Month: June 2006

Weirdos Welcome

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.


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

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

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.


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