Thursday, June 30, 2005

The current issue of Mother Jones focusses on domestic violence.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

New British-Arab Magazine

The Daily Star has a write-up of the launch of Sharq, a new magazine which aims to give voice to young British Arabs, and which, its editor painstakingly makes clear, has no financing or backing from Arab governments. Check out the magazine's contents here.

New Carving Found In Israel

From Ha'aretz: A mysterious new carving has surfaced at the source of the Amud River :
A few hundred meters from the site at which the stone was found there are ancient ruins on which the caliphs from the Moslem Umayyad period - the seventh and eighth centuries C.E. - built a magnificent palace with many domes that could be seen from a distance. Tepper thinks that the square domed building was carved in the stone by a man who lived in the area during that period, immortalizing the palace.
It looks like a dude holding a bong, standing on his dog, and trying to figure out how his briefcase got so huge, so naturally, I think it rocks.

History of Puppets

Margaret Atwood reviews Eileen Blumenthal's Puppetry: A World History over at the Independent. puppets
The book explores the history of puppets-- from ancient, articulated figurines to abstract contemporary plush-- and the different roles, political, entertaining, and otherwise, that they've been able to play through the ages.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Tomas Transtromer In Arabic

El-Ahram reports that the complete works of Tomas Transtromer are now available in Arabic from the Syrian-based Dar Bidayat. The translation was made by Qassim Hamadi, and the book's intro penned by Adonis. Transtromer attended the collection's launch in Beirut. Fabulous Transtromer poems include The Cuckoo, Grief Gondola, and National Insecurity. I hope he read the last one at the launch, it would have coincided nicely with Condi Rice's Middle East visit.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi came to Bookpeople last night to read from her new novel, Going Going. It was a fun reading, with a full house. The new novel is about a teenage girl in San Antonio who fights for small businesses and gets into all sort of hilarious and engaging arguments with friends and foes about why big business sucks.

After she read novel excerpts, Naomi read some of her poetry, including "Red Brocade," which begins: "The Arabs used to say/When a stranger appears at your door,/feed him for three days/before asking who he is,/where he's come from,/where he's headed./That way, he'll have strength enough/to answer./Or, by then you'll be such good friends/you don't care."

Of course, I got all teary.

Naomi told the audience about Independent America, a website and documentary endeavor I hadn't heard of: A cute Canadian couple, Hanson Hosein and Heather Hughes, and their dog, travel around the US and take pictures and interview owners of local businesses.

It was cool to hear her talking about all these things at Bookpeople, too, under their "best independent bookstore" banner that hangs over the staircase.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Muslim Woman Writes Erotic Epic About A Muslim Woman Writing An Erotic Epic

This is what happens when writers who have pseudonyms and claim they are North Africans-- and have "translators" who also use pseudonyms-- pen sentences that go: "In these lines where sperm and poetry mingle, my ambition is to give women back the speech that has been confiscated by their fathers, brothers and husbands. I lift these words, as one lifts a glass, to the health of Arab women." As just one Arab woman, I have to say, those words were bad for my health. Here is my response:

I sat, my breasts heavy like pomegranates, onto the toilet. Earlier that morning, I had woken up musky with desire, like a cat or a lioness, from a wet dream. I had intended to spend the day reading my copy of The Almond, but instead I practiced the secret habit-- my fingers are double jointed and thus I am quite skilled at that, even though I was initially handicapped by my upbringing, which caused me to rely heavily on bidets for this particluar task--remembering the sexy tattoed women from my dream, their persistence and strength. They reminded me of the uniformed girls from my childhood on the Arabian peninsula... or, more likely, of that one acrobatic tattoed stripper from the tittie bar I had visited the night before. I also remembered the masked and unmasked men from the dream; they reminded me of my teenagehood in the seedy clubs of the New York peninsula. Later, after I recovered my senses, I attempted to read the book by "Nedjma." It was very moving... or atleast my bowels thought so. I ran to the bathroom, where I sat, my breasts heavy like pomegranates, onto the toilet. When I was done, I reached out for the toilet paper, but I was all out. I then realized my copy of the book could come in handy, afterall. After, I retired to my sofa and made a few phone calls to my beloveds.

By Randa Jarrar*

*My real fucking name.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

This Sculpture Is Awesome!!!

A tribute to the loneliness of writing (or-- and this is my theory--to the pounds you gain with each new novel you write), the sculpture has already been to Italy, where homeless people lived underneath it, and is now on Parliament Hill. (Link via writer Karen Olsson).


