Monday, May 30, 2005

The New Failbetter up, and there's a sort of repressed interview with Sam Lipsyte (and new fiction by Jim Shepard and Steve Almond).

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Cowboy Smack Down!

I fucking LOVE Larry McMurtry. Deborah Solomon tries her best to mess with him, but he basically tells her, and the industry, to go fuck themselves. Please read the interview through to the end. It's worth it.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Girl Friday

I'm over at Moorish Girl today and every Friday, so stop by and say hi.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Daily Star has a write-up of two recent films from the Middle East, "Marock," written and directed by Leila Marrakchi, and "One Night," written and directed by Iranian Niki Karimi.

"It's not your typical Arab film. I wanted to get away from all that," says Marrakchi. "...The whole purpose was to tell a story and show a different image of Morocco."

That different image sees the kids drinking, dancing and smoking hash with the same casual abandon as any other teenager around the world. The film deliberately avoids the traditional Maghrebi cinematic stereotypes, there are no souks, hammams or bazaars in Rita's world - only big houses, fast cars and girls drunkenly throwing up in club toilets. Where "Marock" is most effective is when there is a collision between Rita's bubblegum fantasy and the reality of the patriarchal order around her. The opening scene, set to Snap's early 1990's dance hit "I've Got The Power," sees Marrakchi pan across a club car park filled with sports cars. The camera closes up on Rita and her boyfriend steaming up the windows before they're interrupted by a police officer, who threatens them with jail unless he receives some money.

The Books On The Bus Go...

I want this job.

Does anyone know if mobile libraries have caught on in the US yet?

"Why would a guy want to marry a guy?"

James Davidson reviews Alan Bray's The Friend in the LRB.
For a very long period, formal amatory unions, conjugal, elective and indissoluble, between two members of the same sex were made in Europe, publicly recognised and consecrated in churches through Christian ritual.

They were never identical to heterosexual marriages – in societies in which gender differences were so significant, how could they have been? – but were often implicitly or explicitly compared to and contrasted with heterosexual marriages, and were by no means considered to come off the worse for the comparison. Indeed, as partnerships entered into by individuals acting as autonomous agents out of love for each other, same-sex weddings are much closer to modern companionate marriages than the heir-centred, family-allying and often family-arranged marriages of former times. In historical perspective, a love for someone greater than love for life itself, a love that obliterates the mundane world, wife, property, nation, children, is most typically a feature of the discourse of a same-sex lover. Which is why ‘would that all the Trojans died and all the Greeks as well, and you and I, Patroclus, alone survived to demolish Troy’s holy crenellations’ were considered by ancient commentators just about the gayest lines in the Iliad.

Bray was concerned that his book be seen not merely or not at all as an argument in favour of (the antiquity of) ‘gay marriage’, but The Friend is not merely about friendship either, and by the end of it I found my thoughts turning to some topics I had not anticipated: the traditionalism of the English, the British social security system, the origins of the state, and the manicure of an Egyptian pharaoh of the middle of the third millennium bce.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Proust's Recherche = "The ultimate blog"

Someone over at the NYT thought this was worth reporting.

I, apparently, thought it was worth re-reporting.

As someone who's only read Swann's Way, I implore everyone to stop talking about the fucking madeleine cookie. I mean, does nothing else happen in the book? it's as though people only read the first few sentences then give up. Hmmmm.

The Framley Examiner Museum

This is some of the funniest shit I've ever seen. Make sure you go through the entire site (unless, you know, you've go something better to do).

Monday, May 23, 2005

Holy Shit! Laura Bush and Nim Nim!

My Kid's Going To Freak

When he sees this. (OK, OK, I want it too.)


I watched Bergman's Persona last night. I'd started reading this Sontag essay about it, then decided to see it first.

While I was watching it, I noticed that I was squinting and sitting the way I squint and sit when I'm reading a book. Because of its imagery and monologous nature, I felt like I was reading a book.

