Posts tagged ‘culture’

January 8, 2011

Book Review: This Book Is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson

by thiszine

THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE: HOW LIBRARIANS AND CYBRARIANS CAN SAVE US ALL
by Marilyn Johnson

Harper Perennial
January 2011 (paperback), $14.99, 304 pages)

I’ve often wondered what would happen to libraries in a world with instant online access, so I selected This Book Is Overdue with high expectations. Marilyn Johnson begins with a brief historical example and an explanation of how librarians have helped libraries (and, especially, their patrons) adapt to this ever-changing online environment.

The first few chapters are full of stories from librarians illustrating their invaluable knowledge that a computer alone cannot provide, from helping the unemployed create resumes (usually people who have never even heard of resumes) to making themselves available to answer questions 24/7 through web blogs. The chapter, “Big Brother and the Holdout Company,” was extremely disturbing. I didn’t know about the gag-order on librarians during the debates on the U.S.A. Patriot Act until I read this book. If you value your privacy and you live in the U.S, you will find this chapter relevant to your life. Similarly, the chapter “Gotham City” was a fascinating revelation into information about librarians not known outside the field.

Another chapter, “How to Change the World” showed how some librarians use technology to improve the quality of life in less-fortunate countries. Though interesting, this chapter didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the book because it was focused mostly on available technology – not unlike an infomercial. I almost felt like I was reading another book entirely.

After that, the author seemed to wander away from the direction she established in the beginning. She spends several chapters making a big deal about librarians who don’t look like the stereotype: blue hair, tattoos, using obscenities, etc. Had Johnson stuck to the transitional experiences of librarians, especially in regard to the modernization of libraries and librarians’ personal dedication to sharing knowledge, instead of sensationalizing the career by discussing topics like librarians who enjoy swearing, I wouldn’t think this book was such a huge disservice to librarians and library science.

I want to make sure people understand that my review is not a reflection of my opinion of librarians (I worked in a library for nearly five years). Unfortunately, This Book is Overdue lacked a serious focus, and strayed from the product description. Instead, if you love libraries, Library: An Unquiet History is a better choice.

– review by Ursula K. Raphael

December 28, 2010

Word Up: Austerity is Word of the Year

by thiszine

Each year, Merriam-Webster creates a list of the top words culled from the trends, mood, and interests of American culture.

Merriam-Webster’s Top Ten Words of 2010:

1. Austerity
2. Pragmatic
3. Moratorium
4. Socialism
5. Bigot
6. Doppelganger
7. Shellacking
8. Ebullient
9. Dissident
10. Furtive

The top word, austerity, is defined by the dictionary as “enforced or extreme economy,” amply appropriate in a year of global economic worries and seemingly continuous financial bad news.

December 25, 2010

Don’t Read These Books: Our Least Favorites of 2010

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BY THIS ZINE STAFF

“Best Of” and “Favorites” lists have been coming out all month long (we published our own yesterday), but what about the worst books of the year? For a cheat sheet on which books to avoid, check out our least favorites of 2010.

 


JOHN COLEMAN
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
A good attempt at a fresh Holocaust story, but the book’s hefty devotion to an inner-story play turns it into a train wreck. Martel should have done like his character and written an essay on revitalising Holocaust representation instead of attempting to depict it.

C by Tom McCarthy
McCarthy needs to get out of the Victorian era if he wants the new generation to read his books.

In addition, John’s “on the fence” about David Bergen’s The Matter with Morris : A relevant and needed look at the lives of war parents. Although not as drab as Martel's 2010 offering, there are times when Morris whines about his life in excess. If you don't want to read about male menopause, don't read Morris.

 

SWEETMAN
Sweetman’s 2010 Hit List – because some books are just so much fun to hate!

The Entire Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
Dreadful with dull teeth. I never thought I’d get tired of seeing the word sparkling. I reviewed them on my blog but don’t feel you have to read the ranting – just believe me, I loathed it to the point that Stephanie Meyers really, really, really, really hates me – oh, sorry, I start to write like her when I think about the books!

