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Archive for October, 2022

Who Killed My Father‘ is Édouard Louis‘ love letter to his dad. Because I knew most of the story from the other two books by Louis that I had read, the pages just flew by. I wasn’t expecting to like this book much, because of what I’d read about Louis’ dad in the other books. His dad didn’t seem like a likeable person and looked quite emotionally violent, and when he was upset he screamed and punched the wall repeatedly. But the book surprised me, because I loved it. In addition to being about Louis’ dad, the book also offers an insightful commentary into what it means to be poor and a worker in the France of today and how the French government is stabbing the most vulnerable people in their backs.

I’m sharing two of my favourite excerpts from the book below.

Excerpt 1

“You didn’t study. For you, dropping out of school as fast as possible was a matter of masculine pride. It was the rule in the world you lived in…

For you, constructing a masculine body meant resisting the school system. It meant not submitting to orders, to Order. It even meant standing up to school and the authority it embodied… Masculinity…meant that you dropped out as fast as you could to show everyone you were strong, as soon as you could to show you were rebellious, and so, as far as I can tell, constructing your masculinity meant depriving yourself of any other life, any other future, any other prospect that school might have opened up. Your manhood condemned you to poverty, to lack of money…

There’s something I’d like to try to put into words : When I think about it now, I feel as though your existence was, against your will – indeed, against your very being – a negative existence. You didn’t have money, you couldn’t finish school, you couldn’t travel, you couldn’t realise your dreams. It is hard to describe your life in anything but negative terms.

In his book Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre probes the connection between one’s being and one’s actions. Are we defined by what we do? Are we defined by the projects we undertake? Are a woman and a man simply what they do, or is there a difference, a gap, between the truth of who we are and our actions?

Your life proves that we are not what we do, but rather that we are what we haven’t done, because the world, or society, stood in our way. Because verdicts, as Didier Eribon calls them, came crashing down on us – gay, trans, female, black, poor – and made certain lives, certain experiences, certain dreams, inaccessible to us.”

Excerpt 2

“You understood that, for you, politics was a question of life or death.

One day, in the autumn, the back-to-school subsidy granted each year to the poorest families – for school supplies, notebooks, backpacks – was increased by nearly one hundred euros. You were overjoyed, you called out in the living room: ‘We’re going to the beach!’ and the six of us piled into our little car. (I was put into the boot, like a hostage in a spy film, which was how I liked it.)

The whole day was a celebration.

Among those who have everything, I have never seen a family go to the seaside just to celebrate a political decision, because for them politics changes almost nothing. This is something I realised when I went to live in Paris, far away from you : the ruling class may complain about a left-wing government, they may complain about a right-wing government, but no government ever ruins their digestion, no government ever breaks their backs, no government ever inspires a trip to the beach. Politics never changes their lives, at least not much. What’s strange, too, is that they’re the ones who engage in politics, though it has almost no effect on their lives. For the ruling class, in general, politics is a question of aesthetics : a way of seeing themselves, of seeing the world, of constructing a personality. For us it was life or death.”

Have you read Édouard Louis’ ‘Who Killed My Father’? What do you think about it?

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After reading Édouard Louis’The End of Eddy‘, I decided to read his newest book, ‘A Woman’s Battles and Transformations‘.

‘A Woman’s Battles and Transformations’ is Édouard Louis’ love letter to his mother. It is sometimes narrated as a story, and at other times it is like a conversation between son and mother. In the book, Édouard Louis talks about his mother and how she came from a poor family and how she tried getting an education but was repeatedly stymied by social circumstances, and how she got through the circumstances to the other side and got to see the light in the end.

At the beginning of the book, Édouard Louis says these powerful words –

“I’ve been told that literature should never attempt to explain, only to capture reality, but I’m writing to explain and understand her life.

I’ve been told that literature should never repeat itself, but I want to write only the same story again and again, returning to it until it reveals fragments of its truth, digging hole after hole in it until all that is hidden begins to seep out.

I’ve been told that literature should never resemble a display of feelings, but I write only to allow emotions to spring forth, those sentiments that the body cannot express.

I’ve been told that literature should never resemble a political manifesto but already I’m sharpening each of my sentences the way I’d sharpen the blade of a knife.

Because I know now that what is called literature has been constructed against lives and bodies like my mother’s. Because I know, from here on, that to write about her, and to write about her life, is to write against literature.”

Towards the end of the book, when I read what Édouard Louis’ mom said –

“I’ve been pushed around all my life, but now I’m in Paris and I know Catherine Deneuve.”

