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

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.