It's a film about two women: one, an actor who has refused to speak, the other, her nurse. It was really sexy, despite the fact that there was no overt erotica between them.

It's mostly focused on doubles, but it's also a film about voyeurism, and in addressing our need to possess what we "study," what we watch, it turns voyeurism on its head. In one scene, the mute woman rises from the bottom of the frame and takes a photograph of us. In another, the nurse tells her about two peeping toms who'd spied on her and another woman while they were sunbathing. The women end up "raping" the peeping toms. It's as though someone put voyeurism itself in front of a mirror.

In one of my favorite scenes, the nurse tells the mute woman they could be each other. But you couldn't fit, she tells the actress, "your spirit is too big: it would stick out all over the place."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Call For Submissions: Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry

The following is a call for submissions from a dear friend, Hayan Charara:
I am compiling an anthology of contemporary Arab-American poetry that a major university press has expressed interest in publishing. The anthology is intended to be a comprehensive collection of Arab-American poetry.

To be considered for inclusion in the anthology, contributors and contributions must meet two criteria: (1) Contributors must be of Arab descent, and (2) original poems must be written in English, i.e., no translations.

"Arab-American" themes or subject matter are welcomed but not required. Previously published material is preferred.

While I have many poetry collections written by Arab-American poets, I do not have all of them. Please consider sending books (photocopies or printed manuscripts are welcomed) so that I have a complete and up-to-date sampling of your work. Email submissions are accepted, but hard copies are preferred. Any books sent will be returned if requested (please include SASE with sufficient postage). Otherwise, submissions will not be returned--please do not send your only copy.

The press would like to see a manuscript of the anthology in the fall. To accommodate this, and to ensure a top-notch manuscript, deadline for submission is to September 15, 2005.

Inquires and/or email submissions should be sent to:

Hard copy submissions should be sent to:

Hayan Charara
Editor, Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry
4905 Avenue G
Austin, TX 78751

Remember to include a SASE for reply.

Finally, please pass this message on to anyone who may be interested or may be able to spread the word. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Worst Title Ever For A Book Review?

In Flight

The Guild of Book Workers has put together a gorgeous installation whose theme is flight. It's at the HRC right now, so if you're in Austin, check it out. If not, you can go to the site and check out the works individually. Here are my favorites:

Mimi Shapiro
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The Poet's Dream: I loved the idea of a dream being a machine for flight, the way a book can be sometimes.

Melissa Jay Craig
Chicago, Illinois
Night Flight (to Bright Lights): I thought this was perty, kind of remided me of being a teenager. I was into Iridescence and flight, especially from my second story window on the weekend.

Mary Howe
Stonington, Maine
ABZ Bees: I liked this concept ("Maine beekeepers overthrow a 2002 decision by the US Postal Service to end live bee shipments"), as well as the organization. I loved the workmanship on the individual bees.

Sarah M. Smith
Salem, Massachusetts
Awful Disclosures (Letterpress Broadside): This was my favorite, totally hilarious: "Absurd trial of a moth caught in flight, written by the artist in the style of 18th & 19th century dying speeches". I love the jumpy font switches, the dying speeches model, and the silliness of the situation, as well as the prose. Very cool.

Speaking Of Authenticity

From The New Criterion:
If it were true that the balkanization of literature was justified by the supposition that only people who belonged to a certain category of people could truly understand, write about, interpret, and sympathize with the experiences of people in that same category, so that, for example, only women could write about women for women, and only blacks about blacks for blacks (the very careers of many academics now depending upon such a supposition), how was it possible that a Church of England vicar had been able, actually without much difficulty, to persuade a feminist publishing house that he wrote as a woman, and as a Muslim woman of Indian subcontinental origin at that? Was he not in fact telling us, as presumably a good Christian should, that mankind is essentially one, and that if we make a sufficient effort we too can enter into the worlds of others who are in many ways different from ourselves?
You must read this.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Fucking finally.