I cried.

Then when I read this –

“Narrowing her eyes, she said, “We’ve done well, both of us.””

– simple, beautiful words that a woman who has suffered most of her life, tells her gay son who has suffered for being different, I cried even more.

Édouard Louis with his mom now

Reading Édouard Louis’ mom’s story made me think about my own mom, and the tough times she went through. It was not very different – in some ways, I think my mom’s life was even more harder, but in other ways, I think it was happier. When I grew older and became more brave and could muster enough courage, I went to war and fought for my mom and tried to make things better for her. I think things got better, but unfortunately, she didn’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of the freedom we won. I think my mom would have liked this book.

Édouard Louis’ book about his mom made me think about Annie Ernaux’ book about her mom, ‘A Woman’s Story’, and Erwin Mortier’s book about his mom, ‘Stammered Songbook : A Mother’s Book of Hours‘.

Have you read Édouard Louis’ ‘A Woman’s Battles and Transformations’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Édouard Louis‘ books recently by accident. I’ve never heard of Édouard Louis before and so went and read about him. Then I went and got four books by him – all of his books which are available in English translation 😊

The End of Eddy‘ is a novel which is inspired by Édouard Louis’ own life. Our narrator Eddy lives in a small village. He is from a poor working class family. His dad is a factory worker and his mom is a homemaker. On most days, they are trying to make ends meet. Eddy has two elder siblings and two younger siblings. Eddy describes life in his village, how it is hard for him from the beginning because he is an outsider (he likes feminine things and then discovers that he is gay), how he is bullied and beaten up at school, how his own brother tries to kill him because he is odd, how his parents are poor but also racist and homophobic, how life is hard for people in the village and how they are stuck in a vicious cycle, how Eddy manages to escape.

The book starts with these lines –

“From my childhood I have no happy memories. I don’t mean to say that I never, in all of those years, felt any happiness or joy. But suffering is all-consuming: it somehow gets rid of anything that doesn’t fit into its system.”

And before we realize it, Eddy is smashed by two bullies and we are reeling in shock. We then realize what to expect. The book is dark and bleak. It is powerful, heartbreaking and makes us angry. Though occasionally, it has its sunny moments too. For readers who have been bullied or have faced assault, it can be triggering.

The amazing thing, of course, is that this book is inspired by Édouard Louis’ own life. Édouard Louis is just 30 years old. So he is very young. The events described in the book happened between 1992 and 2010. So, it is just now. They didn’t happen a hundred years back. The book shows a face of contemporary France which many of us wouldn’t be aware of – where people are struggling to make ends meet, where the best a person can aspire for is to become a worker in a factory or a salesgirl, where children get kicked and smashed at school for being different, where husbands get drunk and beat up their wives and kids, where people though they are poor and are oppressed by the society and the system, they in turn oppress others and are racist and homophobic, thus propogating the endless cycle of oppression. It is unbelievable, eye-opening and very hard to read. The France depicted in the book is not at all the sophisticated, elegant France that we imagine, not the France of ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ that gives us goosebumps. This is some dark land which is far removed from all these, from where it is hard to escape.

I want to say that I enjoyed reading ‘The End of Eddy’, but I can’t. But it is a powerful, important book, and I’m glad that I read it. Édouard Louis has written three other books based on his own life. I can’t wait to read them.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“At first, he sat down and acted like there was nothing going on. He asked me, and he never did this, he never did this in nearly thirty years, so that was just one more clue, he asked me what I’d been up to that day. What a stupid question. It was dumb because he already knew. But I played along. I told him: I went to get some bread at the bakery, I fed the chickens, and then I just watched TV on the sofa. Just like usual. There he sat, like a piece of furniture. Then there was this long silence. You know those kinds of moments, when the silence seems to last for ever. It’s almost like you start counting the seconds and each one lasts an hour. It makes you nervous. I mean, usually, around Sylvain, I’m not nervous. Ever. I’m the one who raised him, so when there’s a silence, a minute later you forget about it. It doesn’t mean anything, that’s how life is. It’s not even that you don’t care, you don’t even notice. But that day, that day was different.”

Have you read ‘The End of Eddy’ or other books by Édouard Louis?

