Monday, 30 January 2012

The Paradox called Love

... love involves (tragically, incorrigibly, but also beautifully) a desire for something that continuously transforms. Love is painful because we want the object of love to change and stay the same, love is a desire and a fiction that animates our greatest pleasures and our most profound sufferings. Love hold us to this life, keeps us faithful to it. Yet nothing can save us from our ultimate reentry into oblivion - the point at which no amount of consciousness or desire can preserve identity or the energies that we once called our own.

-- By David LaRocca in the afterword to Schematics: A Love Story.
I found this quote at Brain pickings

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Filtering the Web

Education should return to the way it was in the workshops of the Renaissance. There, the masters may not necessarily have been able to explain to their students why a painting was good in theoretical terms, but they did so in more practical ways. Look, this is what your finger can look like, and this is what it has to look like. Look, this is a good mixing of colors. The same approach should be used in school when dealing with the Internet. The teacher should say: "Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has goof information." If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others' mistakes.
This quote appeared in an interview of Umberto Eco, an Italian author and semiotician, here. The interview was on Eco's curation of an exhibition at the Louvre and the release of his book, The infinity of lists, on the same theme. Eco gave the above answer to a question on how teachers can instruct children on the difference between good and bad in context of the lists provided by Google search. Eco calls Google a tragedy for youngsters who need to be taught the "high art of how to be discriminating". This fits in pat with a book review I was reading this morning on Brain Pickings of The Information Diet. The Information Diet, as per the review and the book blurb (I haven't read the book yet) is also about how to be discriminating about the information one consumes.

Eco's views and the subject of the book address a problem created by the information age - quantity has replaced quality in the process of knowledge acquisition.With the Internet becoming a major source of information for substantial amount of the world's population today, copy pasting has overtaken careful reading, analysis and adapting of information to contexts. And while, the internet as a source of information is invaluable, it must also be accompanied by the same criteria that was once applied to books as a source of information. The credibility of authors and the websites that publish information must become a part and parcel of the selection process in the digital world. Given that credibility itself can be ascertained much more effortlessly in the digital world, it's a pity more of us don't take the effort to be more discriminating in what we carry into our heads from the web!

It's also something that the education system, as Eco points out, needs to actively build into its manner of instruction. It isn't enough to ask children to do projects or articles or essays. They will simply copy paste (I have seen this happen... more than once). Children must also be taught how to acknowledge sources of information, write a bibliography and how to filter information especially from the digital space. Much of this (at least footnoting and bibliographing) is fairly common practice in  the western world and in higher institutes of education. But not so in Indian schools, which while integrating technology and interactive learning, have not accompanied that with teaching children how to filter and navigate the labyrinth of information that the Internet is. Interactive learning and technology, in such a scenario, could prove more harmful than useful in the long run as children either acquire no knowledge and simply copy-paste or acquire erred information.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Finishing some unfinished business

In the new year one of the things that I want to do is give a little more focus to my reading, make it organised and keep track of what I read and want to read. Am doing the keeping track bit on Goodreads. Having used the website for the better part of 2011, I find it a good way to add and keep track of all that I am reading. I like the interface, the reviews and recommendations. Besides, it's the only one that's gotten me to actually regularly update even though I have librarything and Shelfari accounts.

Attacking the former has taken quite a bit of thought. The idea of a reading challenge first caught my attention when I came across a reading challenge 2011 post on a blog that I follow. That was in early 2011. Through 2011, I made a promise to read more since I'd noticed a sharp decline in how much I had been reading lately. There was a time I used to easily finish a book a week. What I found as I neared the end of 2011 was that I had no idea whether I'd actually managed to up my reading or not. That's when I started keep serious track of my books on goodreads. I am happy to say that I did read more in 2011. By how much I don't know. As 2011 neared its end and I saw the books piled up in my cupboard as well as those in my "to read" list on Goodreads and my wishlist in flipkart, I decided I'd set myself a few goals in 2012.

While as Rehab was telling me when we were discussing this, reading should be effortless and free wheeling, I want to have clear goals for reading this year because there are many things I've wanted to read but I've just not gotten around to them or gotten through them. One of the things that tends to happen to me when I am reading is that there are books that I just give up on - either after a few pages or when I have been half way through. And then there are books I've bought on recommendations and then promptly forgotten about. And lastly there are books and authors that I've been wanting to read for a while but they keep getting pushed to the bottom of my lists and the back of my mind!

So with all of that in mind, I've been browsing around looking at reading challenges and I've finally decided to make my own reading goals based on everything that's been piling up and include a couple of online reading challenges that appealed to me as a part of that.

Now that I've given you enough of a background (whether you want it or not) to why I want to set myself a reading challenge (with many many small subsets) for 2012, I shall get down to actually stating the unfinished business that I hope to finish.

The Universal Set
Read 52 books in 2012. I want to get back to reading at least one book a week if not more this year. If I succeed in this, I shall aim to make this a habit every year and slowly increase the number of books. Having browsed a lot of book blogs over the last couple of days, I don't think reading 52 books in one year makes me a very huge geek as some people would like to believe ;) . Relevant some people, you know who you are so please take note. In fact I've realised 52 books just puts me at the bottom rung of the ladder of geekiness. Sigh!