Guess The Film

Taken together, and watched in the order they were made, the films reveal the cyclical nature of history, which seems to repeat itself even as it moves forward. Democracies swell into empires, empires are toppled by revolutions, fathers abandon their sons and sons find their fathers. Movies end. Life goes on.
That's seriously one of the most beautiful paragraph I've read in a movie review. What film is it talking about? Ahem.

Read the rest of the review.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I took my kid to Bookpeople Saturday, and he disappeared promptly after we entered the store. I stayed calm and picked up a few titles to peruse in the rocking chair in the kid's section (my usual post at Bookpeople). These titles included the new Bee Lavender book, Wendy's book, I'm Not The New Me, a Patricia Highsmith bio in which there's a photo of her topless (purrrrr...will try to find the photo and post it one day), and a copy of Bitch magazine. Then I went hunting for the cub.

I found him 3 minutes later sitting in a chair and listening to a reading. The authors were a husband and wife team, a writer and illustrator of children's books about Native American kids and their horses. The husband was drawing a picture of a horse. It looked like a deranged dinosaur. But my son nodded, and whispered, "it looks so cool!" helistened to the author read from her book, and closed his eyes to imagine the scenes.

After the reading, I flipped through my books and my kid flipped through his comics. A few minutes later, he looked up and said, "Why don't you write a book about us?" "You mean a children's book about you?" "NO, like, a diary about us?" "Because one day, you'll be grown up and it'll make you mad that I wrote about you." "No way! I want you to write about me. It would be cool. Write about the stuff we do together."

These days I have been alternatively disheartened and charged up about writing. My friend Alaa, who lives in Cairo, read my novel and loved it. He wrote a post about it in Arabic, which made me cry. While I was writing my book, I was suffering from the "inauthenticity" issue that a lot of Arab Americans go through ("I'm not a real Arab. Who am I writing for?" etc.) Over time, I slowly stopped worrying about people who slung the inauthenticity rock. Most of those people were just voices in my head, anyway.

Still, it's reassuring to know an Egyptian friend in Cairo liked, and related to, my novel. A real relief.

These things are related somehow, I promise: my kid and the authenticity and the writing and all that. Because I've always felt so in between, in all senses of the word, but especially when I start a novel, which I am doing now. I struggle between writing something completelly fictional, and something completely autobiographical. With the first one, I found a good balance. I guess I am having a hard time trusting myself to find that balance again. But I've always struggled with the fact that I write things that are semi-autobiographical, or that could be perceived as such, because then it may give others the excuse to pull the rug from under me and expose me as a fraud, because, since I write things that I draw from my real life experiences, I am not a real writer. Or because I am American, I am not Arab. Or because I am Arab, I am not American. Or because I am a single mom, I am not interested in success. This is all simply not true. I am learning to see what is, and repeat it to myself, daily. Lately I have been dreaming that I am riding a bicycle. In my waking life, I am also searching for a good balance.

Friday, May 13, 2005


I'm over at Moorish Girl today and every Friday, so stop by and say hi.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Feminism, Islam, and IKEA

I thought this was a story from the ONION, but apparently it's for real:
Swedish-based home furnishings giant IKEA has been strongly slammed by a Scandinavian leader for being “sexist” in its self-assembly manuals. The company has been told by Norway’s Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, to stop using so many images of men in its instruction leaflets. He reportedly rejected the company's argument that it did not want to offend Muslims by depicting women building beds, sofas and bookcases. "This isn't good enough," he told a local paper. "It's important to promote attitudes for sexual equality, not least in Muslim nations."

The store’s colorful and detailed catalogue is printed in over 20 languages and circulates in over 30 countries, including Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Malaysia. ...

Assembling an IKEA piece can be just as great a challenge for men as for women, the Norwegian leader had said. "I myself have great problems with screwing together such furniture."

We had an IKEA when I was growing up in Kuwait. On the nights we were broke, my dad would drive us out to it in our smoking Olds -- it really was smoking, I think part of it was perpetually on fire-- and deposit my brother and me at the "ball pit." Then, he and my mother would proceed to stare longingly at furnishings while my brother and I licked plastic and dove to the bottom of the pit, for hours.

