Archive for June, 2006

Weirdos Welcome

Friday, June 30th, 2006

I swear, I must have a big sign on my forehead that says: Weirdos Welcome. I had barely sat down in my seat on the plane back from DC than the man to my left turned to me and said, clearly enunciating every word as though I was slow or something: “Hello. My name is Adam. We can talk during the flight if you want. But if you don’t want to, then we don’t have to.” I hadn’t even fastened my seatbelt yet! I mean, what is it about me that I always get the crazy ones? He talked about himself for three hours and forty-five minutes.


Thursday, June 29th, 2006

I am still in orientation or I should say, in my case, re-orientation here in Washington for my December trip to Morocco. I met some of the other fellows, scholars, and students, and of course, I’ve already found at least three personal connections back in Al-Maghrib: One student knows a college buddy of mine, another fellow has worked closely with an acquaintance, and yet another has taught English to the childen of a good friend. It’s a small world.

In Our Nation’s Capital

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

I am in Washington, DC, this week, for the Fulbright Fellowship orientation. On the plane over here, seated between a white-bearded man who kept offering me his bars of chocolate and his glass of orange juice, and a woman who kept telling her already-quiet baby to be quiet or she’d spank her, I caught up on my magazine reading.

I stopped subscribing to The Atlantic, but I bought it this month to read the cover story by Mary Anne Weaver about Zarqawi. It turned out to be a thoroughly researched, well-written and very engaging piece. There’s also a short piece by Nadya Labi about a young man who frequented Jihadi websites under the handle Irhabi 007. (Irhabi means ‘terrorist’ in Arabic.) He was eventually caught not because law enforcement came looking for him, but because individuals offered tips and had to be persistent in getting those tips to the right people. But there’s a disturbing aspect that could have been mined further in this piece, which is the work done by contractors/vigilantes like SITE, people who clearly have an agenda and don’t answer to anyone but themselves. The best part of the magazine remains its “critics” section. There’s a great, great piece by Sandra Tsing-Loh about American women and their finances, and also an excellent essay by Christopher Hitchens on Iranian literature, specifically the anthology Strange Times, My Dear, which I’ve mentioned frequently on this blog.

Speaking of Iran, Harper’s has a long piece by Christopher de Bellaigue on the current nuclear crisis. It’s filed from Tehran, where de Bellaigue lives, and it provides a much needed account of what ordinary Iranians think of the situation. There’s also a very thoughtful review by Robert Boyers of John Updike’s new novel, Terrorist. If you read only one piece of critical writing about that novel, make it this one. And of course reading Harper’s Index is always informative. Did you know that Americans rank atheists at the top of the list of people whom they are least willing to allow their children to marry? Muslims were second, African Americans were third. Hey, look at the bright side. The faithful are not as hated as the faithless.

As our plane was landing, the white-bearded man turned to me and told me that God blessed me, and that he wished all my dreams came true. I wondered if he’d still say that if he knew I was Number 2 on that list. But Amen anyway, brother.

Summer Reading List

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Last Friday, Annie Reed, blogging at Maud Newton’s, requested summer reading suggestions. I haven’t sent mine in yet, mostly because what I’ll be reading this summer is probably not going to be the kind of book you take to the beach or the pool. I’m trying to focus on books that will be of use to me with my current novel, for example by helping me to understand certain aspects of political Islam (and, more broadly, the way that religious/political ideologies gain followers.)

For example, I plan to read Fawaz Gerges’ Journey of the Jihadist, which is based on extensive interviews with militants, and chronicles one man’s descent–and possibly his return from–Jihadist ideology. (I do not recommend taking this book with you on the airplane to whatever faraway destination you’re headed to.)

I am also planning to read Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah. I didn’t like the excerpt from the book that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly a while back, but I am curious how Bowden will address the co-opting by the Ayatollah of the students who took over the American embassy. We’ll see.

Then there is Ismail Kadare’s The Successor. Several discerning readers, including my husband, have recommended this book very highly. I haven’t read Kadare in years–since my teens, I think–and I have never read him in English. So this should be a very special treat.

Another book that came highly recommended–from readers as far away as my hometown of Rabat, Morocco–is Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française. Everyone is praising it to the high heavens. I hope it lives up to the recommendations.

Can you believe I haven’t yet gotten to Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss? I had just started it a couple of months ago when I was assigned something to review and had to set it aside. So I’m hoping to get into it for good this time.