Read for a cause
As a part of my read more books this year mission, I've also decided that I will put aside a fixed amount of money (as of now I am thinking Rs. 100-200) per book that I read. At the end of the year, I hope to use this money to buy books for the library of a government or municipal schools given that these schools often don't have good library facilities if any at all. I am still to figure out how exactly I'll go about this but I have till December to do that. This will also hopefully be motivation for me to read more than that target of 52 books and help me make that an enduring habit.

Mount TBR Challenge - reduce the To Be Read Pile in my book cupboard
I picked up this challenge while I was browsing online for reading challenges that would help me with my reading goals for 2012. To see the challenge and it's rules click on the link above. I plan to climb at least Pike's Peak (read at least 12 books from my personal library bought before 1st Jan 2012 that I have not read yet). The 12 books that I definitely want to finish this year are (in no particular order):

  1. Birth of the Prison - Michel Foucault
  2. River of Smoke - Amitav Ghosh
  3. Madness and Civilization - Michel Foucault
  4. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
  5. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
  6. The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
  7. The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevsky
  8. A Dead Hand - Paul Theroux
  9. The Black Book - Orhan Pamuk
  10. Museum of Innocence - Orhan Pamuk
  11. Neti Neti - Anjum Hasan
  12. Zen and the Art of Motocycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig
Some of these books are also a part of some of other reading goals but these are the first 12 books I could remember (without looking at my bookshelf) that I want to finish. If I manage to get to the top of Pike's peak by April 2012, I shall try and make it to Mt. Vancouver too (25 books out of my personal library bought before 1st Jan 2012). While I have plenty of books to finish at home, I am not aiming for Mt. Kilimanjaro just yet (50 books) because there are books that I want to read that I will either buy or borrow from a local library. Plus I want to keep some room for surprise reads.

Read some classics
I started reading classics when I was in grade 8 and then I think forgot about them by the time I got to grade 10. So I want to go back and read some Jane Austen (I haven't read Emma yet), Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre and Villete), Goethe (Faust), Dante (Divine Comedy) and whatever else catches my fancy here.

Read the books that I've marked to read on Goodreads/Flipkart in all my book browsing of last year
Defnite ones here are going to be:
  1. Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  2. Small Gods - Terry Pratchett (I've been wanting to read Pratchett for the longest time!!!)
  3. Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett
  4. The Declaration - Gemma Malley
  5. Faust - Goethe
  6. The Secret Lives of People in Love - Simon Van Booy
  7. 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami
  8. Abarat - Clive Barker
  9. One thousand and one nights - Hanan Al-Shaykh
  10. War Music - Christopher Logue
This is another challenge I came across online. Now, I totally get the idea of a comfort book. There are books that I have read millions of times and I love going back to when I am feeling off - Gone with the Wind, Thornbirds, Lord of the Rings, The Fountainhead... there are many. So I am looking forward to trying some books that others love. I am still researching the books in the list on the challenge website. The only one that I know I am definitely going to read as of now is Jane Eyre. I shall update this bit in the next couple of days as soon as I have decided which five I am going to read!

UPDATE: Here are my five comfortable books to read in 2012:

  1. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  2. Mists of Avalon -  Marion Zimmer Bradley
  3. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
  4. The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
  5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

Read some books released on 2012
I've realised that even in 2011 or the years before that, I've hardly read any book released in that year. So I'm going to keep my ears and eyes open for new releases and try a few!

Phew! Now that I am done writing this, I shall get down to reading once I get home ;). I'll be posting some reviews of the books on this blog, if I feel strongly enough about the book that is and I'll definitely be keeping track on Goodreads and hope the size of the read list grows!

My thoughts on all the books I am reading this year are HERE

PS: I am definitely behind on how much reading I need to do. But hopefully, will reach closer to that goal of 52. **Fingers Crossed**

PPS: A Little catching up has happened. I hope more does. Not much progress on the lists up above though (A little, not much).

PPPS: Woohooo! Some catching up happening and I am enjoying crossing out some of the books mentioned about at least. Though I do have a writing backlog now. But I much prefer that to a reading backlog.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Leaving the City of Dreams - Year End Nostalgia 3

Yes yes, it's already the new year. However, I am going to finish this last post about the year that was.

After three and a half years, I left the city of Mumbai to go to Chennai. When I made the decision to leave, some six months previously, I was tired. Tired of running around, tired of doing everything myself, tired of not being able to do everything the way I wanted to, with the ease and comfort with which I wanted to do them. Two months after moving out, while I cherish the easy pace of life, the good food and the not having to constantly run around, I miss Mumbai. I miss Mumbai terribly. I miss the sense of life and liveliness that the city gave me, the sense of me, the freedom to get out at any time. I miss my friends, the brunches, the teas, the conversations, the roaming. The feeling that one always had time because you could get out even at One A.M.

These are the things I miss about that city. The city not just of dreams but a city brimming with life; a city that does not know the meaning of lethargy. I will enjoy the peace, ease and laze of Chennai but I hope to go back soon!