No word on whether my parents discussed who would screw together the furniture. You know, worded differently, that sentence could have turned out really, really nasty.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Palestinian Film Fest

The Daily Star reports from London’s Palestine Film Festival. Films on offer included Toufic Saleh’s The Dupes, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men Under The Sun, Godard’s Here and Elsewhere, Abu-Asad’s Rana’s Wedding, and Ford Transit, a "freewheeling docu-drama following fearless Palestinian taxi driver Rajai Khatib, as he uses his Ford Transit van to ferry Palestinians between Jerusalem and Ramallah."

I didn't go. Sniff.

Shut Up, Memory

The TLS's Andrew Scull writes a glowing review of Douwe Draaisma's Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older. The book is about the ways memory forms our past, or our interpretation of it. It uses literary examples from the work and characters of writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Edith Warton, Jorge Luis Borges, and Ernst Jünger, and offers views on Freud's theory of "screen memories"; Jean Piaget's idea of a flase "memory of a memory"; why we remember forwards,not backwards; what to make of handicapped children's use of memory; and it examines, specifically, the attempts to make sense of the acceleration of time.

One of my favorite books about the funny nature of memory is Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Childhood. One of my favorite anecdotes:

My own son...used to be convinced that Mussolini had been thrown off a bus in North Truro, on Cape Cod during the war. This memory goes back to one morning in 1943 when, as a young child, he was waiting with his father and me beside the road to put a departing guest on the bus to Hyannis. The bus came through, and the bus driver leaned down to shout the latest bit of news:"They've thrown Mussolini out." Today, my son knows that Mussolini was never ejected from a Massachussettes bus, and he also knows how he got that impression. But if his father and I had died the following year, he would have been left witha clear recollection of something that everyone would have assured him was a historical impossibility, and with no way of reconciling his stubborn memory to the stubborn facts on record.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Bad Ass Chick Department

I love reading about the differences between characters and the real-life people who inspire them. In the case of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, I always thought Jo was a badass, but never really know about Alcott's own mother, who was equally badass.

From the Chicago Trib:
Alcott wrote "Little Women" at the request of her publisher, who wanted a "girls' book." Alcott complained that she didn't much like girls, nor know many, other than her sisters. Still, she needed the money, and so she set to work, drawing on her childhood memories. But to shoehorn her unconventional, bohemian and transcendentalist parents into a suitable tale for Victorian-era sensibilities just wasn't possible. She dealt with her father, Bronson--brilliant and wildly radical--by leaving him out. (Mr. March spends most of the novel "far away" ministering to Union troops.) And she evidently felt that her mother's character needed an extreme makeover--the personality equivalent of the teeth-whitening, nose-straightening, breast-enhancing transformations performed on TV's "The Swan."
Fucking publishers. How fabulous would it be if, in addition to Little Women, we had a memoir of Alcott's real-life mom? Reading more about her whets my appetite for such a memoir:
Abigail May was 26 when she met impoverished educator Bronson Alcott, in 1827. Shunning what she called "heartless fashion and polar etiquette," she proceeded to court him purposefully for three years. When they finally married, it was an unusually egalitarian union by the yardstick of the era. Bronson insisted on attending the birth of his daughter Elizabeth and took charge of the girls' morning bath and bedtime routines, so that Abigail could have some time to herself each day. When Bronson's radicalism (attempting sex education and trying to racially integrate his school, among other things) brought opprobrium, Abigail became his fiercest defender[...].

Bronson's uncompromising ideals eventually made him unemployable, and while he sat contemplating philosophical works in his study, Abigail had to take in sewing. ... When Bronson decided they would live outside the money economy on a communal farm, Abigail found that much of the physical labor of the venture fell to her, while the men occupied themselves with debating its ideas. ... When the farm failed during its first winter, Abigail became the main breadwinner, one of the first women employed as a professional social worker among the poor in Boston.
19 Century sex ed? Uncompromising ideals that render people unemployable? Communal farms? Social work? Men debating ideas rather than doing the real work? Trailblazing Chicks? Someone needs to write a book about this, soon.

