Nov 16, 2010

Book Reading 101

Recently, I got the chance to read a couple of International bestsellers - Tipping Point and Freakonomics. Reading them made me think: what makes a great book in the non-fiction category? First, it has gotta have a universal appeal - by talking about things that are quite interesting to the global readers. Second, it has to blend several social science studies and try to make some sense out of various such studies.

US is a land where research of all sorts is done. If a social science prof or a grad student wonders why someone takes a longer time to urinate in a crowded (but not housefull) loo, they would go about studying it by attaching a sensor which monitors the average time taken by a person to finish the job when a) there is no one using the neighboring loos, b) when one of the neighboring loos is being used, and c) when both loos are used. Then, they would also interview people coming out of the bathroom, to rate their anxiety levels, anger, shyness, indifference, the efficiency of their hand-wash post-loo, their mood change before and after loo and so on. Then they would conclude that it is better for people to wait until the loos are freed, rather than go to crowded loos, so that they can be more happier, more hygienic and more cheerful. And publish the paper.

Now, some guy wanting to write a book would look at the paper and think, 'hmm.. it is such a common problem, which men experience every day. How can I include it in my book to shed some new light on the psychological, sociological or anthropological perspectives of a totally unrelated aspect? With all due respect to social scientists, if he does so, such a book would suck. But, u get my point, right?. Thats how some minds work.

Sometimes, I have had difficulty in appreciating some topics in the Bestsellers, which would be totally irrelevant in my point of view. So, for example, when Dan Brown went ga-ga over the Papal elections (Angels&Demons), and how it is the most important election in several decades in any part of the world, I thought "come on, man. When the last pope died, I just heard the news and went on doing my job. Hardly paid interest to who became the next Pope. I am sure most Catholics in the West too would have viewed the proceedings in a tertiary way (with job, family, entertainment etc. being more important to the head of the religious sub-sect). The same can be said about the Holy Grail 'Da Vinci Code'. Both are great books, I agree, not to me because of the hype on the religious aspects but on the beautiful use of science, maths, symbols and history to his story (no pun intended).

So, I will read bestsellers in the future keeping in mind the narrow sampling that various social scientific studies looked into, and remember that Western social scientists are hardly interested in cross-cultural implications. I enjoy reading them, because I love social sciences such as psych and socio. I am someone who finds several of mundane things qutie exciting. So, I will move on, reading American bestsellers, and widening my knowledge and understanding of people. Now, please dont correlate my last two sentences.


Kay said...


Please read "Drive" by Daniel Pink. Excellent book!

Anonymous said...

I loved the paragraph on loo.
-- polynag

Raju said...

Kay, welcome to the blog. Will surely keep "Drive" in my list of books to read. :)
Nagesh, :) It reminded me of what Eli says to his captor during the 'escape from train' sequence in 'Good, bad and ugly'. (remember G, B & Idly? ;) ) said...

Quite useful piece of writing, thanks for this post.