Month: May 2005

New York, New York

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.

Stephen Elliott Recommends

“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).

There’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.”

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.

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

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

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.


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