Julian Gallo's Blog

February 25, 2015

A huge, sprawling, epic novel about the Armenian genocide in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. And I mean huge and packed with historical information about this seemingly forgotten (and in some quarters controversial) moment in history. Known as the “forgotten genocide”, nearly an (estimated) 1 to 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Although there are historical documents - not to mention still living witnesses - regarding the Twentieth Century‘s first mass killing, the topic remains controversial, especially in modern Turkey, who still deny that the event had ever taken place. A little research (and some surviving photos from the time) will show that this event did actually take place and it is from these documents, eyewitnesses and photographs that are the basis of this Tolstoy-esque historical epic. 
Centering on a small Armenian village in Anatolia (what is now modern day Armenia), the plot of the novel focuses on one particular family in which its patriarch Vartan Balian, a soldier on the Ottoman Army, is suddenly accused of a murder he didn’t commit. This is all a pretense to get rid of him, as well as his family, not to mention the entire village, when orders come from on high to begin “deporting” the Armenian population from Anatolia. Taken prisoner and sentenced to be hanged for the murder his family is forced to leave the village on a brutal exodus to Aleppo, Syria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) where they are slaughtered along the way. The women were often taken as “concubines” and the children were forced to convert to Islam and given to Turkish families. Vartan’s family endures a lot on this exodus, losing two of their extended family along the way. But as luck would have it, a Turkish official (and soon to be governor of the province in which many Armenians live) takes a liking to Vartan’s wife and child and being less sympathetic towards the Ottoman officials, takes them in as part of his own family, although his motives aren’t entirely altruistic. Meanwhile, an Ottoman soldier - and friend of Vartan - manages to help Vartan escape just at the moment of his execution and thus begins an “Odyssey”-like journey to be reunited with his wife and son. 
Being a historical saga, there are plenty of asides about what was taking place at this point in history: the end days of World War I, the rapid deterioration of the Ottoman Empire, the back and forth battles with the British and the French, and finally the entry of the United States into the war. Meanwhile all that happens to the Armenian population is noted in horrific detail. However this serves more of the background of this epic novel. The main focus is on Vartan, his wife Maro and their son Tomas, as Vartan battles every imaginable obstacle in order to find his family. 
The novel is written in a very classical style, very reminiscent of Tolstoy (at least to me). There are moments of melodrama and long, meandering scenes which I felt could have been done away with without effecting the story, and sometimes the dialogue can be a little cliched and more suited to a 19th century epic than a contemporary novel but then again it’s written in the style of a 19th century epic in the tradition of Les Miserables or War and Peace , with all its adventure and page turning qualities. The reader gets very involved with all the characters in this story (and there are a lot) but there are times when it reads  something like a television mini-series. This is my only real criticism of the novel. Otherwise if you are looking for a really good story about this moment in history, this is definitely worth a read. 
Rating: * * *  
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Published on February 25, 2015 02:55 • 1 view

February 22, 2015

Reader/Author Engagement and Interaction Dept. I came across an interesting blog post this week, from author Melissa McPhail which raises the question How much should an author interact with readers? It’s an interesting question because there are both good and bad sides to it. There is, of course, the possibility that your readers - whoever they may be - might be highly critical of your work now and then and how you respond to that criticism is crucial. If the criticism is genuine (meaning that’s it’s not just some troll looking to get a rise out of you) you will have to decide whether or not to discuss this with them or to simply thank them for the comment. However, if the criticism is conversational and that reader expects a response, what do you do? 
I haven’t had many reader comments about my books but those I did get were often positive and I make it a point to answer back anyone who ever writes me, even if it’s just a simple “Thank You”. There was a time when I did get a message from someone who read my fourth novel Mediterráneo and although this person seemed to enjoy it for the most part, the criticism leveled at the book was about the extremely dark turn the story took towards the end. This person found it a little “disturbing” and kind of “off-putting”. Okay, fair enough. The book did take an awfully dark turn, one that I had not initially envisioned when I began writing it. It just happened. Even when writing it, I second guessed myself, wondered perhaps if I were pushing things a little, taking it too far. Again, perhaps, but I had to trust the story, trust myself and even though some people might find the ending of that novel dark or disturbing, so be it. I answered this criticism in a very cordial, personable way, of course, pretty much explaining to the writer what I just explained here. But it got me thinking: this was only one person. Suppose it had been a number of people, all with the same criticism. Would that effect the way I wrote stories in the future? 
McPhail’s post touches on this very thing, where she admitted that she had approached her future projects differently based on the criticism she received from her previous work. Every author - every artist, in fact - seeks an audience for their work and some are fortunate enough to build a fairly sizable one. For little known/unknown writers like myself, it’s hard to tell who are “regular readers” and who are just those who thought one of my books seemed interesting and bought it on the fly. The only way I would know what anyone thinks of it are via on-line reviews or direct engagement and sometimes readers aren’t interested in doing that. They just want to read the book, seek out a good story. Leaving a review or contacting the author isn’t high on their list of priorities. But McPhail’s comment did raise a question for me: would I ever tailor my work to please an audience, if I had a large number of regular readers? 
My first inclination is to say no, I would never do that. The reason for this is because when I write a book, I’m not writing for an “audience” so to speak. I’m writing primarily for myself, first and then I simply hope the book will find an audience, whoever they may be. Perhaps this isn’t a good way to approach things but it’s the way I approach it. I never really thought about “my audience”, mainly because I don’t really have one and I don’t have any expectations that the books are even going to sell or be read in the first place, so when they are, it’s always a pleasant surprise. With each book, I have a particular goal in mind, a particular story I want to tell and 99% of the time, I’m not thinking about “what people are going to think” about it. I say 99% because there is that 1% that does think about that. Naturally, I’d like to have a large readership but realistically, via the course I take, this is not likely. I can only hope one will grow over time. And even if one did, would I then be obligated to serve that audience or should the audience not have any particular expectations other than being delivered a decent story to read? 
Case in point, the wildly popular Song Of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin (the series of books that spawned the Game of Thrones television series): recently there has been a bit of a controversy regarding Martin’s work schedule and the complaints from his readers that his books don’t come out “fast enough”. Fellow author Neil Gaman wrote a passionate response in Martin’s defense . Martin’s audience is huge, akin to that of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling (both of whom will often please or disappoint their audience depending on the individual reader). From what I can see neither King nor Rowling allowed their audience to ever dictate what they are going to do and their attitude seemed to be, in essence, you win some, you lose some. But when an author gets to the point where their readership is sizable, does their audience's expectations hover in the back of their minds? When they sit down to write their next book or story, is there that voice “nagging” at them about what their devoted readership has come to expect from them? 
I think it’s important for any artist to - while not completely ignoring their fan base - to forge ahead with their own vision and hope their audience will come along with them. Since I’m not even close to being in this position, it’s not something I need to concern myself with but it does raise questions about artistic freedom as Neil Gaman pointed out in his response to George R.R. Martin’s critics. It’s something the artist has to think about as their audience grows. There is no “correct” answer to this, of course. Each artist will determine it for themselves. I’d be curious to know what you think. Feel free to weigh in. I’d love to know. 
Articles of interest:
The Epidemic Of Facelessness, from The New York Times. 
Former Poet Laureate Philip Levine Dies at 87, from SFGate.  
11 Pictures That Compare Life Today To How It Used To Be, from Idealist Revolution.
"The Road About Life" by Bill Friday, from BillFriday.com
Failure As Success In Painting: Bram Van Velde The Invisible (Part 1), from Hyperallergic. 
Failure As Success In Painting: Bram Van Velde The Invisible (Part 2), from Hyperallergic. 
The Scream Of A Thousand Corpses: The Horrifying Sound Of The Aztec Death Whistle, from Dangerous Minds.  
Idaho Woman Arrested For Trying To Convert Jewish Acquaintance By Beating Her, from Raw Story. 
The 100 Best Novels: "Lord Of The Flies" by William Golding, from The Guardian UK. 
Women Of Karantina: Egypt's Women Crime Bosses, from Al Araby.
Sci-Fi Terms Defined: Apocalyptic vs Dystopian vs Speculative Fiction, from BookRiot. 
Author Abdelkader Benali: Letters From Europe, from BBC. 
What ISIS Really Wants, from The Atlantic. 
On The First American Gutai Show 1958, from ArtNews. 
The Incredible Rock Hewn Churches Of Lalibela Ethiopia, from Ancient Origins. 
Mystical Amphibian Venerated By Aztecs Near Extinction, from Al Jazeera. 
After 100 Years, Greenwich Village Staple Caffe Dante Will Close, from Gothamist. 
Jack Kerouac In Florida, from Florida Today. 
Midnight In The Century by Victor Serge: Life In The Stalinist Soviet Union, from The Guardian UK. 
Publishing In The Maghreb Challenged By Colonial Legacy, from Publishing Perspectives. 
"Kino" by Haruki Murakami, from The New Yorker. 
Narrowing The 90 Miles: How US-Cuba Relations Plays Out For Musicians, from The Wall Street Journal. 