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Slate has an article up about Chuck Palahniuk's so-called leap of faith (an idea he cribbed from Kierkegaard):
As he prepared to kick off a new tour in Portland, Ore., the other day, Palahniuk... explained the new methods he had cooked up to arouse his youthful audience. From a large cardboard box, he produced a handful of teriyaki-beef-scented air fresheners, which were to be passed out by women in mail-carrier uniforms. Then "everyone will be offering their meat to each other to sniff, as lurid as that sounds," Palahniuk explained.

More than 800 members of "The Cult" gathered that night for the reading in the sanctuary of Portland's First Unitarian Church. Palahniuk took the pulpit just after 7:30 and began the evening by tossing plastic severed hands into the crowd—a reliable trick, he said, to whip the audience into a frenzy. "Does Norman Mailer throw out severed body parts?" he shouted. "I don't think so!" After the crowd settled down, Palahniuk read a story from Haunted in which an overzealous Christian falls into a hot spring and watches his skin boil off.
Whoa. That is one sermon I would have liked to see.

Girl Refugee

I love this photo, love its composition, the place where the dark corrugated metal in the background overlaps parallel to the girl's smile, and the plastic birdcage in the top third of the shot, with the bird not visible, but the girl visible, leaning against the wooden pole, which serves as a border of sorts, on the left, her hair and her smile and her stance all so relaxed, which makes me worry less about her. girlrefugee_ (El-Ahram Weekly)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I Don't Know About This Movie, Though

I was excited but trepidacious about Ziad Doueiri's new movie, Lila Says. This was mainly because of the "About the Author" blurb from the book on which it is based: "Chimo is a pseudonym. The extraordinary success of Lila Says in France set off an intense debate over the true identity of this anonymous author who, the story goes, scribbled Lila's story in ballpoint pen, filling two school notebooks. His, or her, identity remains veiled."

Seeing the trailer has augmented my ambivalence. I don't know if I can be down with a movie whose trailer shows a blonde coquette repeatedly showing her snatch, and an Arab guy who mutely stares on (no dialogue for him at all). Yawn.

I guess I'll have to see it to judge. Check out the trailer for yourself.

Birds That Think They're Fish

I'm disproportionately excited about this movie.

Interview With Mustafa Barghouti

My friend the Sad Billionaire alerted me to this excerpted interview in the New Left Review with Palestinian activist and doctor Mustafa Barghouti.

Barghouti was also interviewed on This American Life, on episode 217 ("Give It To Them"), which aired 8/2/02.


I loved Marian Marzynski's "Dreamoirs" in this summer's Boston Review, which focuses on "Crossing the Border". Here is an excerpt:
The Making of a Dream. My friend Howard and I talk about the loneliness of his 40-year-old daughter, who cannot find a job or a man. Another friend, Andrzej, tells me about a 40-year-old woman’s battle with cancer.

People with flowers gather inside an old factory, the kind of factory that’s in my films about Communist Russia. An old woman comes to me and says, “My daughter died at 40, of loneliness. I am happy her funeral will be on television.”

Andrzej, a silver expert, tells me that an old silver proof has a lion’s face. Then I watch the funeral of Mother Teresa on television. People kiss her hands and her legs. Her eyes are open and striking.

I am inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, where the Cardinal of France celebrates a funeral mass. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, they open the casket with the body of the woman so family and friends can kiss her lips. Inside the casket, I see a stuffed lioness with human eyes. Her mother says, “These were the eyes of my daughter.”

The name of the cardinal is Maurice Lustiger. He was a Jewish boy in hiding during the war, as I was. After his mother perished, he entered the seminary and became a priest. I think that if my mother had not survived the Holocaust, I could have become the Cardinal of Poland.
Read more here.

Kill Yourself!