The Help by Katherine Stockett
A young white woman in the 1960’s in Mississippi is the only person on the planet who strives for racial equality in really annoying Suthun’ patois. Took the book clubs by storm and took every ounce of Sweetman’s will to not throw it against the wall because she was reading a friend’s copy.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Cursed with Jane Austen praise, Ms. Goodman fell far short of any Austen comparison. A long, overwrought, drivel about…well there were a few cookbooks in there somewhere.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I was disappointed in this quick read due to the lack of depth. It read like a condensed version of a more substantial novel.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult
I can’t honestly comment on this because I didn’t finish it. Ms. Picoult appears to have a burning desire to write about the wrenching societal dilemma of the moment with as much engaging flair as the list of ingredients on a cereal box.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I was confused, disappointed and felt stupid because I just could not get into this book! Was it the translation? The violence? The irrelevant details? The boringness? What did I miss? See the movie.

The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar
Boy did I struggle with this biography of writer Patricia Highsmith! Call me rigid and inflexible but I find it easier to read a biography in chronological order and found myself wanting to call up Ms. Schenkar to ask her if that would have been so difficult given the maniacally rigid order that Miss Highsmith reportedly kept of her life and writing.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Ugh Ugh Ugh.

 

URSULA K. RAPHAEL
One of the biggest waste of trees that I’ve ever read was This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson.

Want to know why? Read Ursula’s review, forthcoming in our blog.

 

LACEY N. DUNHAM
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
All the hipsters and Brooklynites will hate me for this one but I found Auster way overrrated, especially after I considered the superb meta-fiction of Mark Z. Danielewski and read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas about a month after I finished The New York Trilogy.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
A sort-of sequel to Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero, which so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the ’80s, Imperial Bedrooms attempts a Raymond Chandler-esque noir and fails to hit anywhere near the mark. While the prose keeps very much to Ellis’s typical style, he can’t seem to successfully merge the type of provocative writing from which he’s largely built his fame and the type of genre writing perfected by others.

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
Shriver’s novel, shaped by the issue of health care in the U.S., was released shortly before the eventual passage of actual health care reform (or Obamacare, depending on your politics). In a novel so carefully wrought, so precisely personal, it’s too bad So Much For That’s stiff prose and exhausting machinations of plot lacks the muckraking ululations for change.

In the Land of Believers by Gina Welch
Welch’s undercover foray (as a writer, not a journalist) into the world of Evangelism at the Thomas Road Baptist Church (founded by Jerry Falwell) offers strong writing but lacks new insights into the life and beliefs of Evangelical Christians and certainly doesn’t add much to the conversation between Evangelicals and non-believers. Walking a fine line of respect for her subjects, Welch eventually comes clean to her friends at Thomas Road that she’s an atheist who doesn’t need Jesus to save her soul, but only after her book contract is wrapped up and her editor gives the green light.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
So little action occurs in the first two-thirds of Kostova’s novel that even the overarching sweep of a mysterious woman inching the narrative forward is too minuscule to make me care about what is, ostensibly, the real story that happens in the last hundred or so pages. Even when the mystery is resolved, there is no satisfaction in the predictable ending, nothing that makes the long wait through six hundred pages pay off. Without any real definition to her characters, a lackluster plot, and an ending the fizzles rather than bangs, Kostova delivers a wholly forgettable book.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Ugh, this was awful. I mean, seriously, terrible. It reads fast and still I couldn’t get through it. Yet, it seems to be popular among book clubs, which is why I don’t belong to any book clubs.

December 9, 2010

From Milan to Michigan: The American Horse at the Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

by thiszine

BY URSULA K. RAPHAEL

Most people would probably think that Milan, Italy and Grand Rapids, Michigan don’t have anything in common, but they are the only two cities that have the world’s largest horse sculptures (of equal size) designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. Milan has “Il Cavallo.” Da Vinci’s “The American Horse” can be found at Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan (halfway between Chicago and Detroit).

Larry ten Harmsel, the historian for Meijer Gardens, presents us with The American Horse (August 2010, Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, $11.99), the story of how this great horse came to be. He is also a member of the Sculpture Advisory Committee and describes in vivid detail how “The American Horse” has helped Meijer Gardens become one of the world’s premier cultural institutions.