Early Paleo Diet: Early Hominids Ate Just About Everything, from The Conversation. 

Almost 2000 Gold Fatimid Coins Found In Caesarea Ancient Harbor, from Past Horizons. 

Bronze Lion Found In 2012 From Roman Times, from Italo-Americana. 

Patti Smith On The Biggest Misconceptions About Her, from That Eric Alper.

How To Live Together: Lessons From Algeria, from The Los Angeles Review of Books. 

Documenting The Rise Of The Los Angeles Poetry Scene, from KCET. 

What's The Oldest City In The World?, from The Guardian UK. 

Hamas Prevents Arabic Fiction Award Finalist From Leaving Gaza, from Al Monitor. 

Hear The World's Oldest Musical Instrument: The "Neanderthal Flute" Dating Back Over 43,000 Years, from Open Culture. 

J-Lo Sparks Quest For "First Edition" Of The Iliad, from The Guardian UK.

Books Seized By Egyptian Customs, This Time For "Instigating Revolt", from ArabLit. 

Windy City Gothic: The Resurrection Of Mark Smith's "The Death Of The Detective", from The Los Angeles Review of Books. 

Reading Syria In Miniature: Plays, Poems, Stories, from ArabLit. 

The Village Vanguard At 80, from The Observer. 

Indo-European Languages First Emerged Circa 6500 Years Ago On The Steppe, from Past Horizons. 

"Wearing Glasses Tinted With Judgment" by TJ Lubrano, from TJLubrano.com

The Last Gift Roberto Bolano Gave His Readers, from Gawker. 

Anthony Burgess - The Critic, from The Guardian UK. 

Tunisian Novelist Shukri Al-Mabhout: "We Have To Be Merciful Towards Our Intellectuals", from ArabLit. 

The Fabric Of Life: An Interview With Yasmina Reza, from The Paris Review. 

Despite Possible Efforts To Alter The Future, A Greedy Ancient Polity Went Down In Flames, from Ancient Origins. 

The Taulas Of Manorca: Mysterious Megaliths Of The Talaiotic People, from Ancient Origins. 
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Published on February 22, 2015 05:31 • 2 views