Andrew Clark has a cool article about comedians' commentary on empire over at the Walrus. The article explores comedians from pre-Petronius to post-Bill Hicks. I found this anecdote intriguing:
Petronius, like Bruce, was obsessed by the notion of obscenity and led a life of hedonistic excess. His book is a blow not against sexual dalliance, but against bad taste and hypocrisy, an ironic twist considering his audience—Nero—was a man known for his vulgarity. Ultimately, Petronius fell out of favour and Nero ordered him to commit suicide. Even so, the Arbiter of Elegance did not lose his composure. He ran a bath, slit his wrists, and slowly bled to death. Periodically he stopped up his wounds and did some writing. By the time he was finished, Petronius had composed a volume detailing all of Nero's bisexual encounters, making special effort to cite the names of each and every partner. He sent a copy to the emperor. "There is nothing more insincere than people's silly convictions," he wrote prophetically in the Satyricon, "or more silly than their sham morality."
That particular episode reminded me of Bill Hicks's "Kill yourself!" Except he was advising advertising execs, and instead of the emperor ordering suicide, it was the comedian.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Happy Father's Day!

For father's day, I am giving my dad a phonecall. That is pretty much all this year. One year, I wrote him a story (which is now included in DInarzad's Children). Another year, I gave him a visor cap. This year, it's a call.

There's a post honoring my dad over at Moorish Girl.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Girl Friday

I'm over at Moorish Girl today and every friday, so go see.

The highlight of my week thus far was my discovery of Krunkeoke, the hiphop version of Karaoke. I will go every week and put my name on the list until I get to rap "Big Poppa," damn it!

Until then...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

On Happiness

This review in the TLS is fabulous. Just look how it starts out:
In the early 1970s, when a friend and I were newly hatched social psychologists, we decided to write a book on happiness. The head of an eminent Boston publishing house took pity on us and, over lunch, explained the facts of life. “No one wants to read a book on happiness”, he said kindly. “Happy people don’t; why in the world would they want to? They are already happy. Unhappy people don’t want to, either. Why in the world would they want to read about happy people when they are feeling sullen and miserable? Moreover, it’s faintly embarrassing to be seen on a bus or park bench reading a book on happiness. It’s like being caught reading a book on paedophilia. A passer-by will question your motives.” And so my friend and I went our separate ways; he to write a book on loneliness, and I, a book on anger.

The Lovely Alma Guillermoprieto

Robert Birnbaum interviews Alma Guillermoprieto, the author of Dancing ith Cuba, about her new book. They discuss memory, revolution, pathology, and translation. Here's a little something:
RB: I really love the stance that you take in the book about memoirs—you question the veracity of dialogues and the memories.

AG: On the one hand I made those dialogues up. On the other hand I am convinced inside me, that I didn’t. Thirty years later I wrote down what people said. I am convinced of that, the memories are so vivid. On the other hand nobody’s memory is reliable. When I went back to Cuba one time looking for some of my lead characters—and there is a character who plays a very significant role—whose memory was the most painful to me.

RB: Who was that?

AG: One of the boy dancers.

RB: The gay one?

AG: Well—

RB: —the allegedly gay one?

AG: The allegedly gay one, yeah. And they didn’t remember him. I couldn’t believe it. They didn’t remember him. And so, whose memory is reliable?
I love that.

I also think it's part of the writer's job to remember those who history, society, tend to forget: those who don't quite fit in with the larger whole's idea of what is "best" for society, or what I've been calling the larger whole's idea of the larger good, which oppresses and represses.

Monday, June 13, 2005

When Buildings Collapse

...and Egyptian-American journalists show up at the scene.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On The Ethics of Identity

This was by far the most interesting NYT book review I've come across in months:
[Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony] Appiah uses [John Stuart] Mill... to focus ethical attention on the notion of identity.

This notion, he suggests, posits both a self with the freedom to create itself and a self shaped in relation to collective identities. Indeed, for Appiah these two ways of viewing the self are inseparable. I am who I am not only because I am engaged in the lifelong task of becoming the person I want to be but also because I can identify myself with groups of people engaged in similar ''life-projects'': secular Jews, people with kids, people raised in Iowa City, to mention three personal instances. Appiah stresses that the life-project I am carrying out, the story of my self that I'm struggling to tell, can't be separated from the affiliations in which that project was formed and to which it refers. The very pursuit of individualism demands the cultivation of collective identities, and the often conflicting ethical demands of each represent the poles between which Appiah's arguments swing.

Although far from a firebrand, Appiah doesn't shy away from controversy. Thus, while his sympathies are clearly with social out-groups (how could an admirer of Mill, that visionary defender of women's rights, not be so inclined?) he is suspicious of many group-rights arguments. He maintains that the appeal to ''culture'' as a marker of group identity fails the test of coherence, falling into the very race-based logic it was designed to contest. He questions the expansive rhetoric, if not the ideal, of universal human rights -- its ''mission creep.'' Identity politics turn him off.

