As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my first novel, Secret Son, will be coming out with Algonquin this spring. I will be reading from the book and discussing it at various venues in California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Indiana, Florida, DC, Massachusetts and New York. You can find all the tour details on the events page. Please come and say hello!
There are some other events in the works, and as soon as I have those confirmed I will post them.
The National Book Critics’ Circle has announced the finalists for its annual book awards. I was thrilled and surprised to find out that I had made the list for the Nona Balakian, which is the award given for excellence in reviewing. The other finalists are Michael Antman, Kathryn Harrison, and Todd Shy; the winner is Ron Charles of the Washington Post. I am absolutely delighted for him; this is a richly deserved honor for a wonderful book critic.
The finalists in the fiction category are:
Roberto Bolaño, 2666. Farrar, Straus
Marilynne Robinson, Home, Farrar, Straus
Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project, Riverhead
M. Glenn Taylor, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, West Virginia University Press
Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kittredge, Random House
You can find list of all finalists in all categories on the NBCC page.
I’m teaching J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians in my advanced fiction class and while writing down page numbers for my notes I came across this lovely passage, where the Magistrate reflects upon the role he and Colonel Joll play in the functioning of the empire:
For I was not, as I liked to think, the indulgent pleasure-loving opposite of the cold rigid colonel. I was the lie that Empire tells itself when times are easy, he the truth that Empire tells when harsh winds blow. Two sides of imperial rule, no more, no less.
If you haven’t read this gem of a novel, you really should.
Despite the fact that I voted for Barack Obama, I’ve refrained from commenting about him since his election. I didn’t really want to speculate about what he could or could not do, what he might or might not do, and especially what he should or should not do. I figured that January 20th would come soon enough and I would have plenty of empirical data upon which to base any observations.
I’m glad that day has come.
Eight years ago, I voted for Ralph Nader because I thought there really wasn’t much of a difference between Democrats and Republicans on the major issues. But after the debacle in Florida, the Supreme Court decision, and the abysmal presidency that followed, I learned a simple lesson: Not all politicians are equal. There are some who are so talentless, so impervious to common sense, so lacking in simple compassion that they make a mockery of the office. I suppose I’m too cynical now to expect vast differences in government policy but I am still fired up about this particular change, about Barack Obama, and about the departure of George W. Bush.
Cartoon: Mike Lukovich
The L.A. Times Book Review asked a few writers to think about the significance of Barack Obama’s election for the arts in this country. Janet Fitch, Susan Straight, Rubén Martinez, Rebecca Solnit, and Ted Widmer contribute short essays. For his part, Ben Ehrenreich has a wish list for the president-elect. Here’s an excerpt:
2. An e-mail petition has been circulating urging you to create a Cabinet-level position for a secretary of the arts. Please consider nominating Iraqi journalist Muntather Zaidi. His shoe-pitching performance in Baghdad last month displayed a startlingly precise understanding of the proper relation of the artist to those in power.
You can read the whole piece here.
Over the past 21 days, a number of explanations have been offered for Israel’s air-, sea-, and land-based bombings of Gaza: a) Israel was only defending itself against rocket fire from Hamas; b) Israel wanted to destroy Hamas once and for all; c) Israel wanted to tilt polls in favor of Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, and Co. in the upcoming Palestinian elections; d) Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni were desperate to get ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming Israeli elections; e) Israeli strategists wanted to get a long-planned assault executed during the change in U.S. leadership; f) and, last but not least, according to the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Israel was bombing Gaza just because.
But while the explainers were busy explaining, 1300 Palestinians were killed and 5400 injured; 13 Israelis were killed in the same time period (4 of them soldiers in “friendly fire” incidents). Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been driven out of their homes, becoming refugees within a refugee camp. A university has been bombed and dozens of UNRWA schools and hospitals have been destroyed. And all for what?
The City University of New York has started an online series called the Great Issues Seminar (which is part of a larger project at the graduate center), in which they ask academics and intellectuals to comment about a key text on the concept of power. They asked me to write about Edward Said’s Orientalism. Here is the piece, for those who are curious.
David Horowitz (the editor of the right-wing rag FrontPageMag and the author of The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America) was invited to speak on a panel called “Academic Freedom” at the MLA. That must have been some panel. The Chronicle reports: Impasse at the MLA.
Here is one of my favorite poems by Taha Muhammad Ali: “Thrombosis in the Veins of Petroleum”:
When I was a child
I fell into the abyss
but didn’t die;
I drowned in the pond
when I was young,
but did not die;
and now, God help us—
one of my habits is running
into battalions of land mines
along the border,
as my songs
and the days of my youth
here a flower,
there a scream;
I do not die!
They butchered me
on the doorstep
like a lamb for the feast—
in the veins of petroleum;
In God’s name
they slit my throat
from ear to ear
a thousand times,
and each time
my dripping blood would swing
back and forth
like the feet of a man
hanged from a gallows,
and come to rest,
a large, crimson mallow
to guide ships
the site of palaces
God help us—
the phone won’t ring
in a brothel or castle,
and not in a single Gulf Emirate,
except to offer a new prescription
for my extermination.
just as the mallow tells us,
and as the borders know,
I won’t die! I will not die!!
I’ll linger on—a piece of shrapnel
the size of a penknife
lodged in the neck;
a blood stain
the size of a cloud
on the shirt of this world!
Here is the poem in the original Arabic: ترمبوزة في شرايين النفط. You can find it in the collection So What: New and Selected poems, 1971-2005 translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin. Next month, Yale University Press will be publishing a biography of Taha Muhammad Ali.