February 15, 2015

I Like Big Books And I Cannot Lie Dept. God knows how many books I have set aside in my “to be read” (or TBR in Social Media jargon) pile. Those who know me know I’m a voracious reader and I also have a tendency to buy a lot of books (instead of just going to the library like any other normal human being). Among this ever fluctuating pile are quite a few mammoth sized novels, most of which I’ve been putting aside because of the sheer length of them, waiting for a time when I can get mentally prepared to delve into them. Well, it’s high time that I begin tackling these monsters so the next few novels I plan on reading are all in the 500 page and above range. I’m beginning with a novel called A Summer Without Dawn by Agop Hacikyan. Billed as “An Armenian Epic”, it is a sweeping historical novel based on the last days of the Ottoman Empire when the Armenian population was to be...uh....”deported”....from Anatolia. I’ll have more to say about it with my usual “Impressions” posts once I finish reading it but barely half way through I can say it’s quite enjoyable and of course educational. And there are others awaiting behind this one - huge novels that I’m determined to get through this year. So the “Impressions” posts may not be as frequent for a while due to the time it takes to read books of this immense size. Novels such as these require a lot of time and attention and it seems for a long time not many novels of this size were being published too often. 
Lately, there’s been something of a resurgence of “the big novel”. Most recently, a lot was made of Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch, which clocked in at around 775 pages. It’s bestseller status surprised a lot of people because it’s not that often people are willing to indulge in such a hefty tome. (The most recent exception had been the Harry Potter series, which many young kids have read. Now that’s saying something, especially for a generation raised on the 40 character tweet and other bite sized social media postings). Other notable examples are, of course, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which came in at 1079 pages, Robeto Bolaño’s 2666 at 912 pages, Adam Levin’s 1026 page The Instructions, not to mention those young libertarians who devour Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged at 1200 pages or those post-modern readers who still tackle Thomas Pynchon’s 776 page masterpiece Gravity’s Rainbow or Don Delillo’s 832 page Underworld, William Gaddis’s 976 page The Recognitions or the more recent Witz by Joshua Cohen at 800 pages. And let’s not forget those more classically minded readers who will indulge in Herman Melville’s 700 plus page Moby Dick or James Joyce’s 680 page Ulysses or Miguel de Cervantes’s 1072 page Don Quixote. There are many readers out there who simply aren’t adventurous enough to tackle such beasts, which I understand, especially when it seems more chore than enjoyment. Many of the books mentioned here are on my list but I don’t actually own them yet. Others I’ve read in the past, before I began writing this blog. Well, I’m on a mission now to read the ones I have awaiting me, at least. God help me... 
And The War Continues Dept. I’ve been noticing a few things: First - the ridiculous and endless debate about “Traditional vs Self-Publishing” still rages, although I hardly read these posts anymore. I don’t read them because I find the debate tiresome and irritating and even though I promised myself I would no longer have anything to say about this, I’m willing to break this vow just one more time. 
The main complaint I see from most people about why people “shouldn’t” self-publish is because they aren’t ready to. Either their prose isn’t any good or they don’t have the talent, or whatever else. Okay, fair enough. In some cases, I’m sure this is true but this is all relative, of course. I don’t think the Twilight series or the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy are any good and think they are badly written. I feel the same way about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which I thought was also horribly written, although I enjoyed the story itself a lot. All three of these books went on to sell tens of millions of copies and made each of these authors wealthy beyond imagination. This is also my personal opinion. Obviously, tens of millions feel differently. What I think about these books doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. At all. 
However it seems that those most against self-publishing (or “going indie” or whatever else you want to call it) is precisely this argument: that the writing is so bad, that it doesn’t “deserve” to be out there for public consumption. Perhaps this is true, depending on your taste. My question is, why does what others do matter so much to other writers? There is a ton of bad art out there, everything from music, film, theater, books, television, painting, sculpture, you name it. Again, so what? And an argument can be made that the “professionals” of these respective mediums are often responsible for distributing this so-called “bad art”. When it comes to writers and the literary world, however, this has become nothing short of an obsession. With a capital O. 
For me, it doesn’t matter that there are tons of bad books and writers out there. It doesn’t matter because it has absolutely nothing to do with me or my work or what I hope to achieve for myself. There is a little more than an element of artistic snobbery involved here, this notion that someone thinks their writing is “so great” that it would be “tarnished” by existing along side all the garbage out there. News flash: Even if you’re the next Shakespeare, your work will be along side tons of garbage. It’s unavoidable. As to what that garbage is is often open to contentious debate. The bottom line is, if someone doesn’t want to read me because someone else wrote a bad book there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that. Nor am I going to worry about it either. I can’t force people to read me or even like what I do nor am I going to even try. Many writers out there - whether traditionally published or not - would be better off worrying about their own lot and care less about what everyone else is doing. I’m never going to understand this obsession writers have with what other writers choose to do. And, I may add, a writer is deluding him or herself thinking that most of the human population even gives a shit in the first place. Sometimes we writers give ourselves too much credit in that regard, as if the world is actually paying attention to what we are doing (the exception is, as always, if you already have a “name” and are popular). But for the rest of us, let’s face it, people aren’t paying attention as much as we think they are. And even if they are and they don’t think you’re any good, again, so what? It’s their right, after all. There is no rule stating that everyone must love you. 
There is also a good argument to be made about the futility of social media presence. The accepted notion is that all writers must have one. Perhaps - but there are some great writers out there whose social media presence is limited at best (granted they are already extremely popular and really don’t need one). But for little writers like myself and others who choose to go their own way, it is the only platform we have to get the word out, even though it is mostly us talking to ourselves for the most part with the hope that someone else will discover it and read it. One should have no illusions that having a book out and a social media presence will mean anyone and everyone is going to know about you or even care. Most will not. Still, does this mean one shouldn’t at least try? Should a young musician put down his or her instrument because there are so many horrible musicians out there? Should a painter snap his or her paintbrushes in half and throw away their paints because there are so many awful painters out there? You never hear anyone - ever - suggest this, but in the literary world - they are fucking legion. As I said, it’s tiring and irritating - at best. 
So if you are a young writer out there who believes in what you do, you decide what you want in life. You decide whether you want to go the traditional route or publish yourself. It’s not up to me to say nor will I ever tell anyone what they “should” and “shouldn’t” do. I’d never be so arrogant and self-important. The only thing I would say you “shouldn’t” do is listen to this chorus of noise and go forth and do what pleases you, do what you think is best for yourself. No one ever said it would be easy. No one ever said you’re guaranteed success. Just completing a work is success enough, especially since those doing most of the crowing have never completed anything or are a little too self-assured about their own level of talent. You know these types, those you see in all walks of life, those who swagger and carry themselves with “authority” to give the illusion that they know what they’re talking about but in the end turn out to be mediocre at best but they know what’s best for everyone else, of course. They’re immune to all the criticism  and judgment they so happily dole out to everyone else. So do yourself a favor and focus on your own lot in life and worry less about what everyone else is doing. It means absolutely nothing with regard to your own work. I don’t really have anything else to say about this other than to each his/her own. Now go forth and create something.  
Sound Bites Dept. 

On Twitter: It was never about reciprocity. If I follow you on Twitter, it’s not a requirement to “follow back”. In fact, there are well over 100 people I follow who don’t follow me back. So be it. Who cares? If I retweet your book, article or blog post, it’s because I genuinely found it interesting, not because I expected a “retweet” in return. However, there are limits. There does come a point where I refuse to be your pro bono publicity agent, okay selfish Tweeps? Good. Glad we’re clear on that. 

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” - Italian proverb. 

Creatives are often very fickle and petty. Anyone involved in the arts knows this all too well. Sometimes you have to wonder why some people stick around, especially when it’s clear they don’t like or care about your work. Yet they hover, watch everything you do, like a stalker. I’m never going to understand this. 

Although it seems obvious to me, there is no one single rule that applies to everyone. This includes all aspects of life. What makes one happy may not mean a damn thing to another, what one finds important may not be so for someone else. And so on. Don't tell this to a good number of people, though, who insist that their way is the only way: what's good for them is good for everyone else to. "God damn it, be me!" is the implicit message. What I find ironic, from my own personal experience anyway, is that this usually comes from those who see themselves as very "open minded" and "sophisticated" in their thinking. 

I know it's impossible to talk about the differences in generations without painting everyone with a wide brush but I do see a marked difference between my generation and those who came before (the "Baby Boomers") and those who came after ("The Millennials"). I find those two generations remarkably similar in a lot of ways, though I'm sure each will deny that. The art of a particular time does often reflect the sensibility of that generation, so it doesn't surprise me at all that Kanye's antics at the Grammys or the rampant sense of entitlement and narcissism is so prevalent in today's popular culture. It's a marked difference from the so-called "cynicism" and "slackerdom" of my generation but in contrast, and with time I'm beginning to see that noticeable difference. We never got the trophy for just showing up (or any trophies for that matter, symbolic or otherwise). We never thought we "deserved" certain things just because we exist. We never really had a very optimistic view of existence (and sometimes it bordered on nihilism). Now we're middle aged and tired and just want to be left the fuck alone to get on with our lives. But it seems that there are two generational voices on either side, nagging, poking, prodding, and always judging. Leave us alone and carry on, please. Leave us to grow old gracefully. We're still going to do whatever the fuck we want to do, regardless what you think of it.  And don't blame us for the fact that everything you've been taught to believe turned out to be a lie. 

And speaking of generations: It's become increasingly clear to me that today's teens are far much "younger" than I ever was when I was the same age. I don't even want to get into what I was doing - and already had done - between the ages of 13 and 18 but I will say that I'm starting to notice a more sheltered teen, more naive, one clearly far removed from the experiences that my peers and I shared. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I don't know. I really don't. On one hand, we did some really stupid and irresponsible things but on the other hand we were a little less naive about the ways of the world. The more I think about it, the jury is still out. 

