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Maple Syrup, Talent and the Joy of Cleaning@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 4)

There were many non-fiction books that readers discussed besides the classics and fiction discussed (Check Parts 1, 2 and 3)

warplanred

Sudharsan read War Plan Red by Kevin Lippert, a book that begins with British rule in Canada.The book is about the secret cold war between the United States and Canada. Some motives for the plan: capturing all the world’s supply of maple syrup, ice hockey players and natural resources. Conversation veered to the upcoming elections in the US.

 

little book of talentMadhu Sagar talked about a non-fiction book by US journalist Daniel Coyle. The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving your skills. This book takes you all around the world in search of the greatest talent.  It’s a manual in a world where performance is rated highly and it’s not self-help. The handbook contains scientifically proven methods that can help improve the skills of a child and an organization.

There are two kinds of skills- hard skills are acquired by repitive practise and soft talent is more organic and fluid. Madhu read out a couple of tips to us. For instance, if you want to have a genius in your home, you don’t need to get the child air conditioning. Spartan existence is conducive to innovation as necessity is the mother of invention. So we have thinkers like Ramanujan who wrote reams of theorums in his head because of an acute shortage of paper. And Russian coders who coded in their head. Watch Hackers wanted to understand this better.

RomanAjay got a biography titled Roman by Roman Polanski. The world famous director of great movies like Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown vindicates himself by writing his side of the story.  “Polanski writes in a very mater of fact style and there’s absolutely no self-pity,” Ajay says. He went on to narrate how Roman the boy who lived in Poland lost his mother and sister to the extermination camps. He survived as did his father with whom he reunited much later. But tragedy followed him even later when he was a director in the US. His wife and unborn child were murdered by the grusesome serial killer Charles Manson. Polanski later was charged with stauotory rape and he fled the country. If you are a fan of this controversial director and want to hear his side of the story, this book is a must read.

the hard thing about hard thingsNilesh picked up The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs. This book is based on his popular blog and talks about the stuff that business school won’t teach you. In the book, Horowitz shares insights and anecdotes about the problems running a startup involves.

“I completely agreed with author when he says that most of the advice that we get is not applicable. Horowitz provides simple solutions that are really not simple. For example, there is a misconception in companies that if you come to the manager with a problem, you need to bring in a solution as well. This makes absolutely no sense,” Nilesh said.

That was the business book of this BYOB party.

spark joy

Sumaa went by the recommendations of her friends and chose a highly unconventional  bestseller book called Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. This illustrated version of the KonMari method deconstructs the cleaning process with how to clean everything from folding socks to organizing pictures.” What worked for me as that the book is not preachy. It doesn’t touch on over-consumption, feng shui or spirituality. For Kondo, cleaning should create joy. You keep only what you need and what gives you joy. She also traces the emotional journey of many of her clients.It’s an unusual book and inspiring.”

What a list of books! Can’t wait for the next BYOB Party…..what are you reading now?


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On Writing Well by William Zinsser (Part 2)

Non-fiction was never considered as literature. It was only in 1946 that The Book of the Month Club chose its first Non-Fiction title, even though the club existed since the 1920’s. Today even good journalism entails the new American Literature. “Good writing is good writing, whatever form it takes and whatever we call it,” is Zinsser’s motto.

Non-fiction writing is enormous in scope and Zinsser systematically takes you through each aspect.

writing

He starts with the interview- this is a basic skill. You need to talk to people to get information out of them that you can turn into star quotes in your feature. If the interviewee trusts you and gives you a story, it’s your responsibility not to misquote him. Ethics is a part of writing too.

Getting your travel pieces right is all about getting the texture of the place to jump off of the page. You can’t be completely candid as you would in a facebook post, but you should give the reader enough to make them sit up and notice. Zinsser quotes a delightful passage by Pritchett about how in Turkey even the faces of some people ‘sit’. This is very striking imagery and gives you a sense of what it means to be in Turkey, at least to Pritchett.

How do you write a memoir? It’s supposed to be easy, isn’t it? It isn’t though—you may have realized this when you tried to draft an SOP while applying to college. The problem with writing about yourself is that you could end up writing too much or nothing at all.

And now I might just give all of this book away, but I won’t. Zinsser can write about how to write anything and this is because he has taken cues from writers of all genres and all topics.

He talks about writing science with clarity, not jargon. He points to writers like Primo Levi, Oliver Sacks, Stephen Jay Gould. I can’t help adding Dr. Krishnan Chopra and Dr. Deepak Chopra, writers who have made health and spirituality more accessible to the lay person. One way to learn how to write non-fiction is to read books by writers who dabble in your field of interest.

Zinsser also cracks the business writing code. If all the memos, reports, analyses and proposals were dejargonized, corporate life would be so much easier and more productive. Have you read George Orwell’s essay called Politics and the English Language? He stresses on the importance of simple language too; large words and unnecessary coinages mislead people.

The bottom line is writing isn’t very easy at all and not anyone can write unless she is knee deep in the writing world and concerned about the efficacy of every word she uses. It’s a performance and can be improved with practice and a bit of conscience. Zinsser doesn’t believe that you have to write to sell. If you see the check, you don’t make the magic.

Your quest to write better than you did the last time is what does it.