Every summer I try to read older books–classics, really–that I’ve missed out on, and correct my ignorance. This year, I’m hoping to finally read Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear, Buchi Emecheta’s Head Above Water and Mongo Beti’s Mission to Kala.

And of course summer is also a good time to check out galleys of fall 2006 releases. The ones I have set aside to read are Leila Aboulela’s The Translator, Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun and Ahmed Alaidy’s Being Abbas El-Abd.

Moment in Balboa

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

This month, photographer Ibarionex Perello sends in this picture, taken in Balboa Park, in San Diego.


I like the juxtaposition of the different lines and shapes in the photo, and the sharpness of the nenuphar. One could almost touch it.

Ramadan Wins Court Case

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan, who had been denied a U.S. visa that would have enabled him to start teaching at Notre Dame last year, has just won a court case that essentially forces the government to process his application. The case was brought on by Professor Ramadan in conjunction with PEN American center, the ACLU, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Association of University Professors, to challenge a provision of the PATRIOT Act that had barred him from entering the U.S. to teach or to take part in PEN’s World Voices festival.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty ruled that:

while the Executive may exclude an alien for almost any reason, it cannot do so solely because the Executive disagrees with the content of the alien’s speech and therefore wants to prevent the alien from sharing this speech with a willing American audience.

A good day’s work. You can read all about it on PEN’s website.

Portland Event: Jami Attenberg

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Tonight I will be cheering on Jami Attenberg as she reads from her debut novel, Instant Love:

Jami Attenberg reads from Instant Love
Powell’s City of Books
10th and Burnside
7:30 pm

See you there!

Djebbar In L’Académie

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Assia Djebbar, who earlier this year was elected to the Académie Française, has officially joined ‘Les Immortels’ at a ceremony last Thursday. She will take over fauteuil numéro 5 from Georges Revel. You can read her (very moving) speech here.

L’Afrique du Nord, du temps de l’Empire français, – comme le reste de l’Afrique de la part de ses coloniaux anglais, portugais ou belges – a subi, un siècle et demi durant, dépossession de ses richesses naturelles, déstructuration de ses assises sociales, et, pour l’Algérie, exclusion dans l’enseignement de ses deux langues identitaires, le berbère séculaire, et la langue arabe dont la qualité poétique ne pouvait alors, pour moi, être perçue que dans les versets coraniques qui me restent chers.

Mesdames et Messieurs, le colonialisme vécu au jour le jour par nos ancêtres, sur quatre générations au moins, a été une immense plaie ! Une plaie dont certains ont rouvert récemment la mémoire, trop légèrement et par dérisoire calcul électoraliste. En 1950 déjà, dans son “Discours sur le Colonialisme” le grand poète Aimé Césaire avait montré, avec le souffle puissant de sa parole, comment les guerres coloniales en Afrique et en Asie ont, en fait, “décivilisé” et “ensauvagé”, dit-il, l’Europe. (…)

La langue française, la vôtre, Mesdames et Messieurs, devenue la mienne, tout au moins en écriture, le français donc est lieu de creusement de mon travail, espace de ma méditation ou de ma rêverie, cible de mon utopie peut-être, je dirai même ; tempo de ma respiration, au jour le jour : ce que je voudrais esquisser, en cet instant où je demeure silhouette dressée sur votre seuil.

Je me souviens, l’an dernier, en Juin 2005, le jour où vous m’avez élue à votre Académie, aux journalistes qui quêtaient ma réaction, j’avais répondu que “J’étais contente pour la francophonie du Maghreb”. La sobriété s’imposait, car m’avait saisie la sensation presque physique que vos portes ne s’ouvraient pas pour moi seule, ni pour mes seuls livres, mais pour les ombres encore vives de mes confrères – écrivains, journalistes, intellectuels, femmes et hommes d’Algérie qui, dans la décennie quatre-vingt-dix ont payé de leur vie le fait d’écrire, d’exposer leurs idées ou tout simplement d’enseigner… en langue française.

Depuis, grâce à Dieu, mon pays cautérise peu à peu ses blessures.

‘Faith & Reason’ on PBS

Monday, June 26th, 2006

As has been widely reported, Bill Moyers is doing a series of interviews on faith and reason for PBS. His first guest was Salman Rushdie, and I was lucky enough to catch the show on TV the other day. Rushdie’s answers were, as usual, quite thoughtful, and I agreed with much of what he said (though I disagreed with a couple of his positions, particularly in regards to women.) Other interviewees will include Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, David Grossman and Jeanette Winterson, and the shows will be aired throughout the summer.