I wouldn't call myself a fan of author Jonathan Franzen. I only read one book: Freedom , which I enjoyed but didn't see how or why he's considered a "genius" by some readers, writers and critics out there. He's a polarizing figure in the literary world: either you love him or you hate him. I don't love or hate him. Indifferent? It doesn't really matter. I do think he often has a tendency to shove his foot in his mouth and comes off as pompous and elitist at times but again, whatever. Apparently he's at it again, this time pissing off the YA crowd, or at least one particular lover of YA fiction who critiqued a recent interview Franzen gave (which, in my view, he does make some valid points, despite the condescending nature in which he makes them). Why this man provokes such a reaction from people, I don't know. What I see is the usual literary bickering when the solution, if you can't stand him, is to just not read him. 

Articles of interest: 

William Faulkner's Little Known Jazz Age Drawings, form Brain Pickings. 

Shutting Down Writers In Sudan, from Al Jazeera. 

The 100 Best Novels: "The Adventures Of Augie March" by Saul Bellow, from The Guardian UK.

An Author Asks: Why Should A Translator Get Royalties When The Story Is Mine?, from Intralingo.

"Do The Thing We Love To Do" by Baxter Labatos, from The Wind Sings. 

Ian Ballentine Made Paperbacks Required Reading, from Investor's Daily.

Why Authors Walk Away From Good, Big 5 Publishers, from JaneFriedman.com

Research Continues Into The 3000 Year Old Nok Culture of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Past Horizons. 

Neanderthals Disappeared From Iberian Peninsula Long Before Rest of Europe, from Heritage Daily.

Best Sellers Initially Rejected, from Literary Rejections.

All The World's A Page: One Woman's Year Long Quest To Read One Book From Every Country, from The Independent UK. 

The Plays of Cratinus, from Ancient History Encyclopedia. 

"Street Of Thieves" by Mathias Enard Threads Mideast and European History Into Edgy, Forceful Fiction, from The Christian Science Monitor. 

Strange Bedfellows: The Nazis and The Modernists, from The Los Angeles Review of Books. 

What If? Alternative History's Butterfly Moments Lift Off, from The Guardian UK. 

Folio Prize Shortlist Shows That The Literary Novel Is Not Dead, says Judge, from The Guardian UK.

Assia Djebar, Algerian Novelist, Dies at 78, from The Guardian UK. 

How Many Women Does It Take To Win The IPAF?, from Qantara. 

Childhood's End: Death and Growing Up In The Fiction of Ray Bradbury, from Electric Literature. 

Shadows Across My Screen: Elvira Notari And The Suppression Of Southern Italian Cinematic Culture, from Magna Grece. 

Chile To Have Free Higher Education By 2016, from TeleSur. 

The Oldest Grape Seed Of The Western Mediterranean Found In Sardinia, from Swide. 

Interview With Sara Gerard, Author Of "Binary Star", from Electric Literature.

Welcome To New York, City Of Dreams in the 1970s and 1980s, from The Guardian UK.

"Lost" Leonardo Da Vinci Painting Seized By Italy, from The Telegraph UK.

The Novel And The Bizarre: Salvatore Rosa's Scenes Of Witchcraft, from Magna Grece. 

Walking In The Footsteps Of Ancestors: The Ancient Pilgrimage Of Camino de Santiago, from Ancient Origins. 

Record Attendance At 2015 Cairo Book Fair, from ArabLit. 

Peru's Literary Publisher Animal de Invierno Strides Ahead, from Publishing Perspectives.

In Adolf Hitler's Hometown, Trying To Overcome A Legacy of Evil, from The New York Times. 

The Indecipherable Rohonc Codex of Hungary, from Ancient Origins. 

Jean-Luc Godard To Be Tributed With 2014 Swiss Film Honorary Award, from Variety. 

What The Religious Right And Islamic Terrorists Have In Common, from Slate. 

NYC Building Inspectors Allegedly Took Bribes To Kick Out Poor Tenants, from Gothamist. 

Repression And Demobilization In Spain, from TeleSur. 

Where Baghdad Meets Jerusalem, from Haaretz. 

Montana Taliban: Republican Lawmaker Wants To Jail Women Who Wear Yoga Pants, from Raw Story. 

Tennessee Official Pushes The Bible As Official State Book, from Galley Cat. 

Peru's Colmena Editores Gives Edgy Debut Authors A Voice, from Publishing Perspectives. 

Calendars, Timelines and Collages: Mapping The Imaginary, from The Millions. 

"Fifty Shades Of Bullshit" by Bill Friday, from BillFriday.com

"Vulgar" Author Weighs In On West Essex Book Debate, from New Jersey Hills. 

Raelians Look To Build Extraterrestrial Embassy, from Peru This Week. 

White Supremacists On 8Chan Want To Carve Out A White Only Nation In Namibia, from Raw Story. 

"Cecil Taylor" by Cesar Aira, from Bomb Magazine. 

Aminatta Forna: Don't Judge A Book By Its Author, from The Guardian UK.

Latin Hitchcock: How Almodovar, Amenabar, De La Iglesia, Del Torro, and Campanella Became Notorious, from Literanista.

Advice For Art Writers: Keep Your Standard Of Living Extremely Low, from ArtNews. 

Salt and Sacrifice, from The Times Of Sicily. 

On The New Literary Tourism, from The Los Angeles Review of Books.

At The Karachi Literary Festival, Books Are Really A Matter of Life and Death, from The Guardian UK. 

PEN World Voices: Which African Voices?, from ArabLit. 
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Published on February 15, 2015 03:58 • 2 views

February 8, 2015

#NewHorizons2015 Dept. 
I want to take the time to thank author Garry Crystal  for his review/interview of my latest novel Rhombus Denied . Garry has been an unwavering supporter over the years and I can't ever find the words to thank him enough for all his support and the hard work and time he takes to read and review my books, plus the addition of the arduous task of doing an interview (I know how difficult these can be). So again, a very special thank you to Garry. It is appreciated more than you'll ever know or I can ever express. 

Garry is a great author in his own right and he currently has two books available, his novel Leaving London  and the short story collection All Of Us With Our Pointless Worries and Inconsequential Dramas. There are also a number of short story eBooks available as well: A Relationship In Pieces, And When The Arguing's Over and Grand Canyon - all of which I can't recommend highly enough. Do yourself a favor and check them out. You won't be sorry. 

I’d also like to thank those who bought my new novel Rhombus Denied . Greatly appreciated and I hope you enjoy. It was a fun one to write, mainly because it allowed me to work out all these questions about the nature of creativity and what the true purpose of it should be, posterity, plus allowing me to indulge a little and give a nod to those creatives who stubbornly refuse to follow the current trends. Not that the book has any answers but it’s the exploration that counts; and in this culture of “likes”, “shares”, votes, judges, juries, contests, celebrity and all the rest of it, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the most important aspect of it: self-expression and doing it for the joy it brings. 

