Book Review – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Image of a hand holding Infinite Jest paperback edition

My Rating : 5/5

Infinite is the right word for this book. It is an absolutely immense book. Not just the sheer volume of it – the print version goes above eleven hundred pages, but even in the different number of themes it touches. It keeps jumping between genres with changes in the narrators, who are all quite wildly different but somehow brought together through a most inconceivable plot, if it can be called so. Apparently the word for it is an ‘encyclopedic novel’, considering the level of detail it gets into describing this postmodern world conjured up by the author – where we no longer have numbers for years but rather something called ‘subsidized time’ – with most of the action taking place in the YDAU (Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment).

It has a rather depressive beginning, and this general sense of a mental abyss keeps going on for quite a while making one wonder if there is any kind of jest in it as the title indicates. Time slows down as someone high on weed describes a bug on a wall, which goes on for pages. Then we have a father who failed at the two loves of his life – tennis and acting, trying to distill the essence of both and somehow managing to bring them together in a monologue to his son where individual sentences go on for pages. And let me not get started about the point where the narration switches to the absolute bottom dregs of the Bostonian society, for whom life is just about getting from one score to another and the will to do any heinous act to get there.

However, the subtle hints at humor emerge as the book grows into you. You have an ‘Experiealist’ (as opposed to Imperialist – as in forcibly giving away their territory to another nation) power, ie USA, at the helm of a grouping of North American countries – an entity who’s name abbreviates to a term which may be best described as someone enjoying themselves. And an unlikely and ‘specially abled’ Quebecois separatist group violently opposed to any such union. The humor reaches its zenith in a rather unique annual game held at the ETA (Enfield Tennis Academy – central to the story and also where the protagonist Hal Incandenza is a promising talent), where mostly pre-pubescent boys and girls engage in a sort of world ending event, filled with jargon and events which will make any geopolitics nerd (almost everyone if one goes by the level of expertise one sees on Twitter) laugh themselves silly. Not to forget about the current US American President, a mad as a hatter ex crooner who has an OCD about germs and infections – everyone getting close to him had to go through a UV machine and put on gloves, masks and put on foot covers (no shoes allowed), somehow seeming quite prescient about the current COVID pandemic.

The author David Foster Wallace was quite a polymath and it shows with the level of detail he goes into quite varied subjects. He was also blessed with an immense vocabulary (can’t recall any book where I had to hit the dictionary so often). I like reading books which expand my mental horizons and this book definitely fits the bill. All one needs is the patience to get through the epic scale of it.

What makes you not a Buddhist

What makes you not a Buddhist

My rating : 5/5

A highly accessible book on Buddhism. Most of us assume Buddhism to be an ascetic religion where one gives up all worldy things and puts on a maroon robe and shaves off their hair. But it is not about these superficial changes.

The foundation of Buddhism are the four seals, or eternal truths. As long as you follow them, you are a Buddhist, even if you are a CEO, politician or a housewife. If you don’t, adorning maroon robes and shaving your hair is not going to bring you any closer to Buddhism.

Highly recommended. The teachings are applicable to every day life, how you behave with others, with what intentions you do things, etc, and help you lead a peaceful life.

Book Review – Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

My Rating : 5/5

This is probably one of the most important books that I’ve read in my life. Even considering some of the claims made by the author on the immense number of issues lack of sleep can cause to not be true as per the PS#1, quite a lot of them ring true based on personal experience.
It remains a fact that LED lights, personal electronic devices, unhealthy eating habits, late TV watching among others are actively affecting the quality and quantity of our sleep. While we are aware of some of the shortfalls of the lack of sleep, the magnitude of the importance of a good night of sleep on most facets of our life is lost to us. This book showcases the benefits of good sleep, and the detriment of bad sleep throughout its 400+ pages, with startling facts being revealed on almost every other page (my highlights crossed the publisher threshold so could not view full text outside the reader app, but easily going above 40 pages). It goes to the extent of possibly scaring readers who suffer from bad sleep.
Cannot recommend this book enough to everyone. Because everyone needs a good night of sleep.

#1 Suggest reading the criticism by Alex Guzey ( ), with no official response by the author as yet.
#2 Bill Gates’ review

Trip Report : Drive from Mumbai to Kanpur

Route taken (Mostly Mumbai-Agra highway) :
Mumbai->Nashik->Malegaon->Dhule->Sendhwa->Indore->Dewas->Biaora->Shivpuri->Jhansi->Orai->Kalpi->Kanpur. This was the same route as one shown by Google Maps by default.