The first chapter touches on the creations of this 132 acre site, which includes boardwalks and nature trails that lead through small forests and wetlands, complete with native wildlife, as well as greenhouses, sculpture loops, and an amphitheatre. Fred and Lena Meijer donated the original 80 acres garden park and many of the permanent sculptures. In addition to the generosity of the Meijers, volunteers, members and visitors have helped Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park become a wondrous experience of art and nature blended together.

Subsequent chapters give the history of the horse going back more than 500 years. Initially planned as a life-sized equestrian statue, changes were constantly being made. While waiting for the needed bronze, Da Vinci completed “The Last Supper.” Due to complication, namely the Second Italian War, the horse was never actually made. The non-profit organization Leonardo Da Vinci’s Horse, Inc (LDVHI) resurrected the long-lost project. Eventually, Nina Akamu, a sculptor who had studied in Italy, became the creator of a model based on Da Vinci’s notes and sketches.

Included in this monumental story of art, history and determination, Larry ten Harmsel references many other beautiful pieces added to the Sculpture Park over the years, including “Mad Mom” by Tom Otterness and temporary exhibits like “The Thinker” by Rodin. It has been completely awe-inspiring to bring my five-year-old son to Meijer Gardens since he was a baby – one of his first words was “Da Vinci.” One of the most wonderful aspects of Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is that it is constantly changing from one season to the next, year after year, so no two visits are the same, as aptly proven by the breath-taking photographs included in ten Harmsel’s book.

I highly recommend adding Grand Rapids, Michigan (home of Art Prize, incidentally) to your list of must-see cities, and pick up a copy of The American Horse while you are there.

The gift shop at the Meijer Sculpture Park & Gardens accepts orders via phone and will ship the book upon request. Please visit the gift shop website for more information or call 616-975-3176 to order.

November 30, 2010

Fiction + Hollywood = A Very Beautiful Love Affair?

by thiszine

Hollywood films frequently borrow from literary (and sometimes not so literary) writers. This year, everything from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, graphic novels Tamara Drewe by Posy Simonds and the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Elizabeth Gilbert’s heartfelt memoir Eat, Pray Love and the biopic on Allen Ginsberg, “Howl,” appeared on the silver screen.

What’s missing from this list? A little Gothic romanticism perhaps?

Indie filmmaker Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”) has a new adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre set for release in March 2011 and starring Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland,” “The Kids Are All Right”), Dame Judi Dench (does she really need an introduction?), Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”), and Sally Hawkins (“Tipping the Velvet,” “An Education”).

Since the last good film adaptation of Gothic fiction was Alfred Hitchcock’s take on Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” let’s hope that Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre” doesn’t disappoint. Check out the trailer below.

 

 

The other Hollywood-Book news is James Franco – actor, writer (his short story collection Palo Alto was published in October), PhD candidate in English literature at Yale, MFA student, performance artist, soap opera star and visual artist – is confirmed to host the Oscars with Anne Hathaway who, as far as we know, is only an actress. After hosting the Oscars, Franco will bow out of attending any post-award parties to clime Mt. Everest, end world hunger, negotiate a renewed cease fire between Israel and Palestine and rescue a kitten trapped in a tree.

November 3, 2010

THIS Reads: NaNoWriMo Killed the Literary Star

by thiszine

BY LACEY N. DUNHAM

I always find myself frustrated by all the books I’m not reading. My “to read” list is always miles longer than the list of books I’ve finished. Compounding my frustration is that I’m a slow reader. I have friends who readily soar through three or four books each week and, unless all I do is sit in a chair for six hours a day intently focused on one book, knocking through multiple titles only days apart is something I rarely accomplish.

Then again, at least I’m reading, right? In an article at Salon in which she rails against National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Laura Miller complains that there aren’t enough readers and far too many writers. And while there are statistics revealing that many folks in the U.S. spend more leisure time watching television or using a computer than reading, I don’t believe the argument that there is a dearth of readers in the U.S. People are reading; what people are reading has changed.

In the age of technology, reading occurs outside of books with an increasing frequency, something Miller doesn’t acknowledge in her article (which I “read” online although, because it doesn’t occur between the pages of a bound book, might not count as actual “reading” in Miller-world). Each Sunday I read the New York Times Book Review, in print; I try to read most of the New Yorker each week. When I travel, I frequently pack back-issues of magazines and literary journals I’ve been meaning to get around to and haven’t: Bitch, Poets & Writers, Zone 3, Zoetrope, The Normal School. I don’t work at a typical desk job, but if I did, I imagine that a chunk of my day would be spent reading articles and blogs online. Does all of this, because I’m not purchasing my reading from a traditional bookstore or downloading it on a Kindle, mean I’m reading-deficient?