Books, Books, and More Books Dept. 
An article came out this week announcing a new website called LitHub , brought to you by Grove Atlantic and Electric Literature among other sponsors. I'm looking forward to it mainly because the print press has long since trimmed the book reviews and other literary columns out of their respective publications, which of course opens the door to many innovative sites across the internet to pick up the slack. And there are many great ones out there too. I think it's important to have websites such as this because it's hard enough to get people to read as it is. I only have one hope for it - that it will focus on more than just the "popular" books, the ones that everyone eventually reads: those you normally see displayed on the "New Fiction" tables in the larger and even some smaller independent bookstores. There are times when I feel people are reading the same handful of books, recommend the same handful of books, while others - many of which are far superior to the "popular" books - get ignored or lost in the noise. It would be nice to see some of the focus on those books and authors that one normally doesn't hear about, since there are plenty of fine authors and novels to explore out there. Fingers crossed. 

Articles of interest: 
Texas Boy Suspended For Saying He Could Make Classmate "Disappear" By Using "Lord Of The Rings" Sorcery, from The New York Daily News. 

Understanding Primo Levy, Auschwitz Survivor, from Al Jazeera. 

Rare 1905 Black and White Film of New York City Subway, from Untapped Cities. 

Museum Recreates Ancient Roman Cities Using Lego Blocks, from Baidun.

The 100 Best Novels: "The Catcher In The Rye" by J.D. Salinger, from The Guardian UK.  

The "Tahrir Of Poems" and Choices Facing An Egyptian Poet, from ArabLit.

Islamic State Raids Mosul Libraries, from The Washington Times.  

Just Some 300 Year Old Giant Books, from MessyNessyChic. 

James Joyce Reads From "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake", from Open Culture. 

The Incredible Eccentricities Of 20 Great Authors, from Mental Floss. 

Hisham al-Khashin: Writing Between Egyptian Feminism and the Muslim Brotherhood, from ArabLit. 

Draft Of Arrest Warrant For Argentina's President Found In Dead Prosecutor's Home, from The Anti Media. 

Milan Kundera's First Novel In A Decade To Be Published In English, from The Guardian UK. 

Why Americans Don't Read Foreign Fiction, from The Daily Beast. 

Pope Declares Slain Bishop Oscar Romero A "Martyr", from TeleSur. 

Eating With Ibn Battuta, from ArabLit. 

10 Surprising Facts About The Writing Lives of Famous Authors, from Mental Floss. 

One Last Look At The Crumbling RKO Keith's In Flushing, New York, from The Brownstoner. 

"Little Spain" A Valuable Addition To New York's Immigration History, from UPI. 

Jodorowsky Pens and Directs "Poetry", from Variety. 

Sicilian Folk Tales: Opera Dei Pupi, A Timeless Tale Of Chivalry, from Swide. 

Should You Be Wary Of Writers You Know? You Just Might Be Providing Them Free Material, from New Statesman. 

Can A Novel's Plot Be Reduced To Data Points?, from The Paris Review. 

Foucault That Noise: The Terror Of Highbrow Mispronunciation, from The Atlantic. 

Poetry Is Well and Truly In The Margins. Will It Ever Get Out?, from The Conversation.

Literary Hub Is The New Home For Book Lovers, from The Wall Street Journal. 

CERN To Attempt Big Bang In March. Stephen Hawking Issue Warning, from YourNewsWire. 

Angered Archaeologists Allow Thousands To Enter The Louvre For Free, from Hyperallergic. 

Sultanahmet Mosque Minarets Start To Tilt, from Daily Sabah.

What Is an Author?, from The Los Angeles Review of Books. 

Neapolitan Cinema By Neapolitan Directors, from I-Italy. 

U Carretu: 30 Astonishing Photos Of Sicilian Carts, from Swide. 

More Than 600 Microbes Found On The New York City Subway, from The New York Daily News. 

Andre Brink, Anti-Apartheid Novelist and Campaigner Dies at 79, from The Guardian UK. 

Culture Crash: The Killing Of The Creative Class, from The Guardian UK.

What Is It Like To Be A Writer In Cuba?, from Restless Books. 
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Published on February 08, 2015 04:54

February 5, 2015

If anyone is interested in the history or modern Iran, then this is the book for you. The second Dowlatabadi novel I’ve read (the first was Missing Soluch - the only two available in English translation as far as I’m aware of) and like “Soloch”, it delves into the life of a single family in a remote region of Iran - this time in Rasht, the capital of the Gilan province near the Caspian Sea. This is a region that was once sanctuary for many Marxists after the 1979 revolution. This novel is steeped in Iranian history - from the ancient Persian texts to the Russian incursions in the 1800s to the British and American imperial projects during the cold war (including the CIA orchestrated overthrow of Mossadeq in the 1950s), through the Islamic revolution and beyond. It helps that the reader have a wide knowledge of Iranian history - and many American readers do not (including myself) - so thank God the novel is peppered with footnotes to put into perspective all the historical and literary references throughout. 
The setting of this novel is at the tail end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. The main protagonist is an unnamed colonel, a military man who dedicated his life to serving his country, first fighting against the British, then fighting for the Shah, and eventually for the Ayatollah. The majority of the action is set on a single dark, rainy and muddy night where the colonel is to bury is 14 year old daughter, one of his five children. His other children, two other sons and an elder daughter - were all taught by the colonel to live their lives freely and to think independently, a mentoring that eventually had a dark fate for each of them. His eldest son, Amir (who is also the second narrator of the novel) is a Marxist revolutionary who toed the Moscow line for a while before eventually collaborating closely with the new Islamic regime - that is until that regime had no more use for these Marxist troublemakers. His second son, Mohammad-Taqi is a member of the communist leaning “People’s Fedayan” and is killed during an uprising, first praised as a fighter, then later condemned as a dissident. The youngest son, Masoud, is a supporter of the Khomeini regime and is himself killed in the Iran-Iraq war and hailed as a “martyr”. His two daughters - Parvaneh - is a member of the “People’s Mujahedin”, whose roots are firmly in the Islamic camp but more left-leaning than the clergy, and during the Iran-Iraq war, took the side of the Iraqis. She is condemned as a traitor for handing out leaflets for the organization and is tortured and killed. She is only 14 years old; and his eldest daughter - Farzaneh - is married to someone in the security services. 
The action takes place on the single night that the colonel is to bury his 14 year old daughter but Dowlatabadi uses a Faulkner-esque technique by weaving the past and present in and out of one another, encompassing a wide swath of Iranian history; and like Faulkner, the character’s inner thoughts sometimes take center stage, peering into the troubled minds and souls of the main characters. There are also hallucinatory passages where the colonel fantasizes that he is speaking to his heroes from the past, mainly his military hero Colonel Mohammed-Taqi Khan Pesyan who was the Khorasan gendarmerie of North East Iran with the rank of “Colonel” (a nickname given to him as a nod to his European training). Our protagonist colonel constantly speaks to him and even has a shrine to him set up on the mantle in his home. These digressions and flashbacks often refer to the brutal treatment and torture the characters received at the hands of whatever opposing regime happens to be in power. He also reflects on his own imprisonment, though it is unclear as to whether it was for his political activities or for murdering his philandering wife in a drunken rage, a killing witnessed by his youngest and most troubled son, Amir. 
There is a constant tension between tradition and modernity - much like Iranian society in its current state. On one hand the colonel is more liberal minded yet the murder of his wife is attributed as an “honor killing” for “defaming his honor”. The present is often metaphorically contrasted to the past via an Iranian national epic called the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) in which the 60,000 word epic closely parallels the current story being told. All in all, this is a very dark, very disturbing read and it will take some patience to get through all the digressions and footnotes which place the story in its proper historical perspective for the Western reader. It’s well worth the effort because the novel is simply wonderful - the story, the language, and especially its historical context. 
“We’re obliged to dig our own children’s graves” thinks the colonel, “but what’s even more shocking is that these crimes are creating a future in which there is no place for truth and human decency. Nobody dares speak the truth anymore. Oh, my poor children...we’re burying you, but you should realize that we are also digging a grave for our future. Can you hear me?” 
This - in essence - is the meaning behind this wonderful novel. Highly recommended. 
Rating: * * * * * 
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Published on February 05, 2015 02:26