Vehicle used : Skoda Octavia MY2019.

Day 1 (Mumbai to Indore):
Toll collected : Rs 740
Driving time : approx 9h
Breaks : approx 1h

Started from home in Mumbai at 0456h in the dark, so as to keep sufficient margin in order to reach Indore by dusk in case of any checkpoints or other delays (there were none). Drove over an hour in darkness waving in and out of truck traffic through potholed roads in Mumbai, Thane and a little beyond, with constant glare of high beams from traffic on the opposite side of the median. In hindsight, would avoid this due to multiple factors – high beam glare, unable to avoid bad potholes as well as most importantly – lack of sleep (see Notes -1). Reached Nashik in just under 3 hours. The latter stage of the bypass is under construction so exiting the city took a while, driving through potholed service roads next to the under construction flyover, with fair amount of city traffic for company. Post this the drive was fairly uneventful till MP. Possibly had the worst pothole hit a 100km or so before MP with a nice thud with the suspension bottoming out at a speed of about 80-100kmph. Another gripe through Maharashtra was the speed bumps/rumble strips at every U turn, which were mostly without any road signs announcing their presence so requiring me to break within a 50m or so, usually not able to slow down sufficiently when at triple digit speeds. That and the potholes.

Entering MP was a pleasant surprise. Scientifically designed U turns (yay to no speed bumps), always announced by signage. And the roads were either newly laid and even otherwise well maintained with proper signage and pothole free, at worst minor patches. Refueled a little before Indore with 50km range left. Entered Indore by 1500h and reached the hotel (Mariott) by 1515h. Overall took less than 1 hour of breaks for roadside nature calls (no public loos given the infection threat) and streching/snacking. The hotel had proper protocols in place and had advertised contact free checkin but govt regulation required me to submit our ID and the card used for booking. Took the half-board staycation package and stayed indoors for the next 1.5 days. Got our meals delivered to the room after some insisting. Overall, took just a bit over 10h for this leg which was good as we were expecting 12h-14h based on earlier experiences of Google Maps ETAs. I guess bare minimum breaks and low traffic helped.

Day 2 :
Spent in R&R helped by great food in room service, escaping the rigours of ‘Atma Nirbhar’ daily life during the pandemic.

Day 3 :
Toll collected : Rs 910
Driving time : approx 10h
Breaks : approx 1h

Started from the hotel at dawn, 0610h. Got out of the city in 10-15 mins and reached Dewas soon after. This appears to be a sort of satellite industrial town which has developed enough to require a bypass, but our navigation overlords from Mountain View did not suggest any, so I left it at that. Spent some 20 minutes going through the semi-urban traffic on somewhat satisfactory roads, finally entering the toll road. As per the earlier posts in this thread, the Indore-Dewas-Guna-Shivpuri-Jhansi stretch was not advised due to sans-median single lane roads, I only considered this route upon insistence of our aforementioned navigation overlords and some HUMINT gathered over several phone calls. And boy was I in for some surprise! The Dewas-Guna stretch looked like a brand-new highway, 4 laned the entire way with buttery smooth surface. The only way I realized I was well into the triple zone was with the incessant beeping which I could not figure out how to modify even after reading the entire manual.

start of rant
But of course, when the supreme overlord giveth some, insert appropriate pronoun cannot help taketh something else away. The triple zone could be only ventured upon on clear line of sight as the Toll Road operators for reasons of economy (or ideological) decided to plant the medians with the choicest greens, resulting in the motorists having to share this otherwise fantastic stretch of tarmac with the morning buffet rush of certain motherly animals, who were either queued up partaking the aforesaid greens upon or next to the median, or enjoying a postprandial stroll or liedown upon the aforesaid tarmac, possibly indulging in some literal chewing of the cud, at times leaving barely half a lane for the originally intended use of the tarmac. I personally would have preferred sitting upon the aforesaid greens, either on the median, or on either side of the tarmac, but then again, I don’t sit upon the leftovers after a hearty meal do I, silly me! One could only slow down to a crawl, pay due respects and get a move on, avoiding any display of political incorrectness to avoid getting physically corrected later, this being aforesaid motherly animal’s belt after all.
end of rant