Similarly, Appiah recognizes the importance, for the sake of solidarity in a hostile world, of collective identities based on race or sexual preference, but is uncomfortable with the notion that black and white or gay and straight will always and everywhere need to be parsed as Black and White or Gay and Straight. Above all, he emphasizes the category of the individual, no matter how socially enmeshed that notion may be. ''The final responsibility for each life,'' he resoundingly concludes one chapter, ''is always the responsibility of the person whose life it is.''
I've long been confused by my allegiance to certain groups: Arab Americans, Single Mothers, Gays, Palestinians, Egyptians, Alexandrians, Fat Chicks, People Who Grew Up In the 80s and 90s, People Who Witnessed The Gulf War, People Who Don't Like To Have "Real" Jobs, etc.. I think of these groups in lower-case but write them down in upper-case to validate their group-status in my real world. In my real world, though, most of these groups lack coherence, and often do fail me, as an individual. I have thus opted to pursue friendships with individuals rather than pursue the larger group, which (pre)tends to stand for the larger good. I am intrigued by Appiah's questioning of collective rhetoric-- something I question daily. And the idea of two ways to view the self, and consequently, the struggle between the individual and collective identity, is one that has long fascinated me. I must read that book.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Girl Friday

I'm over at Moorish Girl today, so stop by. But while you're here, take this silly ass quiz to find out which modern american poet you are. I am apparently Wallace Stevens.

I'll be back next week with more literary conversations and, if I find them, more literary booby shots.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Talented Miss Highsmith

So, once or twice a year, I foster a mini-obsession with a female writer who is, usually, fabulous, talented, queerish, and dead (for those of you who would view this as sublimation or my way of feeling safe in a relationship, you're geniuses! Call me).

Last winter, it was Anais Nin (following a brief but doomed affair with Gertrude Stein). Last Summer, Iris Murdoch. Before that, it was Mary McCarthy. I could go on and on.

This summer, it's Patricia Highsmith. I am reading The Price of Salt, her "lesbians on the road/run" novel, and the controversial The Tremor of Forgery, which Graham Greene thought was her finest, and which is set in Tunisia.

I am almost finished reading her bio, Beautiful Shadow, which links the personal tragedies relating to her partners and mother and friends and cats with her perpetual movement from country to country and lover to lover and idea to idea and novel to novel. The bio includes sentences such as this one: "...she hated the expense of living in France. She felt particularly outraged that a bottle of Johnny Walker Scotch cost her 35 francs." It also elucidates how (stereotypically ) dyke-y Highsmith was, moving in with girlfriends within days of meeting them, and then complaining that she hadn't the space and time to write. One anecdote I love is about how during an interview at a friend's home, the phone ringing and noises outside annoyed her so much, or made her feel so out of control, she marched up to a huge curtain, ripped it off the wall, and demanded it be cleaned.

Here are two amazing B&W pictures of Highsmith. I love them because, while on the surface they appear so starkly different (topless vs. shirted and collared), they are actually very simple and similar in spirit and composition: in both, she has her arms raised, in both, she has a drawn mouth, in both, there is some dark space to her right, and our left, almost as though someone else should be standing or sitting there. That someone could have easily been her resentment; her anger; her ego, so gargantuan were these emotions in her they could have possessed bodies.
Highsmith, 1942 (Rolf Tietgens/SLA)
Highsmith, 198? (Bassouls/Sygma)
The similarity reminds me of Highsmith's ever-present fictional theme: at their very core, people just don't change.

Quite simply, she takes my breath away.