Writing In The Box (Rather Than Outside it)=Good Publicity Stunt

In the NYT today, an article about a few writers who are going to be living and writing in a box:
On Saturday night, in front of 200 onlookers, [three novelists], ensconced in neighboring pods, embarked on a variation of the spectator sports made familiar by reality television. Ms. Stone, Ranbir Sidhu and Grant Bailie are the participants in "Novel: A Living Installation" at the Flux Factory, an artists' collective in Long Island City. The goal is for each to complete a novel by June 4. The purpose is to consider the private and public aspects of writing.
Whose purpose? I guess the installation artists'. If you are confused about what would motivate writers to do this:
Mr. Bailie, 43... received some fine reviews for his first novel, "Cloud 8," published in 2002, but earns a living as a security supervisor for an office complex and mall in downtown Cleveland. Mr. Bailie, who paid for his plane ticket to New York, also has a wife and two children from a previous marriage, so his writing time is limited.
Right. Like I'm supposed to believe these writers are doing this for the writing time it allows. Not for the publicity (I've never heard of any of them). Or the money that's bound to follow. I hope Mr. Bailie will be allowed to send out his child support checks from the box.

I'm not actually oposed to experiments like this one. I just think stunts like these, or even similar ones, like NANOWRIMO, rarely produce decent works.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Jeanette Winterson's Bedside Table

Ms. Winterson writes about her night time reading (which includes DH Lawrence and Ali Smith) in the London Times. I can't wait to be on that woman's bedside table. I mean, for my book to be.

Oh. My. Emir.

I heart Emir Kusturica, and was shaking when I saw this article in the NYT this morning:
...[O]ver the last 10 years, the man whom his fans see as the heir to Fellini's impassioned exuberance has been asked about his politics almost as much as his movies. And at times, he loses his patience for it. So, in Cannes: why didn't he speak up against Milosevic?
''Nobody's perfect,'' he said.
When he's not being questioned by reporters or touring as a guitarist in his popular Balkan gypsy-punk-rock band, Kusturica (pronounced KOOS-toor-eet-sa) now spends most of his time in a small village in western Serbia he has recently had constructed from scratch. He's a big man, standing 6-foot-3, with a powerful chest and a potent set of shoulders, and there is an amiable menace to the way he moves; he has a reputation as a brawler and a firebrand, but, relaxing in his village, where I visited him recently, he comes off more like a gentle papa or, sometimes, a beneficent feudal lord.
... To his critics, Kusturica is an apologist and propagandist for the murderous forces that devastated his country.
You must rent his films, and watch them one by one. He had a village built from scratch, for fuck's sake.

On Depression

Peter Kramer, whose NYT magazine article caught a lot of attention a few weeks ago, is profiled over at the Boston Globe:
Kramer, professor of psychiatry at Brown University, distinguishes depression from transitory moodiness. True depression usually includes symptoms such as sleeplessness, eating problems, intractable sadness and feelings of worthlessness, paralysis of the will, and often suicidality. Almost everyone experiences sadness, self-doubt, or melancholy sometimes, but the nondepressed person has what Kramer calls ''resilience" -- he or she can get back on an even keel without damage. ...He was repeatedly asked, during public appearances for ''Listening to Prozac": ''What if van Gogh had taken Prozac?" -- as if the positive benefits of mental illness in an artist might justify its terrors. After years of immersion in the depression of his patients, he has no patience with those ideas. ...Kramer says the excuse-making and toleration largely comes from ''people who have not suffered major depression. But even in those who have," he said, ''there is worry that [without it] one would not be driven enough or would not struggle enough. But we don't make that argument about other diseases."
I don't believe depression has positive benefits in an artist. You can write or paint because of the pain you experienced, in the past, and you don't need to be wanting to kill yourself, miserable and cripplingly sad to do it in the present. In fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that if Van Gogh hadn't had depression, if he hadn't died in his thirties, he would have kept on working, kept making paintings more amazing, more breathtaking than the ones we have left. It's this attitude- that the artist needs his depression- which can lead to his downfall, very similar to a comedian not thinking he could be funny if he weren't drunk. Pretty soon, the comedian thinks he's not funny, the alcohol is. That's what ends up happening with depressed artists sometimes: the artist gives her depression the credit for her art. And that's just, well... sad.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Grand Opening: Arab American National Museum