Things went slightly haywire after Guna, with the only encountered sufficiently long sans-median stretch of highway which lasted about 15km and 25-30mins with fair number of trucks in either direction (there was one more stretch, when leaving the Mumbai-Agra highway for Kanpur, soon after Jhansi but that was quite short). Elsewhere on the interwebs I was warned to avoid the Shivpuri bypass due to some lunar-crater scale potholes. However, someone else on the same part of interwebs covered the same stretch just a couple of weeks ago on a fully laden City (having driven one for years I was well aware of its lack of ability on such stretches), I was a bit more confident of overcoming it. That and the navigation overlords insisting that the alternate route through town would take 37mins more for a 7km extra journey. Eventually it was do-able, and the really bad part was barely a few hundred mts, but its upto you to choose your poison depending upon your vehicle, your vehicle’s class, its general sense of well-being and your general sense of affection towards it, not to forget, giving this bypass a wide pass after any kind of rain in the recent past unless you are of the adventurous kind, driving a vehicle capable of such bouts of ill-advised adventure, and driving without any passenger(s) who does/do not quite have the same zeal for adventure.

Having passed this barely passable bypass, I was advised to be careful on the subsequent stretch of 100km pre and post Jhansi (essentially Bundelkhand), to avoid stopping for breaks/fuel if possible and certainly avoid it at night. It certainly was a bit on the desolate side, with dense foliage on either side of the road not giving much idea of what laid beyond. Anyways, this was around noon, and I managed to pass Jhansi soon after 1300h, finally leaving the Mumbai-Agra highway and getting on the highway to Kanpur after a minor sans-median interconnecting stretch between toll roads. Also, there was a fair stretch of continuous potholed road soon after Jhansi, looking as if someone ploughed the road with his tractor after a bout of moonshine enabled merrymaking. And soon after that, an impatient trucker possibly heading for such a bout appeared to have driven through a not freshly (but not yet stale) laid stretch of road, leaving grooves deep enough to enforce lane discipline on otherwise wayward two wheel motorists, but thankfully not deep enough to enforce any such discipline on their 4 wheeled compatriots. Passed Orai without event, unfortunately Kalpi insisted upon a longer stay, enforced by an under construction bypass flyover which left barely single laned space, on what could barely be called a road, with dense rural UP traffic for company, with the foot traffic easily bypassing the vehicular traffic passing the not quite there yet bypass. This must have taken a good 20-30 mins.

Rest of the journey to our destination in Kanpur was uneventful, passing through the industrial areas outside Kanpur so a fair amount of traffic however this appeared to be a signal free bypass and one could maintain good speed in between the pockets of traffic. We must have entered Kanpur about 1700h and reached our destination about 1720h.

Having bought this car only end Jan, and it having been driven only a little over 1500km due to a timely taken vacation in the forests and hills of Uttarakhand beginning march, this was the first drive where I even went above 80kmph (as evident by the first encounter of the initial speed warning), it was a pleasant departure from earlier highway trips on our previous car (City), which did not inspire much confidence in the triple zone, not to forget the dreaded rubberbanding effect of the CVT when overtaking. Also this trip was far longer than any I have attempted in India so far (longest being trips to Mahabaleshwar) but the car made it comfortable and enjoyable, and inspiring me and the missus to go on longer trips in the future once we get through whatever we are trying to get through but not quite being able to get through so far.

Apologies for overindulgent keyboard use at times. Blame it on the fresh memory and current reading list.

Notes :

-1 I had to wake up at 0330h to prep everything. If one is used to sleeping at 2300h and waking between 0600h-0700h, not possible to change habit all of a sudden, which resulted in a bad night of sleep. For sleep-ignorant folk would recommend to read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, an eye opening book. See Bill Gates review –

The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Jason Fung

The Obesity Code by Jason Fung

Among a few other books related to health and general well being, a must read book which blows a hole through unscientific habits drilled into us via so called “experts”, including even doctors following long held dogma.
I was told this is essentially a guide to ‘ketogenic’ diet but it actually argues against it.
It does not take a simplistic route to better health, but rather a holistic view addressing multiple reasons which could have lead to obesity and individually targeting them, and backing everything it says with a good amount of science and long term studies ( you can’t research obesity causes over a 1 month study).
Read it even if you’re not obese for the wealth of nutritional information you will gain which will hopefully lead you to a long life of good health.

Book Review – Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett

Fabulous book. If there is one book you want to read on modern Spain, this should be it. Covers a wide breadth of topics including nearly all provinces, El Caudillo and the horrors of the Civil War including how its left Spain divided and the guilty unpunished, Basque and Catalan nationalism and their uniqueness, Flamenco and gypsies, Costa del Sol and the invention of package tourism, Galician idiosyncrasies, the Spanish way of life (endless nights and mid day siestas) and much more. Written by a British journalist who’s been living in Spain since the mid 80’s, I found this book in most reading lists for potential tourists. Highly recommend getting the latest copy as the author has been adding on newer events with every edition.

