Archive for May, 2005

New York, New York

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

I’ll be heading off to New York later this week, to visit with family and friends, and to attend RAWI’s first annual conference. RAWI is an Arab-American writers organization (the word ‘rawi’ means ‘storyteller’ in Arabic), and the theme for its first gathering is: “Kallimuna: Speak To Us.” The conference takes places June 3rd through the 5th at Hunter College in New York, and features workshops with the likes of Naomi Shihab Nye, Elmaz Abinader, and Hayan Charara, and panels on topics as diverse as “Sexuality, Gender, and Silence,” “The Global Hood,” and “Hybridity in Arab American Literature.” I will be moderating a panel on blogs on Saturday, with partners in crime Randa Jarrar (a.k.a. Rockslinga), and Leila Abu Saba (a.k.a. The Dove). I’ll post a reminder on this site at that time.

I’ll also be attending Book-Expo, which also takes place June 3-5, and which will be an entirely different sort of animal. It will be my first time at BEA, but the presence of a few familiar faces will help, I’m sure. I’ll be taking part in the Emerging Voices Panel on Friday, to read an excerpt from my first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. (Don’t look for my name on the site, it’s not there. But I will be.) And then chilling out on the floor and trying to take it all in.

I’ve posted a bunch of things for you below, but I doubt I’ll get a chance to post anything tomorrow, as I pack up and head out to NYC. Posting should resume from there on Thursday.

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Stephen Elliott Recommends

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

bissell.jpg“There are so many underappreciated books. It’s a tough question,” Elliot says. Instead of picking just one book, he rattled off a few that deserve more readers: “Tom Bissell’s Chasing The Sea was underappreciated, I thought. It’s a travel story about a former Peace Corps volunteer returning to Uzbekistan but it’s also a history of the region, and it’s also the story of the Aral Sea, the greatest man-made environmental disaster in history. Wow, what a book! Reads like lightning. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read even though I have zero interest in Uzbekistan (no offense to the Uzbekistanis).

rentgirl.jpgThere’s also the great Chicago novel, The Beggar’s Shore by Zak Muncha which was published by Andrew Vachss in paperback original. Also the illustrated novel Rent Girl by Michelle Tea and Laurenn McCubbin which came out last year and really pushed the mix of art and lit to its next level. People are going to be copying that book for years though I don’t think it sold that many copies.

Then there’s Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist Handbook and Dennis Cooper’s Try, but both of those books have large cult followings. I could name some of Nelson Algren’s lesser works, and also Notice by Heather Lewis but if I’m going to push someone in the direction of something they should read I prefer to encourage indulging living writers and thereby taking part in our cultural conciousness.

At any rate, we should appreciate books that are more gritty, that have something to say about class stratification. Every book published by Softskull Press or Manic D Press is underappreciated, as are many, though not all, by Last Gasp.”

elliott.jpg Stephen Elliott is the author of four novels, including the critically acclaimed Happy Baby, and the editor of the anthology Politically Inspired. His most recent book is Looking Forward to It, an account of his experiences on the campaign trail in 2004. His work also has been published in GQ, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Believer magazine. He lives in California.

If you’d like to recommend an underappreciated book for this series, please send mail to llalami at yahoo dot com.

Men Don’t Read Books By Women, But They’ve Learned To Pretend That They Do

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

The Observer reports on a study on sex differences in reading habits, which found that, “while women read the works of both sexes, men stick to books written by men.” The article says:

The research was carried out by academics Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins of Queen Mary College, London, to mark the 10th year of the Orange Prize for Fiction, a literary honour whose women-only rule provoked righteous indignation when the competition was founded. They asked 100 academics, critics and writers and found virtually all now supported the prize.

But a gender gap remains in what people choose to read, at least among the cultural elite. Four out of five men said the last novel they read was by a man, whereas women were almost as likely to have read a book by a male author as a female. When asked what novel by a woman they had read most recently, a majority of men found it hard to recall or could not answer. Women, however, often gave several titles. The report said: ‘Men who read fiction tend to read fiction by men, while women read fiction by both women and men.

I think that in a male-controlled world, women have long learned to place themselves in the minds of the dominating gender, and to view the world through its eyes. Men have no incentive to see the world through female eyes, unfortunately. At least some men recognize they have a problem.

The article goes on, perhaps more worryingly:

‘Consequently, fiction by women remains “special interest”, while fiction by men still sets the standard for quality, narrative and style.’

