends who give her the support she needs when she is down. The career is almost always an uphill climb. That may not be REAL for any career has its ups and downs. But it was somehow very much relatable in spite of the sugar coating.

So I am looking for a good novel with male gay protagonists. Once again I would prefer something light and some good humor would not be out of place. Got anything to suggest?  😀

Books

I want the pleasure of reading a REALLY good book

I used to be a voracious reader. I considered myself bookish and so did everyone around me. And whenever I saw a book I have not read my pulse will quicken and I would start looking at the book longingly. I used to read the few books that I got with gratefulness and read them from cover to cover. Those were the days. Now my iPad is filled with PDFs of books by ostensibly great writers and I just close the tab and play an online game.

But I am not sure if it is just the presence of the online games that stopped me being a book-lover. It is also the quality of the books that I found around me. Does finding the right book for you get more and more difficult as you grow older? Why am I less indulgent about the prose? Is it because you can’t really enjoy James Patterson after acquainting yourself in Wilkie Collin’s writing? My first Patterson book attempted a multiple narrative format and fell flat on its own face. Did Agatha Christie spoil the mystery genre for me by making me too used to slithering red herrings that now when someone tries to put a mystery under my nose, I sniff it out and tut-tut at the budding author’s lack of skill? I don’t know. But I still feel the need to read.

A few years ago a friend pushed J. D. Salinger’s “The catcher in the rye” into my hands and I returned the favor by pushing a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” into hers and we continued to do this until she relocated to Hyderabad. Now I have no one who really knows what I will like and the recommendations I see online don’t do anything to me.  Or maybe I am just picking the wrong recommendations?

These days I start judging the writer from the first line onwards. It does not feel like I am following the protagonist’s journey. It is more like the author is sitting in front of me and trying to impress me in some sort of audition and I give Simon Cowell-type pronouncements on the quality of the product. And it seems to me that the young ones have started to write before they have read enough. Reading the seven Harry Potter books alone is all very well if you want to write Snape/Lily shipping stories. But writing something that is worth reading is a herculean task and good preparation of the mind is essential from the writer and I wonder if sufficient ‘writers’ realize this. I find it painful when very immature writers try to be profound.

Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Matt Ridley kept me company with their well-researched Pop-Sci books and I could not get enough of their erudite and passionate arguments in favor of their pet theories. And even if some of their concepts are too much for my slow brain, it still worth the trouble I put into reading their books.

But I came to miss evocative storytelling from someone who knew what he or she was doing. My childhood dream was to earn enough money to buy any book I took a fancy to. But just as the dream was turning to a reality, my ability to take fancy to any book at all was at an all-time low. Is that the fate of adulthood?

Do you still read? Can you recommend something from a writer who isn’t putting on a circus of emotions and going all drama-queen on me? Can you recommend something to read that was really worth your while?