Today marks the grand opening of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI. El-Ahram Weekly has a write-up of the museum, with a focus on comedian Ahmed Ahmed and rapper Iron Sheikh.
The museum, a 38,500- square-foot facility in Dearborn, Michigan, houses a collection of Arab-American artifacts, an exhibit of Arab achievements in fields like architecture and science, a history of the community in the US and, most significantly, the contributions of Arab- Americans to US culture and entertainment. Both Ahmed Ahmed and the Iron Sheikh will be featured not only as performers but as actual exhibits.

Lit Rolls

So... I was trudging around the kitchen in a state of post-work-out, pre-coffee malaise, when I noticed that the Sara Lee deli rolls use the NEW YORKER font. This excited me disproportionately. I looked around the bag and realized the font was all over, not just on the front. I began to imagine what would happen if the NEW YORKER began allowing Sara Lee to reprint stories from the archives (with cartoons, of course). Man, I just really like the font.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Staining The Sheets

The NYT has a review of the biopic of Story of O author Dominique Aury. The following excerpt is wild:
"Story of O" is not a book for the timid. The sex is shocking and cruel, usually both, perhaps because it was written by a woman on a mission. Aury may have had a taste for kink, but her reasons for writing the book were purely instrumental. At 47 she worried that she was too old and not pretty enough to keep Paulhan from straying. And so, while living with her parents, she wrote her masterpiece in bed, using pencil so as not to stain the sheets. Her plan worked: Paulhan helped have the novel published, wrote the introduction (titled "Happiness in Slavery") and the couple stayed together until his death in the late 1960's.
1- I find it insulting that the writer believes the only reason Aury wrote the book was to keep a lover;
2- I find it unconvincing that Aury wrote the novel for purely instrumental reasons. She must have wanted to write it, for personal and intellectual reasons as well;
3- I like the pencil-in-bed-so-as-not-to-stain-the-sheets detail, and find it oddly erotic;
4- It makes me feel good that Aury lived with her parents when she was 20 years older than me.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

"Kids? What Kids? I Vote Now!"

I'm having a really hard time understanding how this argument against Kuwaiti women's right to vote bill wasn't laughed out of court:
A push to allow women to participate in Kuwait's local elections stalled Monday when Islamist and conservative lawmakers abstained en masse from a key vote in parliament, leaving the measure undefeated but short of the number of votes needed for passage.... Women in this oil-rich U.S. ally have reached high government posts in education, oil and the diplomatic corps. But religious conservatives opposed to their involvement in politics argue that would make them neglect their families.

An aside: I grew up in Kuwait, and some other writers have spent a considerable amount of time there: Naji al-Ali, Rabih Alameddine, Ghassan Kanafani, Kathryn Abdul-Baki. But I've read very little about the little emirate, other than the crappy Pearl of Kuwait. I bring this up because I am unaware of fiction or writing that comes out about Kuwait or from Kuwait other than Sabah princess poetry. If you know of any, please pass along. Thanks.

The Office

The Guardian profiles poet/novelist Nick Laird.
I feel that I already know him. Not because I remember him - I always forget a pretty face - but because I have just finished his novel. The central character is a Northern Irish small-town boy who goes to England to work in a blue-chip law firm and falls in love with a beautiful, self-possessed black girl. Laird is a Northern Irish small-town boy who went to England to work in a blue-chip law firm and fell in love with a beautiful, self-possessed black girl. So, is Utterly Monkey autobiographical?