February 1, 2015

Insults, Take Downs and Other Literary Pastimes Dept. The insult. The “Take Down”. Seemingly favorite pastimes among writers and other literary folks . Competition among writers is something that always existed. In fact there are quite a few legendary stories regarding one author trashing another. It’s a practice that I don’t have patience for. Sure, there are writers and books that I don’t care for but I don’t feel the need to publicly trash the author or his/her book. But it seems that writers love it. Book lovers love it. Publishers love it. Literary critics especially love it. Every writer knows that not everyone is going to think you’re any good. Fine. That’s fair. You can’t - and won’t - please everyone, but what is this immense joy writers have at taking the axe to one another? What is the point? When it comes to books and authors I don’t like (and I mean don’t like at all) I take a cue from the old adage, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. Others can do what they wish but I don’t take pleasure in the petty sniping and infantile antics some authors engage in with regard to their peers or supposed “competition”. Tell me what you like. Turn me onto something you think is interesting, provocative, original. I understand that not everyone is going to be a fan of every book and every writer - but when writers do it, to me it comes off like the “mean girls” and the dopey jocks in a high school cafeteria or gym locker room and quite frankly, the first thought I have is that perhaps you’re envious of that writer for one reason or another (and it makes me want to read them to see what all the fuss is about). And it seems very petty. How about focusing on your own work and do the work that you find lacking in the work you dislike. I don’t want any part of this pastime and I vow to never participate in it. I’m too busy trying to get my own shit done than to worry about “who sucks as a writer”. 
Plug, Plug, Plug, Dept. I’m happy to announce that my new novel Rhombus Denied is now available in trade paperback, eBook, and PDF. Also available, a small, spiffy pocket edition as well. 
The theater had always been a passion for the young Dante Russo. Having tried and failed to make a success as an actor, he turned his attention towards playwriting and directing, putting on numerous Off-Off-Broadway productions along with his fellow actors as part of an independent theater troupe in the 1980s. However sometimes things don’t work out the way one planned and Dante now finds himself married to a successful businesswoman and teaching drama at a specialized Manhattan high school. 
One day he gets word that his friend and mentor is on his deathbed. Jacques Martre had always been an inspiration to him and over the years they had established a very strong friendship. Knowing that he doesn’t have much time, he travels to Paris to visit his dying friend. Jacques leaves Dante something special - an original manuscript of a play called Rhombus Denied - a production that had always caused near riots whenever it was attempted to be performed and had the distinction of never being performed in it’s entirety because of that. Along with the blessing of Jacques’s wife Margot, Dante returns to New York with the idea of putting on the play and getting back into what was always his first true love - the theater. 
But times have changed and so have sensibilities and Dante finds that putting on a production of this little known French playwright may not be as easy as it seems nor find an audience as enthusiastic about the work that he is. Rhombus Denied is a story about the meaning of creativity, the importance of posterity and what drives an artist to create in the first place.

Special thanks to Leah Angstman of Alternating Current and Propaganda Press  for the mention about the book (as well as the two poetry books that Propaganda Press so generously published a few years ago). Greatly appreciated! 

"Buy My Book! Buy My Book!" Dept.  
There is good reason why I sometimes get a little cynical about the notion of "community" in the literary world. Despite the many who claim the importance of it, there are those who really couldn't give a damn about it or you or your book. Came across this the other day . Apparently what author Cory Doctorow said was right (refer to last week's post) - that no one will care unless you have a "name". To be fair, it must be said that no one is obligated to read you, of course, but a lot of the time you come across things like this and you want to simply say, "Fine. Don't buy it. Don't read it. There isn't anything I can do about it." And there isn't. Furthermore, the author of this post does make a good point: spamming and beating one over the head with your book simply doesn't work (especially if you have no plans on making any personal contact other than that). First, one simply can't buy and read every book that comes down the pike (nor should they). The book is there. My experience has been that some will be open to explore you and your work, others never will. In the end it comes down to this: Buy it or don't. Read it or don't. 

A major misconception many writers have is that people will care. The overwhelming majority of them won't. But some will - and that's how you slowly, slowly, slowly, build your readership. Of course there's more that goes along with this: 

Interacting with those who contact you.

Answering emails or messages sent to you. 

Saying "Thank You" if they give you a compliment or take the time to share your work on their social media spaces. 

Show gratitude if one decides to review your book (even if it's not such a good one) or do an interview or write a profile about you. 

And most importantly, humility - not acting like you're "too important" to engage those who take the time to get in touch with you. 

You'd be amazed how many writers out there are completely and utterly lacking in these basic things. You want someone to buy your book? Don't be a dick. That's a "rule" - as much as there are any - that one usually brakes most often. Of course even this doesn't guarantee someone will take the chance on you and buy your books but your chances are better if you don't act the prima donna or literary douchebag. 

Articles of interest: 

Top 12 Secrets of the New York City Subway, from Untapped Cities. 

"A Letter In My Purse": A Poem from Slain Activist Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, from ArabLit. 

How Alliances Bolster Latin American Indie Publishing, from Publishing Perspectives. 

Victoria and Albert Museum In Row Over Self-Censorship After Muhammad Image Is Taken Down, from The Guardian UK. 

"Sponsored By My Husband": Why It's A Problem Why Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From, from Salon. 

Attention GOP Presidential Candidates: Winter Does Not Disprove Global Warming, from Mother Jones. 

Here's What New York City Looked Like After The Historic Snowstorm of 1947, from Gothamist. 

Is This A New Human Species?, from BBC Earth. 

"Egypt's War On Atheism" by Mona Eltahawy, from The New York Times. 

Stunning 2500 Year Old Mosaics Discovered In Ancient Greek City, from Twisted Sifter. 

Survivors Mark Auschwitz Anniversary, from BBC Europe. 

Red Seat Numbers Found On Roman Colosseum, from Discovery News. 

An Animated History Of New York's Love-Hate Relationship With Commuting, from The New York Times. 

Reading "Revolution" With Tawfiq al-Hakim, from ArabLit. 

Generation X's Journey From Jaded to Sated, from Salon. 

The Harsh Truth About Poetry Publishing, from Real Pants. 

Genghis Khan Not The Only Genes In Town: Genetic Founding Fathers Of Asia Were Mystery Men, from Ancient Origins. 

Greek Journalism and Literature In Days Of Crisis, from The Huffington Post.