To be fair, Miller’s article mostly deals with the reasons why someone shouldn’t participate in what she calls the “self-aggrandizing frenzy” of NaNoWriMo: “…while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books.” She’s right: getting published is not half as hard as getting someone to purchase your book, read it, and recommend it to others who will also purchase it once you’ve been published. And it’s true that few authors are commercially successful. But reading novels and writing them isn’t a zero-sum game.

Maybe I’m touchy because I am participating in NaNoWriMo and I take it personally that Miller refers to writing as a “narcissistic commerce,” even if I’m not sure where the “commerce” part comes in. If I’m supposed to be getting wealthy from all this, I wish someone would have told me long ago so I could have the last laugh over my friends who elected law and business school.

Miller implies that Wrimos (NaNo parlance for participating writers) aren’t reading any books or, at least by her judgement, not enough of them. I disagree with this assumption, too. Maybe Wrimos aren’t reading the same types of books Miller would read (she goes on a long rant against self-help books in her article) but reading is reading, regardless of the material. And, unless it’s Nicole Richie’s latest novel, I don’t think reading in all its many forms is making anyone more stupid.

So in addition to all the magazines, lit journals (both in print and online), book reviews and newspapers this particular Wrimo has read over the last month, I also enjoyed Julia Glass’s novel The Widower’s Tale, a story shaped by four voices that represent various corners of modern American culture. Set against the backdrop of eco-terrorism, limousine liberals, and a longing for the past in the face of rapid change, Glass succeeds in illuminating the darkest corners of our hypocrisy and hopes, all with her characteristic tenderness and humor.

Leslie Marmon Silko has been a favorite writer of mine ever since I read Ceremony. The Turquoise Ledge is her first book in ten years and a beautiful memoir that fuses elements of her family’s mixed-race heritage with Native myths and reflections on the natural world. Her imaginative storytelling travels across boundaries of time to share aspects of her life as they are remembered; for example, her first divorce is discussed alongside the eradication of the Laguna language.

University of Chicago historian Thomas C. Holt presents a generational and nuanced portrait of African-Americans in Children of Fire, a uniquely framed history that traces the shifts in culture, policy, and social norms that have defined race relations and institutions of oppression in the U.S. from when the first Africans were sold in Jamestown in 1619 to the election of President Barack Obama. Holt’s history reminds us that lives mired in history as it is lived are far more complex and dynamic than the flattened accounts textbooks would have us believe. I don’t generally read histories but appreciated Holt’s perspective and sharp narration. Children of Fire is a long book but it doesn’t lag.

Finally, confidential to all the Wrimos clattering away at their keyboard out there: Carolyn Kellogg is on our side.

October 25, 2010

CanLit Award Predictions

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

CanLit awards season is heading into its last few weeks (our big three prizes will all be handed out by mid-November). Thus, it’s time for predictions, and, if you are a real lit-junkie, some serious bets. First, a few quiet observations.

What everyone is perhaps not so quietly talking about is Kathleen Winter’s triple nominations for the Giller Prize, Governor General’s Award and Writers’ Trust prize for her novel Annabel. It is Winter’s debut novel after her 2008 Winterset Award winning short story collection boYs.

Feeling two-thirds the heat as Kathleen Winter is Emma Donoghue, up for the Writers’ Trust and GG for her novel Room. The novel was also short-listed for the Man Booker earlier this fall.

There are lesser hopefuls that may surprise Canada with a big win after all. David Bergen’s new novel The Matter With Morris has had its share of recognition this season. It is up for the Giller and may just take the cake out of Winter’s mouth.

That said, it would be doggishly ironic if Sarah Selecky’s This Cake Is For The Party won the Giller. This is her debut work and has created considerable buzz in critic’s circles. Perhaps if the GG and Writer’s Trust accepted story collections, it would also approach taking those awards.

On to my predictions: be warned, the following is purely unfounded speculation.

