Book: Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Finding Flow - CoverOne of the books I read (re-read, actually) in the last two weeks was Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Finding Flow is part psychology study material and part self-help guide. It proposes to help us reclaim ownership of our lives. Based on research of over thousands of individuals, Finding Flow contends that we often walk through our days unaware and out of touch with our emotional lives. People are happiest when they are most absorbed in their actions, a state the author terms as ‘flow.’ We experience ‘flow’ when we work towards clear goals that provide a slight stretch to our existing skills. Constant feedback on our progress also enables flow. So, to be happy we need to constantly be absorbed in such situations.

Title Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
Author(s) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Initially Published In 1997
Publisher Basic Books
Formats Available Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle

Csikszentmihalyi eloquently argues that living fully in the here and now requires that one heed the lessons of the past.

— The New York Times Book Review

Flow is defined as the sense of effortless action people feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives.  Like athletes ‘in the zone’, or musicians in ‘aesthetic rapture’, or religious mystics in ‘ecstasy’.

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Book: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

Last week, I re-read this really useful book on healthy eating.Mindless Eating - Cover

 

Title Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
Author(s) Brian Wansink, PhD
Initially Published In 2007
Publisher Hay House
Formats Available Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

10 calories a day equals one pound in the year

— That is, 100 calories a day means 10 pounds more/ less on your body in a year.

This is a book that will help you improve your eating habits (it is not a diet plan book). It provides insights into how we eat (mostly mindlessly) and how we are highly influenced in the quantities that we eat by our surroundings and other things on which we have no control.

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Book: Sons of Sita by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-8)

“… he (Luv) let fly. The first arrow hit its mark and the second was flying even before the wagon had rolled fully into view. A man shouted with pain and tumbled off the wagon, with two arrows sprouting, one from each shoulder…”

— Chapter 4, Kaand 1, Sons of Sita

That was an attack by the twins, Luv-Kush on an Ayodhyan caravan (carrying funding for an Ashwamedha Yagna).

Sons of Sita

Title Sons of Sita
Series Volume-8 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the reviewer’s opinions on the whole series here.

The Story in Book-8 (last of the series)

Sita and her twins (Luv-Kush) live in a forest hermitage run by rishi Valmiki (credited as the original author of the Ramayana). While Luv-Kush are tutored along with other acolytes of the hermitage in the Vedas, Sita and her ex-bodyguard Nakhudi train the twins as warriors.

In the meanwhile, in Ayodhya, Rama now styles himself as an “emperor” (Samrat). He is manipulated by his new ministers, and justifies all his inconsiderate actions as an extremely distorted form of dharma (his ruthless soldiers are sarcastically called ‘dharmanators’). His mothers Kaushlya and Sumitra are unable to influence him. When his brothers (Bharat and Shatrughan) try to provide moderating advise, they are branded as traitors. Lakshmana and Hanuman continue to be unquestioning side-kicks.
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Book: Vengeance of Ravana by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-7)

“The rishi rose, spinning, as perfectly straight as a pillar – a few scant inches to any side would mean terrible wounds… He seemed to hover in mid-air for a brief fraction, like a hummingbird working at its nest, then….shot out like the yawning pincers of  stone crab Bharat had once seen at the moment it closed on its prey.”

— Chapter 3, Kaand 1, Vengeance of Ravana

That was rishi Valmiki on a visit to Ayodhya, showing his prowess when challenged by the gatekeepers/ security

Vengeance of Ravana

Title Vengeance of Ravana
Series Volume-7 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the reviewer’s opinions on the whole series here.

The Story in Book-7

The story is set in that period after decimation of Lanka and Rama’s return from his exile, but before Sita is banished. (I am not sure whether this part of the story is based on older versions of the Ramayana or it is a mainly a creation of Banker’s fertile imagination.)

In a dream/ nightmare Rama sees that Ravana is back. Rishi Valmiki (who is acknowledged as the original author of the Ramayana) visits Ayodhya with news of impending bad times. The city is attacked by rakshasa Kala-Nemi who was interned in the dungeons of the city. Soon after, Ayodhya is attacked by the armies and nobles of other Aryan kingdoms, led by Atikya (a son of Ravana) and Mandodari (Ravana’s wife).

At the gates of Ayodhya, there is a lot of drama, with many people getting into a ‘stasis’/ ‘freeze-frame’/ ‘statue’ mode so that a few others can take the centre-stage and show their moves, or make their speech. During one such exchange between Atikya/ Mandodari and Sita, Atikya puts a new spin to Sita’s parentage (you will have to read the book to know the new spin).
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Book: A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos

A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper Cover

Title A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper: Making Sense of Numbers in the Headlines
Author John Allen Paulos
Publishing Date 1995
Publisher First by Basic Books, then by Penguin
Formats Available Paperback, Kindle
Available at Amazon.com, Amazon.in.

Here is an example of mistaken precision quoted in the book:

“…museum guard who claimed the dinosaur on exhibit was 65,000,038 years old. When pressed about the precision of the number, the guard says that a scientist told him the dinosaur was 65 million years old when he was hired 38 years before”

In this book, John Allen Paulos takes us through the various sections of the newspapers and explains how math and numbers are key elements behind every story that we read. The book is quirky, perceptive, and uses a ‘light’ approach. Each chapter is very short (about 2 to 3 pages) and covers one topic or one segment of the newspaper. He keeps using analytical thinking and logic together with numbers and simple formulae to keep us hooked. Surprisingly, I found that the longer chapters were more engrossing than the shorter ones.

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Book: King of Ayodhya by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-6)

“… When he had the rakshasha’s feet at his own waist level, Hanuman shoved them upwards with all his might; then, when Kumbhakarna was fully inverted and thrashing about desperately, he pushed downwards, literally shoving the rakshasha’s head down towards the bottom of the ocean.”