Richard Dawkins Reads Hate Mail From "Fans", from IFL Science. 

Cave Paintings: The Most Powerful Artwork I've Ever Seen, from Vulture. 

Ancient Skull From Galilee Cave Offers Clues To The First Modern Europeans, from Science Daily.  

"An Unnecessary Woman" by Rabih Alameddine: A Complicated Literary Pleasure, from The Guardian UK. 

"Happy Are The Happy" by Yasmina Reza, from The New York Times. 

Tadeusz Konwicki, Leading Polish Novelist and Filmmaker, Dies at 88, from The New York Times. 
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Published on February 01, 2015 04:54 • 1 view

January 28, 2015

I’m happy to announce that my new novel Rhombus Denied is now available in  trade paperback, eBook, and PDF. Also available, a small, spiffy pocket edition as well. 
The theater had always been a passion for the young Dante Russo. Having tried and failed to make a success as an actor, he turned his attention towards playwriting and directing, putting on numerous Off-Off-Broadway productions along with his fellow actors as part of an independent theater troupe in the 1980s. However sometimes things don’t work out the way one had hoped and Dante now finds himself married to a successful businesswoman and teaching drama at a specialized Manhattan high school. 
One day he gets word that his friend and mentor is on his deathbed. Jacques Martre had always been an inspiration to him and over the years they had established a very strong friendship. Knowing that he doesn’t have much time, he travels to Paris to visit his dying friend. Jacques leaves Dante something special - an original manuscript of a play called Rhombus Denied - a production that had always caused near riots whenever it was attempted to be performed and had the distinction of never being performed in it’s entirety because of that. Along with the blessing of Jacques’s wife Margot, Dante returns to New York with the idea of putting on the play and getting back into what was always his first true love - the theater. 
But times have changed and so have sensibilities and Dante finds that putting on a production of this little known French playwright may not be as easy as it seems nor find an audience as enthusiastic about the work that he is. Rhombus Denied is a story about the meaning of creativity, the importance of posterity and what drives an artist to create in the first place.
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Published on January 28, 2015 02:25 • 3 views

January 25, 2015

#NewHorizons2015 Dept. Yes, this is my “hash tag” for the coming year. Finally catching up on things and planning new things. Those of you who follow this have seen the post about my upcoming novel Rhombus Denied (strange title, I know, but what it means is within the story). I’m very excited about this short little novel because it’s something of a departure from the previous five - the main thing being that it’s more lighthearted and humorous. It will soon be available in both paperback and eBook formats, sometime in February. 

The origin of this novel actually has its roots in something I saw well over a decade ago. Regarding the title: I had seen it scrawled on a subway movie poster while I was waiting for the train. I thought it absurd, since it really doesn’t make any sense, but it intrigued me enough to write down. My first thought was that it sounded like a title for an absurdist/Dada play, perhaps written by some French playwright that no one ever heard of except for a small but dedicated few. That’s when the idea of the playwright came to mind but I never knew what to do with it. Patience is a virtue because one afternoon the idea of a story came to me and how to approach writing it. Some months later, it was complete and now I’m happy to share it with the world; and being that we just never know what the reaction to it will be (or if anyone is even going to know about it, in the end), the best one can do is hope that those who read it will enjoy it as much as I did writing it. In addition, a book trailer is soon to follow. Stay tuned...
A little under two years ago I completed another novel - a big novel - which is now in the final draft stages. More on this in the coming months. All I’ll say about it now is that this too is something of a “departure” - more “serious” and, if I can say so, the one I am most proud of. It will be released by the end of this year. In the meantime, I’m continuing work on other projects, including another “big” novel - which is proving to be a challenge for me due to the research and subject matter involved. The only thing I’ll say about this one is that part of it is based on my great-grandparents and grandfather’s years in Tunisia in the early part of the 20th Century. 
There are other things as well: I’m not one to outline, which is why sometimes it’s difficult to write. I usually begin with a vague idea, a couple of characters, a situation and some general idea of a theme and just begin. Sometimes it takes a while (and tons of pages being scrapped) before the story begins to tease itself out. Sometimes it comes out different than initially planned. I’ve been wanting to write more short fiction - either short stories or novellas - and try to work smaller scale. This time I’ve tried something different and actually outlined the ideas I’ve had written down. Over the summer, I’ve come up with about 60 different ideas/outlines and I intend on beginning some of these as well. Who knows what will work and what won’t but having a roadmap ahead of time is something I’ve never done before and will be fun to try something new. These story ideas are all over the map: no genre or “type” is off limits - that is the rule I gave myself. In the interest of trying to expand, I feel this is a good idea to try and it feels good to know that the story idea actually as a definitive direction ahead of time. I’m not married to any of these outlines, of course. I like the idea of spontaneity. Let’s see what happens. With all the noise, distractions and the onslaught of what I like to call "writerly bullshit" that often gets in the way, it's time to put the focus where it belongs. I can only hope that you'll want to come along and enjoy the journey with me.  
Sound Bites Dept. Another thing I’ve noticed on social media regarding writers is that way too many are talking at you and very few are actually talking to you. It’s very much like sitting down with that annoying individual who isn’t listening to a word you say because they’re just waiting for their turn to speak. 

No one ever said that pursuing any of the arts is an easy thing - much less to make any kind of living from it. It’s also not easy to get people to notice you exist, especially when there are tens of millions of others also vying for attention. There are more unknown artists than known and many of these unknown artists are doing very interesting things. It’s a shame that the proponents of “independent” artists don’t actually seek them out - not in any real sense anyway. Nor do many truly support them. I’m reminded of a hard truth author Cory Doctorow had given an audience while speaking at the brand new (and hell of a lot bigger) Red Emma’s in Baltimore. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the sad truth is that most artist will languish in obscurity; that unless you have “a name” no one is going to be interested in you. What a shame that is when you think about it. So much interesting work disappearing into the ether. That’s not new, of course. Throughout history this has been true. Imagine all those artists who were contemporaries of The Masters - whose work was probably just as good -  the world will never know about. Sometimes I really believe - as Doctorow noted - that luck has more to do with it than anything else. 

I’m not a religious man, despite my interest in the subject. Nor am I “spiritual”. In fact, I’m an atheist and something of “nihilist” since I firmly believe that most (if not close to all) things we humans do is simply arbitrary and we make it up as we go along, only agreeing to go along in order to stem chaos and have some semblance of order in what is essentially a meaningless existence. I believe we have to find our own “meaning” to our own existence, whatever that may be (and it’s most definitely not one, all encompassing “meaning” that applies to everyone equally). I wish people would stop stepping to me with what one religion does as opposed to another. I ultimately don’t care. To me, it’s all fantasy and just another “thing” humans came up with to try to understand what may not be understandable. Same is true with philosophy, political ideology or whatever “solutions” we think we have. It’s all interesting and there is something to gain from it all, don’t get me wrong. But none of it - and I mean none of it - has ever definitively answered the most vexing questions of existence. 