On November 2, Michael Winter’s The Death Of Donna Whalen will win the Writers’ Trust award for fiction. In non-fiction, Sarah Leavitt will win for her graphic memoir Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me.

A week later on November 9, Emma Donoghue will win the Giller Prize for Room.

And in mid-November the Governor General’s Award for fiction will be presented to Kathleen Winter for Annabel. In non-fiction, Allan Casey will win for Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada.

October 12, 2010

From Shortlist to Winner, the Man Booker Committee Pulls an Upset

by thiszine

Howard Jacobson‘s novel The Finkler Question was announced the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize in a London ceremony earlier today, dispensing with Tom McCarthy’s C, which was considered the front-runner for winning the prize and even caused the British bookmaker Ladbrokes to close betting on wagers for the prize after they received nearly $24,000 USD in a single day.

Jacobson’s previous novels include Who’s Sorry Now and Kolooki Nights, both of which we shortlisted for the prize in 2002 and 2006, respectively. The prize comes with a $79,000 USD monetary award and an almost guaranteed bestseller status in the United Kingdom. Assuring the winner’s book will fly off the shelves in North America is another matter, one that last year’s winner, Hilary Mantel for her novel Wolf Hall, surprised with its commercial success abroad. Wolf Hall went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award in the U.S.

October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day: 10 Recommended LGBTQ Books

by thiszine

Today lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer folks across the U.S. celebrate National Coming Out Day, a civil awareness day to bring attention to issues that impact LGBTQ communities nationwide. With media attention on the number of teenage suicides connected to homophobic bullying and the stalled repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the U.S. military ban on gay and lesbians in the military, we decided to contribute something positive to the negative news.

10 RECOMMENDED LGBTQ BOOKS

1. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Bechdel, who penned the long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, reached both new audiences and a greater artistic depth with her autobiographical graphic novel about a family falling apart. Bechdel quietly examines how secrets and lies can undo the truth while simultaneously becoming their own reality.

2. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
This illustrated children’s book topped the list of the most banned and challenged books in the U.S. for three years running; this year, it fell to third on the list. The true story of two male penguins at the New York City Central Park Zoo who are given and egg to hatch is also a moving tale about love and family.

3. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
Frequently critiqued for her obtuse writing style, Butler’s academic text has been a constant critical companion to gender and sexuality courses at universities ever since its initial publication in 1989. Drawing from French philosophers like Lacan, Foucault, Sartre and, of course, de Beauvoir, Gender Trouble is a seminal work on the paradigm and politics of gender identity that is not for the casual reader.

4. Three Junes by Julia Glass
Glass’s debut novel won the National Book Award – and rightly so. A compassionate, moving tale that weaves the lives of three characters over the course of three vital summers is both gently humorous and dramatically compelling: Paul, a widower, his self-protective gay son Fenno, and Fern, a young artist searching for love and meaning in her life. Through these and her supporting characters, Glass tells a tender, beautiful story of the circular nature of life and love.

5. Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau
With its fierce, hybrid cover that mashes the face of the Sesame Street character Bert over a pencil drawing of a leather jacket-wearing, crowbar-wielding thug, Comeau’s debut novel picked up considerable word-of-month buzz that sold out its first printing in just three months. Described as a “genderqueer adventure story” Lockpick Pornography is also a wild romp through violence, gender, family and societal values, and sex. It’s also not a recommended title to Google without quotation marks.

6. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize, Hollinghurst’s novel fully encompasses England during Margaret Thatcher’s reign as prime minister and the fast gay culture of the ’80s while also examining the tangles of class, politics, and lust.

7. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
Aciman’s coming-of-age novel centers on the erotic longings and desires that frequently define our youth, whether left unconsummated or not. Seventeen-year-old Elio is attracted to the confident American university student Oliver. Their friendship gradually becomes a passionate and clandestine affair. Aciman draws a portrait of youthful obsession with intensity.

8. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Another coming-of-age novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is semi-autobiographical; the narrator and budding evangelical, Jeanette, must reconcile her Jonathan Edwards-style religious beliefs with her growing same-sex attractions.

9. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Following up on the lesbians-in-Victorian-England theme begun with her novel Tipping the Velvet and continued in Affinity, Fingersmith is a Dickensian melodrama replete with pickpockets, orphans, sooty London streets, and asylums. It’s also a sharp critique of Victorian moral and sexual hypocrisy.