Monday, June 06, 2005

In The Cab Sunday On The Way To The Park And Away From BookExpo

(The following is a real conversation I am reproducing here as "verbatim" as my memory allows.)
int. I have just hugged my good friend Jamie goodbye; I came to BookExpo and met him in the lobby. I didn't actually go inside. I leave to hail a cab; too lazy to walk to the subway.
ext. Man in suit steps out of cab, I step in.
ME: Union Square West, please?
CAB-DRIVER: Yeah. You work with books?
ME: Yeah.
CAB-DRIVER: What do you do?
ME: I'm a writer.
CAB-DRIVER: Yeah? This thing has been crazy, I been pickin up people all weekend, I've had publishers and agents in my car.
ME: I bet.
CAB-DRIVER: That guy that just got out was a publisher.
ME: I should have begged him to publish my book.
CAB-DRIVER: Oh, you aint published?
ME: No. I mean, not yet.
CAB-DRIVER: Yeah, I hear it's tough.
(Silence for several minutes.)
CAB-DRIVER: What kinda writing do you do?
ME: Fiction.
CAB-DRIVER: What kinda fiction?
ME: I wrote a novel about a crazy family.
CAB-DRIVER: All families are crazy, right?
ME: Exactly.
(long slience)
CAB-DRIVER: Where you from?
(Voice over: I was reminded of my dad, who told cab drivers he was "Jordanian" instead of Palestinian.)
ME: I'm Arab American.
(Cab driver turns around and looks at me)
CAB-DRIVER: You don't look Arab.
ME: I was just at an Arab American writers conference, and a lot of chicks looked like me.
(he cranes his neck again, this time looks at my boobs.)
ME: Where are you from?
CAB-DRIVER: I'm Israeli.
ME: medaber ivrit?
CAB-DRIVER: Hebrew? No.
ME: I'm half Palestinian.
CAB-DRIVER: No shit?
ME: really!
CAB-DRIVER: I had some people in here from the Israeli day parade. Wow. A real mix of people today.
ME: What do you think of Israel right now?
CAB-DRIVER: Honestly, I been blaming the Jews lately. It's a mess over there.
ME: Yeah.
CAB-DRIVER: But your book's about a crazy Arab family?
ME: Yes.
CAB-DRIVER: The guys that talked about publishing in here, it sounds like you gotta write a Davinch-ki Code to get published.
ME: Maybe. But I can't write like that.
CAB-DRIVER: Yeah, intellectual stuff is hard to write.
ME: Ahem.
CAB-DRIVER: Hold on, do you mind if I stop here and check on my numbers?
ME: No, go ahead.
(CAB-DRIVER gets out and checks lotto numbers, returns).
CAB-DRIVER: Goddamn it. They got the numbers I played yesterday. Sonofabitch.
ME: I hate gambling, it messes with me.
CAB-DRIVER: Yeah, it's addictive.
ME: I don't even drink as much as I used to, because those things are always fun while you're doing them, and then you feel lousy.
CAB-DRIVER: Maybe, yeah. I had two drinks last night and my blood pressure wasn't so good. I almost fell off the chair. We were at my wife's niece's confirmation. Here OK?
ME: Yeah, thanks. Here you go.
(I hand him seven bucks)
ME: Good luck with the numbers.
CAB-DRIVER: Luck with the book.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Reporting from RAWI

So, I'm sitting in the lobby by the RAWI conference. So far, a tremendous experience that's filled me with a sense of renewal and positivity. The reading last night was amazing, with many of the poets bringing me to tears (and I'm not even PMSing).

It was so cool to be in the same room as Mohja Kahf, Naomi Shihab Nye, Hayan Charara, DH Melhem, Khaled Mattawa, Suheir Hammad, Laurence Joseph; a bunch of Arab Americans with similar backgrounds a mine; and several queer Arab American women who are single moms: all this had an effect on me parallel to a religious experience.

The panel today was fabulous. I finaly got to meet Laila Lalami, who I've been corresponding with for ever, and she was just as lovely in person as I thought she would be. I also got to meet with Leila Abu-Saba, who is really soulful and very gorgeous.

It's been strange, because I just dropped my son off to spend the summer with his dad, and I'm staying at the house I spent my teenage years in America in, so there's a lot of emotional stuff coming to a head this weekend. I'll post all about the conference and the inspiration and emotional triggers it's set off soon.

Hope you are all enjoying the weekend.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Sorry for the silence around these parts. I've been getting my son ready for his 10 week visit with his dad, and preparing myself for the RAWI conference in NYC.

I urge everyone in NYC to come out to Hunter College Friday-Sun for the conference. It's gonna be the shit. I can't wait to be among friends, colleagues, and mentors; people I've long admired like Naomi Shihab Nye and DH Melhem (for a complete list of authors, go here).

There's a poetry reading on Friday night I'll be attending. I'm really looking forward to that. Follow the link above for the exact location.

Saturday morning, at 11:15, Laila Lalami (Moorish Girl), Leila Abu-Saba (Dove's Eye) and I will hold a panel discussing literary blogs. When I have an exact room #, I'll post here.

The conference will be badass. I'm pumped. I hope to blog some more from NYC, so stay tuned.