The saddest thing about our culture today is the fact that everyone thinks their ideas are “right” and they are too quick to judge, condemn, and pounce on anyone who either disagrees with it nor refuses to see it in the same way they do. Sometimes it may be deep, philosophical differences but most of the time it’s trivial, pop cultural, esthetic things like books, films and music. Those still obsessed with being “cool” are still mentally and emotionally in high school and nowhere else but America is the high school experience the pinnacle of one’s existence, carrying on the same mentality and behavior throughout the rest of their lives. There is an enormous world out there, most of whom couldn’t care less about how “cool” you think you are. Take a step back, even a little one, and open your eyes and mind to it. While in his 80s, the artist Michelangelo Buonarroti proclaimed he was “still learning”. I like that. You can’t get any less arrogant than that and it’s something I remind myself of whenever I get a little too cocksure of myself and my ideas. 

I'm noticing a lot of people who are often extremely anti-elitist politically are extremely elitist artistically. 

Articles of interest:

Living in America Will Drive You Insane - Literally, from Salon. 

L.A's Hannah Hoffman Has a Mysterious Late Picabia on View, from ArtNews. 

8 Science Backed Reasons To Read A (Real) Book, from Time. 

What Sets Italian-Americans Off From Other Immigrants?, from Humanities.

How Orwell's "Animal Farm" Led A Radical Muslim To Moderation, from NPR.  

Artists Blame Mark-Viverito As Cultural Center Languishes, from The New York Post. 

NASA Has Released Largest Photo Ever and It Will Shake Up Your Universe, from ScoopWhoop.

500 Years of European Colonialism in One Interactive Map, from Vox. 

Mummy Mask May Reveal World's Oldest Gospel, from LiveScience. 

The 100 Greatest Novels: "1984" by George Orwell, from The Guardian UK.

Arab Women Writers Recommend Their Favorite Arab Women Writers, from ArabLit. 

They're Watching You Read, from The New York Review of Books.

"Under The Southern Sun" by Paul Paolicelli, from Magna Grece. 

"Diary" by Rachel Kushner, from The London Review of Books.

"Citizen Kane" To Be Screened For The First Time At Hearst Castle, from Variety. 

Sinan Antoon First To Win Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize For Self-Translation, from ArabLit. 

1000Speak: A Melody of Compassionate Words, from The Whimsy Art of TJ Lubrano. 

Luc Tuymans Convicted of Plagiarism For Painting Photo of Politician, from Hyperallergic. 

Andalusia: The Land of Poets and Writers, from ArtOle. 

In Paris, A Spotlight On Morocco's Contemporary Art, from Hyperallergic. 

Goya: Order and Disorder, from The New York Review of Books.

Cuban Revolutionary Turns Lena Horne Song Into Powerful Civil Rights Protest Film, from Remezcla. 

Ghosts In Palermo, from The Times of Sicily. 

Meet The Mutant Squirrels Of City Hall Park, from The Village Voice. 

A Number Of Reasons To Disagree About Book Lists, from The Guardian UK. 

"Expressions of Bellydance" by Maria Dionisia, from Indeed-y Ma. 

Parallel Worlds Exist and Interact With Our World, Say Physicists, from Mother Nature Network. 

Many Author's Earnings Fall Below $500 Per Annum, Survey Finds, from The Guardian UK. 

Three Great Arab Novels About Rats and Their Extermination, from ArabLit. 
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Published on January 25, 2015 04:41 • 1 view

January 24, 2015

This was a tough one to get through - not only because of the disturbing but daring subject matter - but also the language, which is highly “literary” in the sense that “Literary” has become a genre unto itself these days. To be fair, it could be how the original Arabic was rendered into English. It isn’t bad writing it’s just “dense” writing which sometimes makes it a bit of a chore to get from page to page. While I have no issues - generally speaking - with this kind of prose it does sometimes distract the reader from the actual story being told, which can, at times, get lost behind the colorful sentences and “literary” craftsmanship. And the story being told here is a really good one too - but sometimes it can take a backseat to the narrative style. 
The Story of Zahra concerns itself with a young Lebanese girl and her experiences before and during the Lebanese civil war. The novel opens with Zahra as a very young girl who witnesses her mother’s infidelity (and her subsequent savage beating by her father). Seeing such a thing at an impressionable age does a lot to effect her future relationships. She first becomes involved with a married man. Later, she flees to Africa (the specific country is never stated) to live with her uncle, who is a member of the Lebanese Popular Syrian Party (a group which advocates a “Greater Syria”) living in exile after being involved in a failed coup attempt. It is here in Africa that Zahra hopes to reinvent herself. Instead she finds herself victim to her uncle’s sexual abuse and eventually marrying her uncle’s friend, who does not approve of Zahra’s more “free spirited ways”. The marriage falls apart and Zahra suffers a mental and emotional breakdown. 
She returns to Lebanon, at the height of the civil war. Her hold neighborhood is now in ruins, many of her old friends and neighbors have either fled or have been killed and her brother has joined the fight. She hunkers down in her virtually abandoned apartment building with her parents. Up on the roof of her apartment building, a sniper - who has no specific political agenda and is seemingly picking off people at random - has made his perch. Zahra becomes sexually involved with him - her attempt to take time away from him killing people - and an interesting relationship develops between the two. A situation like this can only lead to tragic results. 
The story is steeped in Lebanon’s recent political history and some knowledge of it would be helpful to get the story’s full impact. The insanity of war and the divisions it creates among friends and family is all clear to the reader but the focus of the story lies more in Zahra herself. Issues concerning isolation and displacement and most especially the issue over control over one’s body and the place of women in Lebanese society via a healthy dose of symbolism, usually referring to Zahra’s physical attributes (she is often depicted as not being all that attractive, suffering from acne). 
Ultimately, the interesting story being told here often gets lost behind it’s highly “Literary” prose, which can be distracting at times and make it a tough slog to get through and it would have been preferable to me to have the story trump style rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, it’s a good read, and those interested in this period of Lebanese history should read this. 
Rating: * * * 
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Published on January 24, 2015 05:14

January 20, 2015

The theater had always been a passion for the young Dante Russo. Having tried and failed to make a success as an actor, he turned his attention towards playwriting and directing, putting on numerous Off-Off-Broadway productions along with his fellow actors as part of an independent theater troupe in the 1980s. However sometimes things don’t work out as planned and Dante now finds himself married to a successful businesswoman and teaching drama at a specialized Manhattan high school. 
One day he gets word that his friend and mentor is on his deathbed. Jacques Martre had always been an inspiration to him and over the years they had established a very strong friendship. Knowing that he doesn’t have much time, he travels to Paris to visit his dying friend. Jacques leaves Dante something special - an original manuscript of a play called Rhombus Denied - a production that had always caused near riots whenever it was attempted to be performed and had the distinction of never being performed in it’s entirety because of that. Along with the blessing of Jacques’s wife Margot, Dante returns to New York with the idea of putting on the play and getting back into what was always his first true love - the theater. 
But times have changed and so have sensibilities and Dante finds that putting on a production of this little known French playwright may not be as easy as it seems nor find an audience as enthusiastic about the work that he is. Rhombus Denied is a story about the meaning of creativity, the importance of posterity and what drives an artist to create in the first place.
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Published on January 20, 2015 02:44 • 3 views