Help, There Are Illegal Immigrants Under My Bed!!

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Novelist Lionel Shriver is pissed off at illegal immigrants because, among other things,

3) Having followed the rules on immigration – and complicated rules they are – I resent folks who cheat and get away with it. 4) The entire world seems to believe they have a right to live in my country, but it doesn’t work the other way around; other countries are as defensive of their borders as they are oblivious of mine, and I bristle at the double standard.

The problem here is that Shriver conflates two responsibilities. Migration from one country to another happens as a result of individuals’ actions, while border control–whether in countries that receive or send immigrants–falls under the purview of government action. Being angry at illegal immigrants here in the U.S. because of the way their home countries’ governments act toward immigrants from a third country is silly. If these illegal immigrants could control their governments, they probably would have forced them to create jobs so they wouldn’t have had to come here in the first place.

Shriver’s aversion to illegal immigration has worsened, she says, since visiting the U.S. recently:

I have got the immigration bug worse than usual since I flew into JFK this week, where the jumble of foreigners queuing at passport control was indistinguishable from the jumble of foreigners – taxi drivers, fast-food vendors – on the other side of customs.

What’s with the assumption that the taxi drivers and fast-food vendors in New York are ‘foreigners’? How does she know whether they are native born American, naturalized Americans, or immigrants–let alone legal or illegal? Or is it their skin color that pegs them as foreigners?

The rest of the article is an indignant denunciation of the American system, which Shriver believes encourages illegal immigration because of loopholes in the law, and because the law itself is never applied. Rather than direct her anger at illegal immigrants, Shriver would do well to ask why those loopholes exist. I’ll tell you why: Because this government is quite happy to have cheap labor who a) will do the babysitting, elderly care, washing, cooking, cleaning, and oh yes, even fire-fighting, b) will contribute millions of dollars in sales taxes and other taxes, c) has no representation in Congress and cannot vote and, most important, d) can be used to ‘wag the dog’ when something else goes wrong–an illegal and immoral war for example.

Summer P&W

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Some articles from the July/August issue of Poets and Writers are now available online, including a profile of Emily Barton and Gary Shteyngart and an interview with Chris Abani about his novella Becoming Abigail. You might also like to read C. Max Magee’s piece on the new book-cataloguing website Library Thing, which brings joy to book nerds everywhere.

‘License to Lie’

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Ron Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Doctrine, a rather damning portrait of the Bush administration, has been getting loads of attention, but I must say I wasn’t particularly interested because, really, how many times does one have to be told about the lies and corruption and belligerence of this administration? That’s precisely the point that Gary Kamiya addresses in his review for Salon:

At this point, one could forgive readers for asking, “How many more damning portraits of the Bush administration do we need?” From yellowcake to Joe Wilson to Abu Ghraib, the list of Bush scandals and outrages is endless, but nothing ever seems to happen. As the journalist Mark Danner has pointed out, the problem is not lack of information: The problem is that Americans can’t, or won’t, acknowledge what that information means.

More of this thorough review here.

So What Else Is New?

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

In addition to eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens, the U.S. government apparently has also been secretly tracking the bank transactions of an untold number of people, according to the New York Times. Naturally, we have assurances that the people being spied on are ‘suspected terrorists.’ That’s all you need to know.

Giveaway: Fun Home, Autographed

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

funhome.jpgI have a very special giveaway for one lucky reader this week: A signed first edition of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. This graphic memoir tells of Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her closeted gay father, Bruce, and of the discovery of her own sexuality. It’s set in a small Pennsylvania town, where Bruce Bechdel ran a funeral home (the ‘fun home’ of the title), where he taught high school English, and where he spent years restoring his house, an 1857 Gothic revival house. It’s an honest and bittersweet portrait of a father-daughter relationship, and easily the best graphic memoir of this year.

The title page reads “To a reader” and is signed by Alison Bechdel. (You can thank Alex for this. I was in DC that night, giving a reading myself, but he took an extra copy and had it signed.) The first reader to write gets the book. Please use the subject line: “Bechdel.” Please include your mailing address. Previous winners excluded. Update: The winner is Sheila O. from Jackson, MS.

Oh My God, Think Of The Children!

