Archives for posts with tag: books

Oum Kulthoum’s Sexuality by Musa Al-Shadeedi: a concise bilingual booklet that is less about the star’s sexuality and more about why we’re so obsessed with it in the first place.

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano: blew my cis-gendered feminist mind the fuck out. Forget what you think you know about gender and please just read this book.

The Keys’ Shadows by Ibrahim Nasrallah (Arabic): reads like poetry and the haunting imagery will probably stay with me for years. Haven’t read anything this beautifully written in Arabic in a long time.

Mythologies by Roland Barthes: read the second half first and the short essays second. Lays important groundwork for a better understanding of culture, power and representation.

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi (Arabic): every page packs a punch and it never wallows in self-pity. What this book lacks in writing style, it makes up for in hard-earned lessons.

Beloved by Toni Morrison: This is a masterpiece and a masterclass in good writing. Between the words, the characters and all the emotions they evoke, it’s a wonderful mindfuck.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: a good example of how to choose characters and narratives that can bring home a vital history.

Queer by William S. Burroughs: self-indulgent, racist and misogynistic. I understand what kind of character he was trying to paint and the autobiographical appeal this book might have but it just reminded me how unbelievably stunted and toxic men can be, straight or gay.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde: a revelation in content and style. Nobody has perfected the art of balancing the intimate with the universal as well as Lorde does.

Uncut Funk: a contemplative dialogue between bell hooks and Stuart Hall: needless to say, the conversations between these two are fucking fascinating. Juxtapose it with superficial conversations on identity politics today and you’ll understand why this level of nuance is so necessary.

Brooklyn Heights by Miral al-Tahawy (Arabic): I was ready to love this book and although some aspects of the personal history were interesting, neither the storytelling or the writing styling were powerful enough to engage me.

The City Always Wins by Robert Hamilton: visceral and real, it’s an emotional read but one that will take you right back to the heart of the storm.

Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon: a much needed look at how racist colonial systems affect the psyche. Definitely male-centred but an essential read.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: a perfect study on love, shame and how these emotions manifest in our personal relationships. Baldwin’s writing is both soft and powerful, ie. easy to read and stays with you for a long time.

The End of the Affair by Grahame Greene: lyrically written without romanticising the writing experience and includes some excellent passages on love and religion.

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon: infuriating in how accurate and relevant it still is, this book should be read by everyone in the Global South. But don’t forget to situate it within its correct political and historical context.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel: a new format for me but thoroughly enjoyed it! Slow, insightful and beautifully done.

Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty by Jacqueline Rose: I didn’t know how much I needed to read this. It provides an excellent analysis on how motherhood is scapegoated on an individual level and often weaponised in the media for wider political gains.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge: a great primer for white audiences but offers little in-depth analysis or direction for the future of racial discourse.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: this book is stuck between that particular rock and hard place, between self-orientalising and telling your truth. If the author had been a little more aware of her audience and positionality this could have been a great book.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: forced migrations and political upheavals through the families that lived them. Drags a little near the end but absolutely worth it for the women’s stories and all the lessons that come with them.

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith: included some lines that I’m still referencing a year later. I’m also never going to read anything by David Foster Wallace because of this book.

Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I have never seen someone contradict themselves so flawlessly. She has every right to be angry but some of the arguments have more holes than Emmental cheese.

The Art of Reading by Damon Young: self-indulgent yawn-fest. Gift it to an academic you don’t particularly like.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: more than a story, this is an experience. Requires emotional commitment but definitely worth the pain.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty: just when you think you’ve seen it all, here comes a book that will kick you in the teeth and leave you smiling through the blood.

Inside the Gender Jihad by Amina Wadud: a much needed academic angle on feminism in Islam. An original and well-argued perspective that can at times be repetitive but still worth the read.

Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy: though I still have mixed feelings about its “shock and awe” approach, this book was inspiring in some very unexpected ways. But it definitely felt like I was not the intended audience.

Key Concepts in Gender Studies by Jane Pilcher and Imelda Whelehan: great cheat sheet for anyone wanting to dip their toe into academic feminism.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: this is the book they would give as an example of good horror writing in a creative writing seminar.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid: author cornered himself with this book’s format but managed to create decent rising tension nonetheless.

Paradise Beneath Her Feet by Isobel Coleman: if I ignore the misleading cover and subtitle, I can easily tell you this was one of the most important books I read as an Arab woman and feminist.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie: layered, textured, and insightful. Good twists too.

Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki: sometimes funny, sometimes depressing – very orientalist. Highlights some underreported but important points and research.

A Book for Her by Bridget Christie: meh.

Big Ideas in Social Science: overview of latest social science research in an easy format, enough to push you out of your discipline-based snobbery. Fascinating read.

The Power by Naomi Alderman: great idea but writing lacked oomph. Still enjoyed reading the shit out of it.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad: hits close to home but disjointed in places.

Women & Power by Mary Beard: men are trash, historically.

Cultural Relativism and International Politics by Derek Robbins: (see The Art of Reading).

