The Oraganized Mind

Despite my several attempts to oThe_Organized_Mind_hardcover_coverrganize information in different ways, I am still to find a way that works decently for me. My job frequently requires synthesizing a lot of information,  and to do that I need to quickly retrieve information, often stored in different digital formats across multiple machines.

Retrieving information is primarily a function of how one’s brain processes and organizes information, and how information is organized in physical or digital space. Poor organization puts a lot of stress on brain’s limited resources and I get frustrated when I am not able to recall something easily.

The frustration led me to invest in a comprehensive study of whatever that can help me in organizing stuff in a better way. The Konmari method, made popular by the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is great for un-cluttering the life but did not help me much in  managing information and how I can use or understand my mind so that I can organize better.

But The  Organized Mind does a great job in that regard. There are a lot of great tips but more than that it is also an exciting read on how our mind manages, organizes information. What I like most about the book that it goes beyond suggestions/tips and explains the rationale and science behind it. It surely makes my life a bit easier.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hours Bookstore – A nostalgic read

Some places might not be very exotic, scenic or on people’s list of must see-must visit but often they offer something that many places do not: nostalgia and comfort arising out of familiarity. The neighbourhood park where one spent many of the childhood evenings playing with friends is one such place. If we take this analogy to stories, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hours Bookstore is one such story. This is a story of 24 hour bookstore which employs a recession-hit, out-of-the-job website designer Clay Jannon.

A simple story which takes you through some of the familiar world of books and technology. There is an undercurrent debate on traditional books/bookstore vs the modern technology; and a fistful of elements taken from mystery and suspense thrillers thrown in there. The story forces one to move from one page to another, but for me reading the book was akin to visiting the neighbourhood park of my young days. There were a lot of things to make me feel nostalgic or relate to the story. Clay was a web-designer, loves technology (is a MacBook/iPhone/Kindle guy) and loves book

Mr. Penumbra’s quaint bookstore is not a normal bookstore, it has mainly arcane and cryptic books for a devoted clientele. Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore has a higher purpose and Clay Jannon, the bookstore clerk, is not supposed to know that. But the curiosity gets better of him. With the help of his friend ( a lady who works at Google ) and Google’s tech-tools, Jannon tries to figure out the true story behind this unusual bookstore full of books containing gibberish.

Robin Sloan provides interesting glimpses of a modern metropolitan life, and pervasiveness and potential of technology. However, the story takes a formulaic path in the end and is only salvaged by the characterisation and the narrative.

Decoded – An Unusual Thriller

Although, Decoded blurb and reviews considered the book to be a thriller, it is surely not a thriller in the traditional sense. It is a languid and intriguing story of a mathematical genius who worked for a top secret cryptography unit of Chinese government. However, this is surely worth a read for its beautiful, poignant  and intelligent portrayal of a life of a mathematics genius.

I had never heard of Mai Jia or any of his works before this book, but the glowing reviews and the bestseller status of this book made me pick this one. Also, since this year I am reading translated popular fiction of different countries, this book fit very well in my reading plan. In China, Mia Jia is a literary sensation and his work has been adapted in movies and television serials.

The blurb of this book and all the online reviews, highlight that this book is a thriller, about cryptography, code breaking etc., but I did not find any elements of a thriller or mention of these themes in first 100 pages. However, this book is not boring, on the contrary, the first 100 pages gave a very interesting snapshot of China in 1960s and described the childhood of a socially awkward mathematics genius Rong Jinzhen.

The story turns into a new direction, more familiar to the genre of spy thrillers, when Rong Jinzhen gets recruited by a mysterious character and disappears from the normal life to join the cryptography section of China’s military intelligence. Rong gets the task to solve two legendary ciphers PURPLE and BLACK, developed by his long time friend, professor and mentor who now works with Country X. Mai Jia (the pen name of Jiang Benhu), reproduces the development in the field of mathematics and cryptography with details that very few can provide. As Jiang Benhu, Mai Jia spent a significant part of his life in intelligence unit of People’s Liberation Army, and he borrows a lot from his personal and professional life to enrich the story.

Once Rong joins the cryptography unit, most of the story describes the challenges of cryptography, application of mathematical logic in cryptography and joys and frustration of code-breaking. Rong’s success makes him a national hero and a reverential figure in China. However, in subsequent turn of events he loses his mental balance.

The story does not start like a thriller and it also does not end like a thriller. The end of the story leaves some questions unanswered and might not be palatable to people who grew on Dan Brown, Lee Child or Baldacci. But as I said earlier, this is not a typical thriller.

Night Train to Lisbon

Some stories gradually grow on you and some characters seem that they have been made from ingredients picked from your own life. And when this happens in a book, which is written lyrically and full of erudition, for readers like me, it is a something mesmerizing.
A few weeks back I finished Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”, a book originally written in German and later translated in several languages. The theme of book is delightful mix of philosophy and suspense. This concoction is very much expected as Pascal Mercier is pseudonym of philosophy professor Peter Bieri. The philosophy does not seem to take precedence, often case with most of the philosopher cum writers, it unfurls itself subtly with the story.