— Chapter 16, Kaand 4, King of Ayodhya

That was an excerpt from the fight scene between Hanuman and Kumbhakarna.

Cover King of Ayodhya

Title King of Ayodhya
Series Volume-6 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the comments on the whole series here , as the reviewer’s opinions on the series are expressed there.

The Story in Book-6

The high-level storyline in this book:

Hanuman returns to join Rama’s army at the site of the bridge construction (after inflicting huge damage to Lanka). Just when the army is about to cross the sea over the bridge, Varuna, the lord of the ocean, is beckoned by Ravana to unleash a storm and a tsunami. The storm-cum-tsunami destroys the bridge and kills and injures many of vanars and bears, even before they begin the journey to Lanka. They eventually do cross the sea (in an interesting way)  to reach Lanka.

Ravana, using sorcery once again, creates a huge earthquake to inflict further damages and also instill a sense of utter fear in Rama’s army.

The physical fighting starts and there are many evolving strategies, changing tactics, small battles won and lost, many vanars, bears and rakshashas killed. Eventually, Rama’s army wins, Ravana and his main generals are killed. Vibhisena is crowned the king of Lanka.
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Book: Bridge of Rama by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-5)

“Hanuman’s last jump took him so high, nobody could see where he went. He rose up into the air, passed through the now shredded cloudbank, and rose still higher, higher until he could not longer be seen. Several moments passed………

And then, with one final mighty burst of strength, he leaped again….”

— Chapter 12, Kaand 2, Bridge of Rama

That is Hanuman, making his leap to Lanka, and to wreak havoc there.

Cover Bridge of Rama

Title Bridge of Rama
Series Volume-5 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the comments on the whole series here , as the reviewer’s opinions on the series are expressed there.

The Story in Book-5

The high-level storyline in this part of the series:

Sita is held captive and as a hostage by Ravana in Lanka. Rama and Lakshman are planning to cross over to Lanka (from the mainland) to rescue Sita. Hanuman collects a huge army of vanars (from different tribes and sub-species), along with groups of sloth bears (rksas) for the conquest.

To the cross the sea, the army of vanars and bears start building a bridge using stones, wood, mud, and sand. All this while Ravana is also making preparations to face Rama and his army, and Sita is tormented by various rakshashis.

Hanuman discovers that he has super-powers bestowed to him as a result of the unique circumstances of his birth. Rama sends Hanuman to Lanka, as a last ditch effort at retriving Sita without having to wage a war and avoid death and destruction that would come in its wake.
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Book: Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The messages from this book have ‘stuck’ to me over seven years. I remember this book very well and have been implicitly and explicitly guided by concepts that I learnt when I read the book long ago.

The authors have managed to implement what they are trying to teach :-)!

The full title of the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck – makes the intent of the authors very clear. It is about conveying ideas and messages more effectively to achieve whatever you are trying to achieve Anyway, here is a passage from the Introduction of the book:

“We wrote this book to help you make your ideas stick. By ‘stick’, we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact – they change your audience’s opinions and behavior.”

 — Introduction: What Sticks? – Made to Stick

Details of Made to Stick

Made to Stick Book Cover
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck

Authors: Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Publishing Date: 2007

Publisher: Arrow Books

Formats Available In: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audio

Available at: Amazon.com, Amazon.in.
This book is an entertaining, practical guide to effective communication. Extremely well-written, it uses the principles that are proposed in the book for effectively making ideas stick with the audience. It continues with the idea of ‘stickiness’ earlier popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point.

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Book Series: Song of Ice and Fire Series by George RR Martin

This series is an exceptionally well-written, addictive, and brutal epic fantasy set in an imaginary world based on medieval England/ Europe. It is less of a fantasy and more of a political thriller – some say that it is loosely based on the War of the Roses in England in the years 1455-1485.

The first of the series (A Game of Thrones) was published in 1996 and the series has 5 books (often sold in 7 paperbacks) already published. The sixth and the seventh (whose titles are announced) will be eventually published. Each book of the series has been a bestseller and there are a huge number of fans waiting for the next two books.

The epic has also been converted into a HBO serial. Some video games, based on the series have also become very popular.

Here are the images of the covers of these books:Song of Ice and Fire Series Cover Images

The High-Level Story

The story is set in a fictional world, and most action takes place in two continents – Westros and Essos.

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Book: Armies of Hanuman by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-4)

“The mortal (Rama) stood on the sloping mound, unmindful of the rain and damp, his two constant companions standing to either side. Bow lowered but strung and ready, arrows fitted to the cord. Even the relentless rain had not unravelled his matted locks, bound tightly above his head in the spiralling bun of a forest exile.”

— Chapter 1, Kaand 1, Armies of Hanuman

That is the start of this book, where Rama, Sita and Lakshman wait to battle the last bunch of rakshasas in the Jansthana forest.

Cover Armies of Hanuman

Title Armies of Hanuman
Series Volume-4 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the comments on the whole series here , as the reviewer’s opinions on the series are expressed there.

The Story in Book-4

The high-level storyline in this part of the series:

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana are towards the tail-end of their thirteen year exile. Together with a rag-tag bunch of ex-outlaws and other exiles, they wage a final battale and manage to get the forest of Janasthana rid of all remaining rakshasas. They return to Chitrakut to spend the rest of the days of their exile and start preparing for their return to Ayodhya.

In Lanka, Mandodari, as a caretaker ruler, manages to get some order. However, with Suphanaka’s help, Ravana is liberated from limbo and takes charge of rebuilding Lanka according to his own vision. Towards the later part of the book, Ravana abducts Sita on his Pushpak vimana, using trickery, asura sorcery and brute force.
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