Tag Archives: Salman Rushdie

Books Acquired Recently: Holiday Edition

I received a number of books as holiday gifts this year, and have ordered some others with holiday cash as well. Here is what has come in thus far:

Beary, Roberta. Deflection. Lexington: Accents, 2015.

This short poetry collection of mostly haiku is by one of today’s premier haiku writers. I read it a few days ago and it is magnificent.

Ebershoff, David. The Danish Girl. 2000. New York: Penguin, 2015.

My partner and I have adopted the Icelandic tradition of giving each other books on Christmas Eve (the Icelandic term for this practice translates as “Christmas Eve book flood,” which has to be the best word ever), and this is the one they gave me this year. I am close to halfway through it and it keeps getting more and more compelling.

Jackson, Helen Hunt. Ramona. 1884. New York: Signet, 2002.

A colleague recommended this book to me. I am intrigued to observe how Jackson depicts the mix of cultures in the Old West.

Ozeki, Ruth. A Tale for the Time Being. New York: Penguin, 2013.

I have not read any of Ozeki’s work before, but my brother-in-law recommended this novel, and in reading some about Ozeki she sounds like a fascinating person. I am especially intrigued by her practice of Zen Buddhism, as I have been exploring Buddhism lately as part of my recent obsession with haiku.

Reichhold, Jane. Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide. New York: Kodansha, 2013.

As noted above, I have become obsessed with haiku. I thought it would be helpful to read a manual about writing it, and this one has had good reviews.

Rushdie, Salman. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. New York: Random, 2015.

I love Rushdie’s work and am excited to have acquired his new novel. It is rather short compared to most of his books (286 pages), which means that it would be possible to teach it to undergraduates. I have taught The Satanic Verses before and while it is a wonderful book, it is very difficult to keep a class’s attention for as long as it takes to read and study it (about a month).

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Back in the Saddle

I haven’t posted in several weeks because I am currently on the job market and have had several interviews that have taken up all of my non-teaching time. However, my life should be a little less crazy in the near future, so I’ll be able to get back to my normal routine of posting a few times per week.

Here are a few brief thoughts on subjects that have been kicking around in my head recently:

1. I just finished teaching Zadie Smith’s White Teeth in my Literary Criticism and Research course, and it struck me during my re-reading of the book just how much it is a response to the Rushdie Affair. Millat and his fundamentalist Muslim friends go to an anti-Rushdie protest midway through the novel, and then the Affair is never explicitly mentioned again (in fact, even during this episode Rushie is not mentioned by name). But the final third of the book is devoted to the conflict between science and religion, with Millat’s group KEVIN and Hortense’s cabal of Jehovah’s Witnesses on one side and Marcus and Magid on the other. Of course these two narratives do not have to be nearly as much in opposition as public discourse in the United States claims they are, but the Rushdie Affair and its portrayal in White Teeth illuminates how when one side (the religious fundamentalists) forces the dialogue to be black or white, one must choose sides, and that the correct choice is to be on the side of freedom of speech and rationality.

2. I bought two new suits in preparation for my interviews and have been thinking about how they relate to the presentation of myself as a person, and as a part of this preoccupation I have been noticing other people’s clothing much more than usual. Last night I was at a party and was so intrigued by someone’s shirt that I asked to feel it even though I had never met the person before! I like the concept of putting a lot of care and consideration into building one’s wardrobe, but usually I am too lazy to actually do this.

3. Danny Welbeck really needs a goal, having only scored once in the league this season. He’s been getting a lot of playing time recently and is often in the starting lineup (today he came on as a late substitute against Fulham, and this kind of usage will probably become the norm now that Wayne Rooney is fully fit again), but has been unable to take advantage of these opportunities. His overall play has been decent, but as a striker his lack of scoring is glaring. The team hasn’t been suffering from Welbeck’s drought because of the presence of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie (and perhaps van Persie’s presence has thrown Welbeck off his game a bit, though that is no excuse). It is clear, however, that when he gets the ball in scoring positions he is thinking too much–his lack of goals is in his head. He’s one of my favorite players, and should have a long and successful career at United, but really needs a goal so that he can stop thinking about it and continue with his development.

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Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton

I just finished reading Salman Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton, which is primarily about the years after the fatwa was issued against his life in 1989 in response to the publication of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie writes eloquently about his most depressing emotional moments during the thirteen years when he had to live under police protection, but he also offers beautiful, inspiring tributes to all of the people (especially his protection team and many of his fellow writers) who supported him, as well as offering the book as an impassioned defense of free speech. Happily, most writers were both privately and publicly supportive of Rushdie, including Don DeLillo, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Buford, Martin Amis, and Kurt Vonnegut, though a few–including, sadly, Roald Dahl–were not. Shamefully, The Satanic Verses‘ publisher, Viking-Penguin, refused to issue a paperback of the novel, though they kept the hardcover in print. Many bookstores (including many stores in the U.S., who took out an ad in the New York Times when the novel was published here to say that they would stock it), courageously made the book available to the public even though several were bombed by religious fundamentalists.

Joseph Anton is a masterpiece, and is necessary reading for anyone who cares about literature. It should finally persuade the Nobel Prize committee to award Rushdie their literature prize. It is over 600 pages long–Rushdie’s joyful prolixity surfaces once again–but every page is compelling and intense. I found that I was only able to read about seventy-five pages of it per day because it got me so worked up, but this visceral reaction is a testament to Rushdie’s gifts as a writer. He is a hero for anyone who truly cares (i.e., not most American politicians) about freedom.

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Books Acquired Recently: Desk Copy Edition

Baldwin, James. Another Country. 1962. New York: Vintage, 1993.