His head reels back and his face puckers. "No. No. No." He doesn't smile. "The novel is a novel. It is made up. It's a work of fiction. And the girl in it isn't Zadie. People think she is because she's black. Can you imagine Zadie working in an office? She wouldn't do that."

I loved the profile. It made my day. Because I feel somewhat vindicated now that I know that Zadie Smith wouldn't have worked in an office.

And A Couple Of Things

  • The Guardian had an article over the weekend about Macmillan's new publishing venture. Viewpoints vary:
    One writer is calling Macmillan's scheme a "scam"; another thinks it is "atrocious and wrong". Hari Kunzru, author of The Impressionist, has described the initiative, in which writers receive no advance and may have to bear editing costs, as "the Ryanair of publishing; it's like having to pay for your own uniforms"... Macmillan, by contrast, describes its... New Writing fiction list... "a voice to talented new authors". "I find it strange that established authors don't want new books to be published," he said. "I find that position very hard to defend."
    It's an interesting venture. Would you publish your book this way? Feel free to share.

  • The Dobie Paisano fellowships have been announced. The winners are short story writer Timothy Westmoreland and poet David Wright. The Paisano allows writers 6 months in the country SW of Austin, a house on a huge property, and a 2,000 per month stipend. The fellowship has been given to men for the past 3 years.
  • Monday, May 02, 2005

    Book Review: Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

    by Marjane Satrapi
    144 pp, $17

    Embroideries, the newest from Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi, is a slim volume that explores 10 women’s sex lives.

    The first few pages, where the grandma confesses her opium addictions and wrestles with her morning tea, I found absolutely hilarious. She advises Marjane to get a more languid look in her eyes. The next frame, Marjane squints and asks, “Do you think I look intelligent this way?” But intelligence is not the point: men, her grandmother is saying, don’t want someone bright-eyed, or intelligent.

    Luckily, the book isn’t about what men want, but rather, what women want and how they have to compromise to get it.

    Every woman tells a neat little story with an epiphany. This is the main problem I have with Satrapi; at the end of each Persepolis chapter, her younger self would have a realization. I want her characters to sort of wander and wonder and groan in their painful states, not be ejected from them right away, armed with a solution.

    The women in Embroideries all have a common value system. Because of their stories’ deliveries, and their epiphanies, they all end up reflecting Satrapi's personality, like little prismic mirrors, and don't stand alone as individual characters.

    I disliked that Marjane told a story about a friend, and not a sexual adventure of her own. It seemed cheap to "out" every other women's experience, while keeping her stories locked away, and herself virtuous-seeming.

    I was disappointed with the lettering: I thought it was sloppy and crude. The drawings were typical Satrapi, but lacked the sort of whimsy the older books had possessed. In addition, I was annoyed that the volume took me only 45 minutes to read and cost $17.

    I did enjoy the book, mostly; it kept me entertained those 45 minutes. After reading it, I saw an ad that screamed: "Ladies: Cosmetic Gynecology,” and I laughed. The title, Embroideries, refers to the operation of being "taken in," either for cosmetic reasons (one character confesses she's just not as elastic as she used to be) or for replacing one's hymen. In that context, the book does a rare thing: addresses hypocrisy and other double meanings of our world in a succinct, entertaining package.

    Ultimately, though, I had a problem, have a problem, with books that on the surface seem to be groundbreaking and honest, but don't delve as far as they need to. I want to read about sexual experiences we don't hear about, or talk about, often enough: namely experiences that ivolve incest and sexual abuse, and, on the celebratory side, those that involve masturbation, and same-sex relationships. These subjects seem to still hold a taboo in Middle Eastern women's writing about female sexuality, and I wished Embroideries could have dipped into them. The silence on these topics is reflective of the silence that persists in salons and diwans: only had Satrapi's aunts and cousins and grandmas spoke about them could they have been reflected in her art. But maybe it is our responsibility as artists to write about these experiences first; drag them, kicking and screaming, to tea with our mothers and sisters after lunch.