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

The board of the Miami-Dade County school district has voted 6-3 to remove certain books from its libraries, including one titled Vamos A Cuba! which depicts Cuban children wearing communist uniforms. The district’s position is that the books are “inappropriate for young readers because of inaccuracies and omissions about life in the communist nation.” Wow. Don’t you feel safer with these people guarding your kids’ virtue? The ACLU and the Miami-Dade County Student Government Association have filed a lawsuit.

Bissell on Kaplan

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Tom Bissell’s essay on Robert D. Kaplan, in the current issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, opens thus:

Throughout his long career Robert D. Kaplan has consistently benefited from the fact that no one has any idea what, exactly, he is. A humble travel writer? A popular historian? A panjandrum analyst of developing-world politics and personalities? The 2001 reissue of Kaplan’s Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan (1990) tried to settle the matter. The back-cover copy refers to Kaplan, pretty much definitively, as a “world affairs expert.” Kaplan’s prolific writing would appear to bear out such stature. The subtitles of his eleven books mention twenty countries or regions. The Mediterranean? Check. Kaplan has even lived there. Central Asia? Too late. Kaplan covered it. Southeast Asia? Nope. Annexed by Kaplan. North Africa? Kaplan. West Africa? Sorry. South America? What do you think?

Bissell reviews all the books that have resulted from these peregrinations, and finds that “Kaplan is worse than a bad writer or thinker. He is a dangerous writer made ever more dangerous by the fact that he is taken seriously.” Kaplan is currently the editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

Nejm in Translation

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

As`ad Abu-Khalil, the curmudgeonly political science professor behind the Angry Arab blog, is currently in the Middle East, and he reports a sighting of poet Ahmad Fouad Negm (or Nejm), on Al-Arabiyya last week. Says Abu-Khalil:

We need somebody to write a PhD dissertation on Shaykh Imam and Ahmad Fu’ad Najm. What a phenomenon. My favorite Najm poem was the one he wrote when Richard Nixon visited Cairo to escape the press scrutiny during Watergate. It goes: “You have honored us, o Nixon, with the visit, o the one of Watergate; the Sultans of ful and [olive] oil have made you a quite a fanfare [try to translate “‘imah w-sima” into English].”

The difficulty of translating these lines reminded me of a scene from Ahdaf Soueif’s first novel, In The Eye of the Sun, in which Asya, who is studying for a doctorate in linguistics in northern England, attempts to explain to some of her guests exactly what these lines, written by Nejm and sung by Shaykh Imam, mean:

Hisham presses the pause button.
‘Let’s hear the song through, and then I’ll rewind it and pause after every couplet. I’d really like to hear Asya’s translation.’

‘Sharraft ya Nixon Baba,
Ya bta` el-Watergate -‘

Hisham presses pause.
‘Well,’ says Asya, ‘as I said, he says, “You’ve honored us, Nixon Baba – “Baba” means “father” but it’s also used, as it is used here, as a title of mock respect – as in “Ali Baba”, for example – that’s probably derived from Muslim Indian use of Arabic – but the thing is you could also address a child as “Baba” as an endearment – a sort of inversion: like calling him Big Chief because he’s so little – and so when it’s used aggressively – say in an argument between two men – it carries a diminutivising, belittling signification. So here it holds all these meanings. Anyway, “you’ve honoured us, Nixon Baba,” – “You’ve honoured us” is, by the way, the traditional greeting with which you meet someone coming into your home – it’s almost like “come on in” in this country. So it functions merely as a greeting and he uses it in that way but of course he activates – ironically – the meaning of having actually “honoured” us. “You’ve honoured us, Nixon Baba / O you of Watergate” I suppose would be the closest translation – but the structure of “bita` el-whatever” (el – is just the definite article coming before any noun) posits a close but not necessarily defined relationship between the first noun (the person being described) and the second noun. So “bita` el-vegetables”, for example, would be someone who sold vegetables, while “bita` el-women” would be someone who pursued women. So Nixon is “bita` el-Watergate”, which suggests him selling the idea of Watergate to someone – selling his version of Watergate to the public – and pursuing a Watergate type of policy, but all in a very non-pompous, street vernacular, jokingly abusive kind of way. The use of “el-” to further specify Watergate – a noun which needs no further defining – is necessary for the rhythm and to add comic effect. I’m sure you won’t want me to go on like this, so let’s stop -‘
‘Nonsense!’ says Gerald.
‘It’s fascinating,’ says Lisa.
‘Asya,’ says Hisham, ‘I swear I’m enjoying this. Come on, I’ll play the next couplet.’