Crisis and Class War in Egypt by Sean McMahon: marxist and repetitive but provides a unique perspective on the revolution.

Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks: I said it before and I’ll say it again – this should be mandatory reading everywhere.

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler: had to quit halfway, not suitable for non-academics (or maybe it’s just me).

Swing Time by Zadie Smith: a long sequence of missed opportunities and almost there’s.

Drown by Junot Diaz: stories that read like poetry from an undeniably authentic voice.

The Girls by Emma Cline: go read the Charles Manson case files instead.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville: like a summer blockbuster I enjoyed it while I was reading it but then forgot about it immediately after.

Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde: no book has ever spoken to me so intimately and so immediately as this one.

Call Me Be Your Name by Andre Aciman: it made me feel things.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy: left me frustrated at times but it paints a rich portrait with multiple faces and locations.

Again this unfortunately excludes the Arabic books but one day my lazy ass will get round to it.

 

 

 

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera: with the exception of maybe one or two insightful scenes, this was a bit of a letdown. Read The Unbearable Lightness of Being instead.

The Vegetarian by Han King: you’ll enjoy it for a lot of reasons not stated on the back of the book but that will also depend on your personal empathy levels and need for satisfying conclusions.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak: it was my own fault for having such high expectations, but with this kind of subject matter can you really blame me? Better suited for Western audiences.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: good for a holiday read, no lasting impressions.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami: excellent mindfuck of a book with elaborate characters and the kind of twists and turns you’d expect from Murakami.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons: great for non sci-fi fans such as myself, the multiple story lines kept it interesting but also put ALL the author’s strengths and weaknesses on full display.

First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan: this was his first and it’s dark in an uncontrived way. Not for those who only like playing on moral high ground.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King: another blah holiday read.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: the best example I’ve seen of not needing elaborate prose to fully convey strong meaning and emotion. The ending left me in awe for a while.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: insightful is the best word for this. A realistic and intimate portrayal of a Nigerian immigrant in America that should be read by most, especially these days.

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh: a long and winding road that can sometimes be tiring but worth it for the window into other worlds. Can also just be read for the story.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale: a delicate rendition of one man’s place in the history of homosexuality. Very enjoyable to read and easy to get through.

The Bees by Laline Paull: excellent plot development, you’ll be surprised at how invested you can become in a bee’s tumultuous life.

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla: a very much needed, multi-perspective view of race and racism in England. Ranges from the funny to the horrendous but always important and relevant.

A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: excellent combination of scenery and social analysis. Good, short read on the makings of a female writer.

The Return by Hisham Matar: painful but incredibly profound story about Libya. Written by a man who is incapable of separating the personal from the political and reminds us why we shouldn’t either.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: a good mix of personal anecdotes and struggles with feminist theory and racial commentary. Could be an excellent introduction for those who are unsure about those topics but probably won’t appeal to seasoned veterans.

Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka: don’t let the flippant style fool you, Kafka hits hard. Was (almost) equally struck by In the Penal Colony as Metamorphosis so both of those are highly recommended.

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman: thirty-something year old white man with a large vocabulary and an interest in pop culture thinks he has something to offer the world, he doesn’t.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo: it’s not easy writing through the perspective of a child then an immigrant teenager but it is done well in this book. Sometimes feels like it’s checking boxes for African and Immigrant Literature, so will definitely have more impact on Western audiences.

The list excludes some wonderful Arabic books I read this year but I’m ashamed to admit that’s only because my laptop doesn’t support Arabic.

 

 

 

Everyone has a story; that’s the problem. The mere fact of your existence means you have a story, and most have a healthy enough ego to assume that theirs is an interesting one. For a few self-deprecating writers though, that simply isn’t the case. 

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It has occurred to me that a recent trend in literature has seen a signifcant rise in the popularity of stories from the developing world. Take for example Khaled Hosseini, Mario Vargas Llosa, Arundhati Roy and many others. I doubt they would have experienced the same level of success had they released their novels a few decades earlier. This could be attributed to a newly-found collective interest in the exotic and painful – humans have always found those two themes fascinating – but put these authors in the context of contemporary society and modern political developments and the picture starts getting clearer. 

I’m not going to give you the cliche explanations, you already know them. 9/11 – why do they hate us – invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq – Oprah and her insipid book club – oh we are not elitist readers from the West, we genuinely care about the developing world and the proof is in the book sales!

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But I digress, the reason I mention the aforementioned trend is to try and understand why and when is a story worth telling. Clearly it helps if you are from an exotic developing country and can adequately describe a series of tragedies. That would explain why I badly wanted to experience a life altering event in my childhood (death in the family, horrific car accident, maybe even live in a warzone). Yes that potentially makes me mentally imbalanced but it was only in pursuit of the art of writing. My little head hadn’t yet wrapped itself around the idea of the full use of my imaganitation. To me, writing had to be drawn from personal experiences; but as I grew older and my insecurities increased all I could do was ask myself the same question over and over again – is my story really worth telling?

Is yours?