Hallam Foe

First saw it couple of years back. Was sifting through my movie archive last week when I saw it and decided to watch it again.

Hallam Foe is a teenager in rural Scotland who mostly spends his time in a treehouse snooping around with his binoculars and chronicling things he sees in a secret diary. He’s been distraught since his mother’s death, who he was really close to, and keeps a wide variety of her things in the treehouse. He suspects his young step mother who used to be his father’s secretary of plotting to drown his mother. He accuses her of the same and ends up having an argument and decides to run away from home.

He lands up in London where he comes across a woman who looks like a younger version of his mother and follows her around. She turns out to be working at a Hotel and he approaches her for a job, ending up as a kitchen porter in the same hotel and ends up in some embarrassing misadventures. Watch the film for more.

Hallam Foe is a little weird but has some endearing qualities which help you get past the rest. All in all, quite a refreshing watch.

Ride to Nandi Hill

112 km 05:56 18.9km/h pace

My first century ride! Rode in a group of 5 in an odd combination of hybrids, MTBs and even a single speed. Things went well till we reached the base, got a little difficult the first few kms into the climb and the final few kms even saw me taking a walk on really steep gradients.

Tried to not go too fast downhill as there was a crazy guy on a Honda CBR continuously going up and down, still managed it in about 12-13 mins apart from a break when we had to stop to help one of the guys who had a fall after hitting the side wall.

After reaching the base and on the way back to the highway, a long stretch with a slight downhill lighted up my eyes. Went into sprint mode and reached 56.1 kmph, beating the old max speed of 49.6 kmph easily. Speed really reduced in the final 20 kms as I began to feel the noon sun sapping away my energy. Reached home in the afternoon, tired but accomplished 🙂

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Toru Okada loses his job. Then his cat. Then his wife.

What follows is a most bizarre journey.

He meets two psychic sisters, who help him in his search. Inexplicably grows a blue patch on his face. Befriends a high school student who’s part time job is to observe men’s hair patterns. Decides to hangout in a well and gets trapped inside for days. Meets a WW2 veteran who recalls his tortuous and bizarre experiences as a young Japanese officer in Manchukuo who becomes a PoW in a Russian slave labour camp. Meets another WW2 survivor who ‘cures’ people and her son who stopped speaking at the age of 6, inspite of being capable of doing so.

Amazing, mind blowing book with such a wide scope that when you finish reading it you feel you’ve come a long way from where you began.

PS :
A friend borrowed my original copy for a trip abroad when I was midway through, never to return it. I ended up buying another copy after quite a bit of waiting. This was my third Murakami book, following ‘Kafka on the shore’ and ‘South of the border, west of the sun’ chronologically, and I recently finished my first collection of short stories by the same author – ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’, another great read. Bought ‘Norwegian Wood’ recently, should be starting it soon.

Auto generated Dan Brown plot

Waspy McWasp, the ruggedly handsome, world renowned Harvard professor of Useless Crapology is summoned to Europe to analyze the mysterious murder of a famous scientist of some sort . While there, he discovers evidence of the unimaginable – the definitive and substantial proof of the tooth fairy. He must work with Elizabeth, the extremely beautiful and intelligent cryptographer, in order to beat the clock and unlock the mystery.

Waspy McWasp’s worst fears are confirmed when he discovers that a crazy desert raider has been murdering innocent victims, including a bunch of cute penguins. He and Elizabeth must rush against the clock, and use their knowledge of obscure art, ambiguous history, impossible computer science theory, and inaccurate theology, as their investigation takes them through the mysterious streets of Madrid. They encounter further difficulties when their efforts are thwarted by the President of the United States who has his own plan for solving the mystery and unlocking the secrets of the tooth fairy.

Waspy McWasp and Elizabeth put their fate into the hands of the director of the NSA who actually turns out to be the one who planned and orchestrated the entire devious plot. As they expose the treacherous director of the NSA they must also face the truth that the tooth fairy was just a fabrication, and does not really exist. When the director of the NSA is finally exposed, he tries to escape, but tragically dies engulfed in infernal flames, as Waspy McWasp and Elizabeth look on. With his last breath, the director of the NSA explains that his motives were actually good, but got corrupted and twisted by evil ambition. Putting the entire fiasco behind them, Waspy McWasp and Elizabeth kiss in a very romantic and awkward kind of way.

credits :