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After reading about infinity and the different types of infinities in ‘Math without Numbers’ by Milo Beckman, I decided to read a whole book about infinity. I did some search and discovered Eugenia Cheng’s book, ‘Beyond Infinity : An Expedition to the outer limits of the Mathematical Universe‘.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part explores the concept of infinity in mathematics. We get to discover how we count, how we compare two collections of objects and find out which collection has more. Then we get to explore infinite sets and discover different types of infinity. On the way Eugenia Cheng shows us different sights like Hilbert’s hotel with infinite rooms, and what happens when a chessboard is filled with rice grains, putting one grain on the first square, two grains on the second, and doubling the grains till the 64th square (the result is amazing and mind-blowing!) In the second part of the book called ‘Sights’, Cheng talks about the infinitely small and infinite dimensions and other places where infinity makes an appearance.

Eugenia Cheng’s writing is charming and warm and filled with humour. It is also clear and accessible as Eugenia Cheng makes complex ideas easy to understand with real-world examples. She likes cakes and pies and they make frequent appearances in the story while discussing infinities.

I was surprised that I’ve read about most of the ideas covered in the book, like how we compare two collections, the different types of infinities, the Hilbert hotel with infinite rooms, and filling up a chessboard with rice grains – most of them in George Gamov’sOne, Two, Three… Infinity‘. Just shows that I’ve been reading too many books on math. Probably need a change of scene.

I enjoyed reading Eugenia Cheng’s ‘Beyond Infinity’. Hoping to read more of her books. Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘Math without Numbers‘ by Milo Beckman totally by accident. Sometimes these serendipitous discoveries turn out to be amazing and that is what happened.

At the beginning of the book, Milo Beckman asks the deceptively simple question, ‘How many shapes are there?’ And before long we are taken into a dizzying tour of different kinds of shapes and how some of them are similar though they look very different and we see the world of shapes in new ways. Then Beckman asks the question, ‘Which is the biggest number?’ He then proceeds to show us what that is, and while we are reeling from the amazement that we feel with the new things we learnt, Beckman ups the ante and asks us the question, ‘Is there a number which is bigger than this biggest number?’ The answer to that is even more surprising and amazing! Then Beckman asks the question, ‘If someone says something, can we definitely prove that this statement is either true or false?’ The obvious common sense answer to this, of course, is that a statement is either true or false. What else could it be? But Beckman shows that there is more to this than meets the eye, and what we discover at the end of this conversation is a revelation.

Beckman’s style is conversational and friendly. The whole book is like having a conversation with a friend. It is beautiful. Beckman’s breezy style and humour makes us smile. For example, this passage –

“Before you go tell your loved ones that you read a book about math and learned that a square is a circle, keep in mind: Context matters. A square is a circle, in topology. A square is most certainly not a circle in art or architecture, or in everyday conversation, or even in geometry, and if you try to ride a bike with square tires you won’t get very far.”

And this one –

“When mathematicians talk about the fourth dimension, we’re not talking about time. We’re talking about a fourth geometric dimension, just like the first three. There’s up-down, left-right, forward-back, and then, let’s say, “flim-flam.” You know, another one.”

As promised in the title, there are no numbers in the book. As Beckman is fond of saying, the only numbers which are there in the book are page numbers 😊

M Erazo is the brilliant artist who has worked on this book, and their beautiful illustrations are insightful and enrich our reading experience.

When we finish reading the book, we realize that we have been taken on a breezy, fascinating, whirlwind tour of topology, analysis, abstract algebra and Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem. All complex parts of mathematics, most of which are taught at the master’s level. We don’t realize all that, of course, while reading the book, because Beckman makes it all sound simple.

I loved ‘Math without Numbers’. It is one of the best books on mathematics and science that I’ve ever read. It brings out the magical beauty of mathematics to the general reader and it is an absolute pleasure to read. I’ll just echo what Ian Stewart has said on the book’s cover – “Everyone should read this delightful book.

One of the chapters from the book has been excerpted in Lithub. You can find it here. Hope you enjoy reading it.

Have you read Milo Beckman’s book? What do you think about it?

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Black Hole : How an idea abandoned by Newtonians, hated by Einstein, and gambled on by Hawking became loved‘ by Marcia Bartusiak is an interesting book on the history of black holes and how the idea evolved, and how they were finally discovered. Starts from the earliest times and ends with the discovery of gravitational waves.