When I saw the blurb of the book, I was immediately tempted to grab a copy and I did just that. A middle aged teacher of Classics walks out of a class to explore life of an enigmatic Portugese doctor, a few pages from a book written by the doctor pushed him on an uncertain journey. The teacher, Gregorius middle aged, relatively well ensconced in his life, walking out on sheer impulse and on pull of an enigma, is in itself awe inspiring considering the way we cling to nugatory inane stuffs.
Though the book intrigues you when Gregorius walks out but soon relegates Gregorius to a secondary role, he just becomes a prop in emergence of a larger than life character of Portugese doctor Prado. Prado is our typical larger than life hero who resides in almost everyone , struggling to come out but succumbs to cruelties of rational mind and selfish emotions. A hero, whose personality is carved with a mute conflict between a father and a son, a conflict which stemmed from deep love and unexpressed expectations, Prado is gifted in many ways.
The life of Prado is portrayed in the book in many stories told by Prado’s friends and his sister to Gregorius. Marcier’s virtuoso story telling makes each of phase of Prado’s life and his struggle come alive in front of your eyes with exquisite stories told by different characters in the book. Gregorius goes on to discover Prado and his extraordinary life, punctuated by many events depicting superlative emotions, and this discovery for him becomes a self-discovery.
This is surely one of the better books I have read in recent times, would recommend to anyone who savors intelligent well written fiction.

Back to books

Finally after all the madness in las few weeks I am relaxed and completely free from any professional commitment for a week. It really feels good to be free to decide what you want to do next .. read books, listen to music or just gaze at the numerous objects in front of my eyes and get lost in thoughts.
Though the primary reason to take a week off and to be at home, is to take some rest and  read some of the many unfinished books I have on my desk. Yes, I just want to read and read. There are many books which are half read, some I just started and did not get time to go back after the first couple of hours.
I have seen just one movie  in last 3-4 months and the one I saw was ‘The Public Enemy’. I could not manage to get time for day or evening shows so I went for late night show. After all it was Johnny Depp and Christian Bale movie, unfortunately the movie turned out to be a disappointment. I had a lot of expectations from a Johnny Depp movie and it never reached to that level. So with diminishing interest in movies and not much time available at my hand, I am back to my first love reading books.
3-4 months back I had decided to read some of the best Hindi works and I picked up Raag Darbaari by Sri Lal Shukla, an amazing thought-provoking book filled with chuckle inducing humor. I wan to finish this first and then go on to finish The Rebel by Camus. Recently I have been reading some hindi poems thanks to online hindi websites which are doing a great job in promoting great hindi works. I remember just 2-3 years back, while I had a lot of resources to read English Classics, there were absolute no websites which provided similar content for lovers of Hindi Literature. For poems, now we have quite a number of websites which one can access, if you have not been to them and are interested in hindi literature you can check the following:
http://manaskriti.com/kaavyaalaya/
http://www.hindinest.com/
http://hindipoetry.wordpress.com/
Just explore the bloglinks given on these sites, there are some great blogs and sites listed there.

Finally after all the madness in las few weeks I am relaxed and completely free from any professional commitment for a week. It really feels good to be free to decide what you want to do next .. read books, listen to music or just gaze at the numerous objects in front of my eyes and get lost in thoughts.

Though the primary reason to take a week off and to be at home, is to take some rest and  read some of the many unfinished books I have on my desk. Yes, I just want to read and read. There are many books which are half read, some I just started and did not get time to go back after the first couple of hours.

I have seen just one movie  in last 3-4 months and the one I saw was ‘The Public Enemy’. I could not manage to get time for day or evening shows so I went for late night show. After all it was Johnny Depp and Christian Bale movie, unfortunately the movie turned out to be a disappointment. I had a lot of expectations from a Johnny Depp movie and it never reached to that level. So with diminishing interest in movies and not much time available at my hand, I am back to my first love reading books.

3-4 months back I had decided to read some of the best Hindi works and I picked up Raag Darbaari by Sri Lal Shukla, an amazing thought-provoking book filled with chuckle inducing humor. I wan to finish this first and then go on to finish The Rebel by Camus. Recently I have been reading some hindi poems thanks to online hindi websites which are doing a great job in promoting great hindi works. I remember just 2-3 years back, while I had a lot of resources to read English Classics, there were absolute no websites which provided similar content for lovers of Hindi Literature. For poems, now we have quite a number of websites which one can access, if you have not been to them and are interested in hindi literature you can check the following:

http://manaskriti.com/kaavyaalaya/

http://www.hindinest.com/

http://hindipoetry.wordpress.com/

Just explore the bloglinks given on these sites, there are some great blogs and sites listed there.

My Reading List, 2008

Fiction

  • Sacred Games By Viikram Chandra
  • Bandicoots in moonlight by Avijit Ghosh
  • The Girl with Dragon Tatoo by Steig Larsson
  • Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Non-Fiction

  • Egonomics by David Marcum and Steven Smith
  • The Cult of Amateurs  by Andrew Keen
  • A Perfect Mess by David Freedman
  • Super Crunchers by  Ian Ayres
  • Wikinomics by Tapscott and Wiliams
  • How to change the world by David Bornstein
  • Stick to drawing comics, monkey brain! by Scot Adams
  • Getting things done by David Allen
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  • The Stuff of Thoughts by Steven Pinker
  • Madness and Civilization by Foucault

Half Read / Unfinished Books

  • Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani
  • The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
  • Hot Flat and Crowded by T. Friedman
  • Dreaming of Jupiter by Ted Simon (Thanks Srey for the gift.)
  • India: The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagariya
  • Phantoms in the brain by Blakeslee and Ramachandran
  • Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Tribe by Bruce Parry

Surely I could not read a lot of fiction this year and spent a lot of time on  non-fiction/ pop-economics. Though I wanted to read some good fiction titles. I bought many books last year and I think I need to speed up my reading to consume them this year.