There’s A Shocker

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

The Associated Press has obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI files for playwright Arthur Miller.

Miller’s first Broadway play, “The Man Who Had All the Luck,” came out in 1944, around the same time that the earliest FBI files are dated. His professional and personal life were closely watched, usually through newspaper clippings, but also from informants (whose names have been blacked out in the records) and public documents.

The FBI not only kept records of Miller’s political statements, from his opposition to nuclear weapons to his attacks against the anti-communist blacklist, but of his affiliation with such organizations as the American Labor Party (“a communist front”) and the “communist infiltrated”
American Civil Liberties Union.

The agency apparently spied on Arthur Miller until 1956. At least they stopped. In the case of Edward Said, they may have been watching him for 30 years, until his death.

Good News

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

On Monday I posted about the re-issue of Mohammed Choukri’s For Bread Alone in the UK. Donald Linn, of Consortium, writes in to let us know that they will distribute the book in the U.S. in the fall. See? So you’ve got no excuse for not reading this marvel of a novel.

First Time

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

manofthepeople.jpgWhen I was a sophomore in college, our class was assigned Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People for our African Literature course. I went to get my copy at the English Bookshop, which back then was on Zanqat Al-Yamama, across from the train station in downtown Rabat, right behind what used to be the British Council building. The bookseller had ran out of new copies, so I bought a used one–printed by Heinemann in 1982. A Man of the People was a revelation for me; it spoke to me like few books had until then (or since, for that matter.) I went back to the store and bought the other works of Achebe’s that I could find, including, of course, Things Fall Apart.

riverbetween.jpgI’ve been scavenging bookstore shelves for titles from the Heinemann African Writers Series for a while, but I finally gave up and ordered many of the ones I hadn’t yet read from an online site. But what’s strange is that I tend to prefer to buy the orange-covered editions–maybe because I’m hoping to replicate that feeling of discovery I had with Achebe or because I’m hoping to fall into these books in the same way I have fallen into A Man of the People. There hasn’t been anything like that first time, though.

Laroui on Benali

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Fouad Laroui’s brief column for this week’s Jeune Afrique is about Dutch-Moroccan novelist Abdelkader Benali’s recent experiences in Morocco, which he was visiting for the Casablanca Book Fair. A few cross-cultural surprises for Benali, such as

Il faut savoir qu’en Hollande les gens ne se font jamais la bise. On ne se serre même pas la main. On se dit « Hi » à bonne distance. Et voilà notre Abdelkader assailli de poutous par des gens qu’il ne connaît que très vaguement. Bonjour, smac-smac ! Bienvenue à Casa, smac-smac ! Tu te souviens de moi, on s’est croisés il y a deux ans ? Smac-smac ! Abdelkader veut bien qu’on l’appelle par son prénom, et même qu’on l’appelle Mohammed, mais qu’on l’embrasse à tout bout de champ, non, ça, ça lui semble étrange.

Benali’s first novel, Bruiloft Aaan Zee, was translated into English as Wedding by the Sea. Check it out.

Panderer Nailed

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

A few days ago, Stephen Colbert asked Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, the lawmaker who sponsored a bill that would make it possible to display the Ten Commandments in courthouses, to name those same commandments:

Stephen Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?
Lynn Westmoreland: What are all of them?
SC: Yes.
LW: You want me to name them all?
SC: Yes.
LW: Uh. Don’t murder. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Uh. I can’t name them all.

Watch the response here. Hilarious.


What The Critics Said, Back Then

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

The Guardian reprints its original (1924) review of E.M. Forster’s A Passage To India. Quaint.


Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Over at the New York Times, Laurie Goldstein profiles two increasingly prominent Muslim figures in America, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, both of them American converts to Islam. It’s an interesting piece. Hamza Yusuf comes across as someone who is still maturing in his philosophy and finding his way. And I can see why Zaid Shakir would appeal to young kids.

But when you get to the end of the piece you find this little nugget of wisdom from the young Imam Shakir:

[Imam Zaid Shakir] said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, “not by violent means, but by persuasion.”

“Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country,” he said. “I think it would help people, and if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it’s helped a lot of people in my community.”