For me the strength of the book was the depiction of the personalities of the scientists involved. For example, Fritz Zwicky, Walter Baade, Karl Schwarzschild, Hermann Minkowski, Chandra (Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar), Arthur Eddington, Robert Oppenheimer, J.A.Wheeler, Lev Landau and others. One of my favourite passages in the book was about Fritz Zwicky –

“Despite Caltech’s relaxed campus atmosphere, a hallmark of the California lifestyle, Zwicky retained the authoritative air of a nineteenth-century European professor. He was an aggressive, original, and stubbornly opinionated man, the supreme scientific individualist. He regularly annoyed his physics and astronomy colleagues by studying anything he pleased (he called astronomy his “hobby”) and championing along the way some pretty wild ideas, some that waited decades to be proven true. In 1933 he was the first to propose, for example, the existence of cosmic “dark matter” (what he called in German “dunkle Materie”), today one of astronomy’s outstanding mysteries. “Zwicky was one of those people,” recalled Caltech astronomer Wallace Sargent, “who was determined to show the other guy was wrong. His favorite phrase was, ‘I’ll show those bastards,’” which he did to the fullest.”

I couldn’t stop smiling when I read that 😊

I enjoyed reading this book. Hoping to read more books by Marcia Bartusiak. Have you read this one?

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I loved Marcus Chown’s collection of essays on science, ‘Infinity in the Palm of your Hand‘. So I thought I’ll read this more famous book of his, ‘The Ascent of Gravity‘.

‘The Ascent of Gravity’ describes how the force of gravity was discovered and how the scientific idea of gravity has evolved across the years. The two main scientists associated with it, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, are featured in depth. Other scientists who played important parts in this adventure are also described. There are detailed explanations in the book on Newton’s law of gravity, Einstein’s Relativity theory, Quantum theory, String Theory and how it has tried to unify Relativity and Quantum theories. The recent detection of gravitational waves is also covered in the book.

So, the first question that needs to be asked is : how easy and accessible is the science described? I feel that the part which covers Newton is very accessible. I think everyone can understand it. There is a part about the moon’s impact on the tides which goes on and on, which I found boring. But when the chapter shifted to the tides in Jupiter’s moons, Io and Europa, I got very excited and continued reading. So when the action moves away from earth to outer space to some distant galaxies, the same thing becomes more exciting 😊 The Einstein part of the book and the String Theory part of the book is tricky. After explaining things in detail in the Newton part, the book suddenly starts using complex words in the next two parts which some readers might find a bit too much.

I have always been puzzled by gravity and the different ways in which it has been described. I was hoping that this book will give some definitive answers, but it didn’t.

I have a question for you. I’ll give you a long description first and then the question 😊

After reading this and other books, I’ve discovered that there are three descriptions of gravity.

  1. Gravity was defined by Newton as a force between two bodies. He also gave a nice formula for calculating it. This formula has worked well for many centuries.
  2. At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein decided to muddy the waters a bit (or stir the pot, if you like that analogy better). He said that gravity is actually not a force. He said that the universe is made up of a fabric. He called this fabric spacetime. And things like the earth, the moon, the sun, the stars dent that fabric, they warp and curve it. This warping of the spacetime fabric makes the earth and other planets move, the way when we place a heavy ball on a flat sheet made of rubber, it creates a dent and makes the ball move. Einstein says that this is what we experience as gravity. So according to Einstein, gravity is not a force, it is not real, but it is just geometry. Einstein showed equations to prove that his concept worked.
  3. In modern cutting edge physics, gravity is regarded as a field (like the electromagnetic field) which is composed of particles called gravitons which are responsible for the gravitational force we feel. This is still a theoretical concept. There is no evidence that gravitons exist.

Well, these are three different descriptions of the same thing – a thing that we feel everyday. They all can’t be true, can they? 😊 Because, they are all so different! So, I did some digging and went and read parts of an actual college physics textbook. This is what it said –

“Should we attribute gravitation to the curvature of spacetime due to the presence of masses or to a force between masses? Or should we attribute it to the actions of a type of fundamental particle called a graviton as conjectured in some modern physics theories? We do not know.”

Yes, I am not joking, this is what it said – this is a quote straight from the book! It seems that even scientists have no idea! They just use the particular concept which fits their current research!

When I think about it, I wonder whether this is a case of a few blind men touching an elephant and trying to find out what it is. Maybe gravity has revealed itself in different ways and maybe it is bigger than all of this and we haven’t discovered the true essence of it yet.

Which of these three explanations do you like? Which one do you find the most convincing? Please do share.

I liked ‘The Ascent of Gravity’, but I loved Marcus Chown’s ‘Infinity in the Palm of your Hand’ more. Have you read ‘The Ascent of Gravity’? What do you think about it.

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