I will be teaching Baldwin’s and Castillo’s novels in my Introduction to Literature course next semester. Another Country has been one of my favorite books since I first read it three years ago, and I have finally decided to teach it despite its length. At 436 pages in this edition, it’s rather long for an undergraduate general education course, but I think it is compelling enough that students will be able to handle it.

Castillo, Ana. The Mixquiahuala Letters. 1986. New York: Anchor, 1992.

I read this book at the end of the summer and loved it! I always like to teach at least one novel that forces students to question issues of form as this one does: it asks readers to choose the order in which they read the chapters depending on what type of personality they have. Students will therefore have read different novels because none of the sequences include every single chapter. The class discussions should be interesting!

Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. 1989. New York: Random, 2008.

I am using Rushdie’s and Shelley’s novels in an Introduction to Literary Theory and Criticism class next semester. They are both incredibly rich texts, and thus serve well as primary sources for reading and writing criticism.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. 2nd ed. 1818. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 2012.

I love Frankenstein, and the Norton edition is perfect for teaching because it includes a wide range of critical responses. I have used the Norton first edition several times; the new edition just came out. I am happy to see that it includes some of my favorite pieces of criticism from the previous edition as well as some newer perspectives.

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Books Acquired Recently

Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Windup Girl. 2009. San Francisco: Night Shade, 2012.

This book and Walker’s were recently recommended to me by a new friend that I met at Rocky Mountain MLA last week. They both sound fascinating. The reviews of The Windup Girl just inside of the front cover compare it to William Gibson’s writing, which I love, so I look forward to getting to read it as a diversion from my scholarly reading (which is not to make a value judgment of it as somehow being unworthy of study, but simply to say that at this point I have no plans to teach it or write about it), perhaps over Thanksgiving Break. Bought on amazon.com.

Castillo, Ana. Watercolor Women Opaque Men. Willimantic: Curbstone, 2005.

I went to a reading by Castillo last night that was one of the best I’ve ever been to. She only read six poems, but they were some of her most political, and as such were quite powerful, especially because her delivery of them was perfect. I felt the need to buy a book to commemorate the occasion, and this was the only one of her books that was for sale which I didn’t already have (because it’s a novel in verse, blech. But maybe it will surprise me.).  She gave me a lovely personal inscription.

Fry, Paul H. Theory of Literature. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012.

I received this as a free exam copy from the publisher. I’m teaching a literary theory course for the first time next semester, and while I won’t be assigning this book (perhaps I will in the future, but it arrived after I had to turn in my textbook list), I find that it’s always helpful to get several different perspectives on the subject that one is teaching, so it will come in handy.

Rushdie, Salman. Joseph Anton: A Memoir. New York: Random, 2012.

Rushdie is one of my favorite writers (and I think he is one of the best writers alive, certainly more deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literature than this year’s winner), so I didn’t need an excuse to buy this book, but I have one anyway: we’re reading The Satanic Verses in the aforementioned theory course, thus his new memoir about the novel’s political aftermath will provide some helpful background knowledge. Bought on amazon.com.

Walker, Frank X. Affrilachia. Lexington: Old Cove, 2000.

I love poetry, and African American literature is one of my academic interests, so when I heard about Walker I wanted to read him right away. I got this book used via amazon.com, and when it arrived I happily discovered that Walker had inscribed it to one of his students, a “Michele.” I would never get rid of a book that was inscribed to me even if I knew I was never going to read it again, which makes me wonder what this particular copy’s story is. Did the student die and her family took all of her books to a used bookstore without looking through them first? Did she sell the book because she was desperate for cash? (probably not, because I got it for less than five dollars, though I’ve had students sell their books back to the bookstore for less because they were just that desperate) Did she–it’s horrible to think about–forget that it was inscribed? Did she have a falling out with Walker? Did she join a religious order that forced her to get rid of all of her possessions? One could write a fascinating short story about this volume’s history. Anyway, I am happy to add it to my library.

As regular readers of the blog will note, I have acquired thirteen books in the last nine days. This is a lot, even for me. But it’s been the perfect storm of events: a conference, visits to two new-to-me excellent bookstores, a powerful reading and signing, and the need to begin preparing for next semester. Also, I’ve just finished teaching Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, so I’m feeling especially sensitive about the necessity to surround myself with books since both novels remind us how much of a privilege it is to be able to interact with literature. In my further defense, I have already read three of the thirteen, so they aren’t just sitting there looking pretty on the shelf.

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Salman Rushdie on “The Rushdie Affair”

I just read Salman Rushdie’s personal essay in the 17 September 2012 issue of the New Yorker about the first few months of his life after the fatwa against his life was issued upon the publication of The Satanic Verses. It is a moving, heartbreaking text that makes one realize how much of a hero Rushdie was and is in his willingness to stand up for free speech, and to continue writing even though he knew that thousands of people hated him for it. Several bookstores were bombed in England for stocking the novel, so never let anyone tell you that literature is not political. The essay is essential reading for anyone who cares about literature.

I saw Rushdie read at the Barnes & Noble on the north end of Union Square in Manhattan in late 2002 or early 2003, and it was an amazing experience because even then there was the sense that he was risking his life to give us an evening of enjoyment. He had pre-signed copies of his newest book because it was too dangerous for him to meet readers personally to sign their copies, but he graciously took people’s (sometimes gratingly asinine) questions after the reading. About a year later I saw him standing outside of a bar smoking and talking with some friends (I can’t remember if he was actually smoking, or if he was just accompanying his acquaintances while they smoked, as this was soon after the City banned all smoking in restaurants), and it made me happy to see that he was able to have this moment of normalcy after everything he’d been through.

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