Basically male authors have the advantage of having both male and female readers, which helps them get a greater hold on the literary conversation, and define what constitutes literature. The study concludes:

Jardine said: ‘When pressed, men are likely to say things like: “I believe Monica Ali’s Brick Lane is a really important book – I’m afraid I haven’t read it.” I find it most endearing that in 10 years what male readers of fiction have done is learn to pretend that they’ve read women’s books.’

R.I.P.: Martin Lings

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Some sad news: Sufi scholar and author Martin Lings has passed on. Read the NY Times obit, which provides some interesting tidbits. (I didn’t know, for instance, that Lings had studied under, and was close friends with, C.S. Lewis.) If you are new to Lings’s work, I highly recommend his biography of the Prophet, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources.

Mid-East a Hot Trend: In Publishing, as in Empire

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

I missed Anne-Marie O’Connor’s article on Mid-East books when it came out in the Los Angeles Times last month, but here it is, reprised in the Register-Guard. It’s essentially about the current craze in U.S. publishing for all things Middle-Eastern:

Charlotte Abbott, the book news editor at Publishers Weekly, said the demand for [books on the Middle-East] has been driven by a widespread curiosity about Middle Eastern countries in the news since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Publishers really woke up to the fact that there really weren’t a lot of books that could satisfy that kind of hunger,” Abbott said. “Publishers went out and pursued acquiring those books.”

And so O’Connor briefly rounds up a whole bunch of current titles, including Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, Asne Seierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul, Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning, Mohammed Moulessehoul/Yasmina Khadra’s The Swallows of Kabul, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Roya Hakakian’s Journey From The Land of No, and Afschineh Latifi’s Even After All This Time, among others.

Amid all this hodge-podge of fiction books and memoirs, the only clear point is that “the Mid-East is hot in publishing right now,” a point that I’ll concede easily enough, even if that attention seems myopic to me at times. What troubles me is the tone in the latter end of the article, which seems to intimate that there’s one or two interesting books coming out of a country:

In Saudi Arabia, a male author, Yousef Mohaimeed, has written a book called “The Bottle.”

This is just bloody ridiculous. People in the Arab world have been writing books long before the U.S. publishing industry took an interest in their stories.

Department of WTF

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Add this to the list of “must-do” things for a hot, young author: Marry another hot, young author. Then the media can file useless pieces about your relationship, other famous literary pairings, and what it all means for literature. Ugh.

Stop The Presses! You Mean To Say Women Want To Break Out Of Stereotypes?

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian, profiling young Japanese author Hitomi Kanehara, whose first, best-selling novel, Snakes and Earrings, has supposedly shocked the country with its “violent and graphic opposition to the traditional cultural expectations of how Japanese women should be.” Reporter Angela Neustatter writes:

Kanehara is part of a burgeoning subculture of contemporary women expressing the same loud, emphatic message through fashion, graphics, comics, subversive graffiti, photography and fiction. It underscores a growing generational divide, a significant shift in values and attitudes.

Only later in the article does the trend supposedly embodied by this new author get placed in a more historical context. Worth a look.

Ruland on NPR

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Moorishgirl pal and sometime guest blogger Jim Ruland has a piece on NPR’s Day to Day, called “Vets? No, But They Write What They Know.” In addition to being a fine writer and punk rock enthusiast, Jim is also a Navy veteran. In his most recent incarnation, he is teaching a composition class for Santa Monica Community College. He designed the course specifically for veterans, except that part was left out of the catalog description, resulting in an unexpected enrollment: most of the students were teenagers, most of them were female, none of them were vets. Listen to what happened next.

Debut Books

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Over at the Herald, Alastair Mabbot discusses first books and their importance in the artist’s career.

It’s the music business cliche known to everyone: an artist gets his whole life to write a first album, but a few months to write the second.
That’s usually true of books as well. There’s a unique quality to debut novels, most of which were written with as much passion, intensity and conviction as an author can hope to experience, but usually without any hope of being published.
“This is something they might well have been working on for as long as they can remember,” says Pru Rowlandson. “Whereas, the second book, most of them manage to get out in a couple of years. It is also likely to be the most autobiographical thing you ever write.”

I guess I went about it the wrong way, then. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits isn’t autobiographical in the traditional sense (I’ve never tried to cross the Mediterranean on a boat, never hustled for a job, etc.) while the novel I’m working on now is much more personal. One of the two main characters is a Moroccan woman who comes to the United States to study, for example, and the other is a man with a very conflicted relationship with his father.

On Lit Blogs

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

The Daily Telegraph ran a piece about lit blogs a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s finally online. It features several popular and deserving blogs, among which The Elegant Variation, Maud Newton, Edrants, and, of course, The Complete Review, whose proprietor I’ve had a huge online crush on for a while.

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