10. The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin
Another writer whose novels are frequently compared to the works of Dickens, Maupin’s protagonist in The Night Listener, finds himself drawn to an abused but devoted thirteen-year-old boy and fan of the radio show he hosts. Suspenseful, humorous, and filled with pathos, the anxiety of the midlife crisis is examined alongside greater questions of the blurred line between art and reality.

September 30, 2010

Poetry Against Censorship: Musings on Terry Jones

by thiszine

White Moustache
by John Coleman

I read in the newspaper
about a man with a white moustache
who said he wanted to burn the Qur’an.
His moustache looked just like Hulk Hogan’s,
and it reminded me of white bread.
Fake, like white bread –
so overworked and distant from nature.
Bleached, misshapen, manipulated, unnatural.
Unreal – like wrestling.

The moustached man said that
if they built a mosque where
(people can pray)
so many innocent people died,
that would comply with the enemy.
He didn’t have mighty arms like Hulk Hogan does,
but he worked in the same way:
to bring down the enemy.
And I thought,
I belong to the most violent generation.
But not like,
My generation is so violent, it’s absurd.
My thoughts wandered to the conclusion that
I live in the most violent generation ever.

That’s all burning the Qur’an is anyway, right?
Violence.
Instead of burning the Qur’an,
this man really wants to burn the enemy.
He really wants to burn human beings.
But burning the Qur’an sends the same message:
red-white-and-blue
(so easily, how it flows)
wants you to die.

Target, burn, kill your enemy
preached the white moustached man.
It made me want to burn
red-white-and-blue mentality.
I want to burn my Wonder Bread.
I want to darken my white bread mind.

Because my side
(culture)
is being strung up
(hung)
like a(n) flag
(enemy).
I feel misrepresented.
I don’t believe in flags.
Because of the man with the white moustache
I will never believe in God
because believing in God means being hung.

There is a mosque in my neighbourhood in the GTA.
Little mosque on the concrete prairie.
It’s like a church in a school gym
with a Coke machine in the entrance
where my neighbours pray to
Jesus.
But opposite
(wrong).
Right, white moustached man?

I later read that Hulk Hogan
stepped down from his challenge
and that bruised his integrity
because he was fake.
If he was real he would have
burned all the Qur’ans.
But some Hoganites were still going to
carry out the crusade,
the original plan.

They said:
This is the right thing to do.
The only thing left
but more so right
thing to do.
Burn people that burn you.

And a friend, or two, or many of mine read the Qur’an.
Read, or pray, or wander in thought,
then we all watch wrestling.
Hulk Hogan on the screen in fiery yellow and red.
When he powerslams the enemy, the violence is
fake, thin, blank.
Like Wonder Bread.
But there is always a small city who thinks
it is worth standing up to say
“Hulk Hogan is the best,
I would do anything he tells me.”
It is the most violent generation.

September 6, 2010

Letters from Beirut: Of Paradigms and Cockroaches

by thiszine

BY ELLEN HARDY

In Beirut, August is the cruellest month. As Ramadan begins and strings of bright paper cut-out lamps light up the city, anyone who possibly can leave town, does – social lives and business meetings are put on hold, and those who remain (such as hapless journalists, for example) can only try and stay sane in 40 plus degrees Celsius and 60 per cent humidity – we lurch from air conditioning unit to air conditioning unit, mimicking the movement of the drugged cockroaches we share our apartments with. This is all very well until the 3-12 hour power cuts kick in and people start burning car tires on the roads in protest. The country’s civil war ended twenty years ago, but corruption, Israeli bombs and Syrian occupation have kept the infrastructure in a third-world state, and 2 million or so tourists in town this year only make more ridiculous the incapacitated service system.

Estella

But one thing that Beirutis have always been good at is carrying on regardless. Restaurants open, bougainvillea blooms expansively, books are launched, film festivals abound, and hapless journalists go about their business. Despite a friend telling me that Mein Kampf is on the Downtown Virgin Megastore’s bestseller list (It could be innocent. Could it?), the city is full of bright and beautiful ideas. Estella and I (my 1991 Kawasaki Estrella – she lost the ‘r’ in homage to the anti-heroine of Great Expectations) have had plenty to do sounding out bookish thoughts all over the city.