It drives me absolutely up the wall when people say things like “every Muslim [fill in blank].” Will people please, please, quit talking for everyone? And I don’t care if it’s an imam or if it’s one of those ubiquitous “experts on Islam” who say they know what the rest of us think. Look, I’m Muslim, and I don’t want America to be a Muslim country–or any kind of a religious country, for that matter.


‘For Bread Alone’

Monday, June 19th, 2006

choukri_for_bread.jpgFor some time now, I’ve been looking for an English-language edition of Mohammed Choukri’s For Bread Alone, translated by Paul Bowles, but the book is out of print and used copies are very hard to find. First editions are ridiculously expensive. Given the state of fiction in translation in the U.S., I am not holding my breath for an American edition sometime in the future, either.

Luckily for those of you who would like to finally get your hands on this seminal Moroccan novel, Telegram Books in the UK is re-issuing it this month, so I’ll be sure to pick up a copy when I’m in London in July. You can also get it on You’d better get a copy and read it, or you are dead to me.

More Ali Reviews

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Ron Charles, writing in the Washington Post, is not particularly taken with Monica Ali’s new novel, Alentejo Blue.

Monica Ali’s debut, the sensitive, subtly witty Brick Lane , was one of the best novels of 2003. Now, with Alentejo Blue , she’s produced one of the best books of 1926. This spare, unrelentingly depressing story about several lost generations might have delighted Gertrude Stein and made Hemingway green with envy, but whether readers will want to subject themselves to it now seems doubtful. Searching for this title online, don’t be surprised if you get a pop-up ad for Prozac.

Other reviewers appear to agree. I’m really disappointed, but let’s face it, I’ll probably pick up the book and give it a try anyway.

Summer Reading

Monday, June 19th, 2006

If you’re wondering what to take the beach: The Guardian asked Monica Ali, John Banville, A.S. Byatt, Dave Eggers, Francis Fukuyama, Kazuo Ishiguro, HIlary Mantel, Pankaj Mishra, Audrey Niffenegger, Orhan Pamuk, Sarah Waters, and many many others about their summer reading lists.

Reading Recap: Olsson’s

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Audience: About 35.
Anxiety index: 1 (out of 10).
Surprise guest(s): DC blogger Natasha Tynes. Author John Kropf.
No. of Moroccans who said hello: 8.
Book given away: None. (I forgot to pack one!)

My trip to our nation’s capital last week was my very first, but for some reason I wasn’t nervous at all about my reading. The weather was great, the turnout was excellent, and, even better, the audience was really engaged. I asked people what they wanted me to read. They suggested “The Fanatic,” and I was happy to oblige, especially because it’s not a piece I read from very often, since it’s pretty long. In any case, the reading went very well. Some questions I was asked: Where will your book be published? (Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil.) Has your book been translated into Arabic? (No.) Do you want to translate it into Arabic? (Of course. Though the translation that’s closest to my heart is one into Darija–Moroccan Arabic–which I’ll do myself, after I finish the novel I’m working on now.) Do you feel that when you talk about problems in Moroccan society you’re airing dirty laundry? (I understand that concern, particularly given the vicious images we see reflected back at us from the media. But as a writer I have to do what feels true to the characters I create. I hope the world in the book is complete enough and plausible enough that it will ring true to the reader.) Do you want to write non-fiction? (Yes. Maybe. But fiction is my first love.)

During the signing period, I got to talk to several people, some of whom had been to Morocco, and I wanted to mention in particular one guy who served in the Navy a few years ago. He was on deck when his ship passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and he saw some harraga being stopped by Moroccan and Spanish coast guards. I also loved meeting four college students who were interning in Washington for the summer. I have no idea how they heard about my reading, but here are some photos they posted. I signed some extra copies at the store, so if you missed the reading, here’s your chance to get them from a cool independent.

HODP Reading: Washington DC

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Tonight I’ll be reading from Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits in Washington, DC. Here are the details:

Thursday the 15th
Olsson’s Books & Records — Dupont Circle
1307 19th St., NW
Washington, DC

Hope to see you there!

Portland Event: Alison Bechdel

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

funhome.jpgAlison Bechdel, whose Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is one of the best graphic memoirs I have ever read, will appear at Powell’s City of Books tonight at 7:30pm. If I were in town, I’d be there. (I take some comfort in knowing Alex will get our copy signed, but it’s just not the same.) I’ll have more to say about this book in the near future, so watch this space.

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