Just last month, local sweetheart Maya Zankoul launched her second volume of “sherbet lemon” cartoons on all things Beirut – sweet on the outside, with a sharp kick if you care to get any closer. And one sunny Sunday, Estella and I climbed up into the mountains above Beirut to Broumanna, to get a sneak peek at a Feminist writer’s retreat. The program grew out of the work being done to create a feminist webspace for the Middle East, with the aim of bypassing the agendas of mainstream news and comment, much as indynews and True/Slant have done elsewhere, though with a different focus. The workshop was a pilot for longer future programs aiming to cultivate stronger writing for the website, which has big plans to also become a print publication. Postcolonial literature and Arabic poetry was on the agenda – man-hating was not.

From the mountains to the dingy Beirut streets, and from feminists to transsexuals – paradigm-busting seems to be the order of the day. I met with the completely delightful Randa, fiercely brave author of Mouzakarat Randa al Trans, or The Memoirs of Randa the Trans. She fled Algeria last year under a death threat, finding some sort of security and possibility of progress in Lebanon. As we spoke, her voice was gentle and hesitant, but her sentiments strong and brave. For her, identity is a personal decision in which no state or religion has the right to interfere, and she is still fighting for that right against some of the world’s most repressive ideologies.

Another day, another trip, this time to Dar al-Saqi, Beirut branch of Saqi Books, where they surprised me with an interview with co-founder André Gaspard, childhood friend and publishing partner of Mai Ghoussoub. Chatty to the point of rambling, he was immensely positive about moving from publishing books in London to Beirut. Sales targets and e-readers leave him cold, and the Arab market is full of surprises and possibilities, like Joumana Haddad’s new book, I Killed Scheherazade, which is causing a stir before it’s even out. A rave (p)review in the Guardian sparked a long response from local “queer arab magazine” Bekhsoos. I’m looking forward to reviewing it, though not without the feeling that whatever I say will be wrong.

Finally, August commemorated the assassination of Naji al-Ali 23 years ago in London. The Palestinian cartoonist and creator of the “Handala” character was shot in the face by an unidentified youth outside the offices of a Kuwaiti newspaper and eventually died from his wounds, without regaining consciousness. A statue of him put up after his death at the entrance to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon was twice damaged before finally disappearing – and so it goes. RIP.

Some of Ellen Hardy’s articles are available on www.timeoutbeirut.com.

August 29, 2010

Looking For That Special Someone?

by thiszine

Tired of searching through online personals at Match.com? Can’t ever seem to find people whose definition of reading doesn’t mean “the T.V. Guide?” Try Alikewise!

Their tag is “Dating by the book” and they mean it, literally. Alikewise is “a dating site that allows you to find people based on their book tastes. Anything from cooking to politics to yoga — we think we can find others who would like to talk to you.”

For women seeking men ages 18 to 35 (users can search any age range and can specify authors or book titles in their search as well), the results include chicagoreader, 35 in Chicago, IL who writes about Roberto Bolano’s 2666 “Not as breathtaking as The Savage Detectives, but I think this is still a Bolano masterpiece” and user WillDuss, a 23-year-old from Ottawa, ON, Canada, whose favorite novels include Doctor Zhivago, Voltaire’s Candide, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and War and Peace.

Men seeking women who enjoy Cormac McCarthy novels might come across 35-year-old crabada from Los Angeles who says she’s “Fortunate enough to know the difference between good & bad [books] with some free time to try it out.”

User mattyp, a 24-year-old in Portland, ME looking for men, writes in the “His Story” section of his page that he’s often found at work, where he’s the assistant manager of an independent bookstore and notes that he can’t live without: “Books. Duh. And my video games. Nerdy, i [sic] know.”

28-year-old Bionicfemme from Astoria, NY is a “Romantic Comedy Writer Seek[ing] Happy Ending with Princess Charming” and has an eclectic book taste that ranges from Ann Bannon pulp fiction to Charles Bukowski to Rita Mae Brown and literary mash-ups.

Book nerd but single no longer! Alikewise brings together lovers of books – from classics to trashics – for a (hopefully) happy ending.