What I’ve Been Reading (or Watching): Pre-Holiday Edition

It’s always hard to keep up with everything that’s out there, especially in today’s digital world. I’d like to think that I do a fairly decent job of managing to keep myself informed of what’s going on in the print and digital marketplaces but, of course, thinking that I do a decent job of keeping up and actually keeping up are two very, very different things. To misquote a cliché, the more I read, the more I realize that – in actuality – I don’t know jack.

So I’m turning to you, Dear Internet, for guidance. I’ll tell you what I’ve been reading (and watching) and hopefully you’ll share with me what you’ve been following and/or what you think I should add to my list. Television commercials have started telling me that the Season of Giving (or, as I like to think of it, the Season of Going-into-Debt-for-No-Good-Reason) is upon us – and I am not one to argue with the Failing Commercial Gods. So as you read this, picture me as that guy standing outside the mall in a big red suit, incessantly ringing that accursed bell, and making you feel guilty for not carrying cash anymore. So guilty, in fact, that you’ll probably go buy a crappy food court snack just so you can ask for cashback on your order. And then when you go back outside to vindicate yourself and say, “Hey, Guy-in-Red-Suit, I CARE. I just wasn’t carrying cash earlier. That’s why I averted my eyes. But everything’s different now because I have $2.36 in change,” you realize that there was a Guy-in-Red-Suit shift change while you were at the food court, and now a Different-Guy-in-Red-Suit is manning the Holiday Guilt Bell. And you try to tell Different Guy that you NEED him to tell the Original Guy-in-Red-Suit that you CARE ABOUT HUMANITY. But Different-Guy-in-Red-Suit just looks at you funny and asks you to step away because you’re scaring the children.

Yeah. Think of me as that guy.

So here’s what I’ve been following/reading/watching lately *DINGDINGDINGDING*:

I’ve been teaching a class on Modern Arabic Literature this semester and, as a result, I’ve gotten to re-read a lot of really great work. Really great work. The Secret Life is, IMHO, one of the most endearing, confusing, challenging, funny, fantastical narratives to tackle the situation in Israel/Palestine. Habiby was a Palestinian-Israeli who served as a sitting member of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) as a founding member of Maki (the Israeli Communist Party). He stirred up some controversy in 1990 when he was awarded (and accepted) both the al-Quds Prize, awarded by the PLO, and the Israel Prize, generally regarded as the Israeli state’s highest honor. The novel is a comic masterpiece; it begins with Saeed claiming to have been visited by space aliens to whom he narrates an absurd story of conflict, torture, exile, and loss. Following in the footsteps of comic anti-heroes like Voltaire’s Candide, Saeed is a frustrating failure who is as absurd as the narrative he tells. If you’ve ever been interested in the absurd, the meeting of tragedy and comedy, or the interweaving of the personal and the political, do yourselves a favor and get a copy of this novel.

After reading Lavie Tidhar’s post here, I started digging around for science fiction/ fantasy/ graphic novels from the Arab World. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The 99 is a comic book created by Dr. Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti “clinical psychologist [who worked] with former prisoners of war in Kuwait and with survivors of political torture in New York City.” The 99 is his answer to militant Islam, an attempt to “take back” Arab Muslim culture from the fanaticism that has hijacked it in recent years. The story he tells begins with the 1258 Mongol invasion of Baghdad that ended with the destruction of the books from its library – they were thrown into the Tigris River. Some of the librarians in Dr. al-Mutawa’s story escape the attack, however, and drop 99 enchanted stones in the river to absorb and preserve the knowledge from the destroyed books. Several centuries later, young heroes hailing from 99 world countries (including, for example, the United States, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Portugal) recover the stones and become empowered in different ways. While the 99 superheroes are based on the 99 attributes of Allah in the Koran, they have different physical characteristics from one another and none of them pray or read the Koran, as Dr. al-Mutawa’s stated goal is to produce a comic with universal appeal. The first issue is available for free download at The 99’s official website. Check it out.

Samandal, as described by its creators, is a “non-profit organization that aims to lift the stature of comics to that of a mature art form capable of tackling more than superheroes and their baffling hairdos.” It’s a really interesting publication out of Lebanon that actively attempts to combat regional misconceptions about the cultural worth of comic books and graphic art. The work Samandal publishes is multicultural and multilingual in its scope – to date, every issue has included work in Arabic, French, and English by authors from around the globe. Thematically, the work ranges from the political to the abstract to the poetic to the comic. The first issue is available for download in English translation. Issues 2 & 3 are also available for download, but not in translation. Samandal recently closed to submissions for their sixth issue.

EDUCAUSE is a “nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.” At its annual meeting in Denver this month, Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard Law School, a founding board member of Creative Commons, and a board member of the Software Freedom Law Center, delivered an enlightening – and slightly horrifying – lecture on Copyright laws and how they affect/will affect scholarship, art, and science. Anyone who is even slightly invested in the future of collaboration and of the accessibility of art and science should watch this. 90 minutes very well-spent.

I’ll end this with something entertaining, clever, and sometimes freakish. “Judge a Book by its Cover” is a blog run by my lovely friend “Maughta,” a snarky librarian-type with razor-sharp wit. Hear that, Maughta? I plugged your blog. I expect beer in recompense. And, yes, I just said “recompense.” “Judge a Book” is the result of Maughta’s years working in the public library, where “[she] saw literally thousands of books every week; the good, the bad, and the truly hideous. These are the covers from the latter category.” With weekly features like “Sultry Sunday,” “Mammary Monday,” and “Phallic Phriday,” this is definitely a blog for booklovers. Snarky, mean booklovers.

Ok, Internets. That’s all I got. What about you? *DINGDINGDINGDING*

That’s right. I’ma keep ringing that damned bell ’till you give me some suggestions.

Rima Abunasser is Assistant Professor of Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture at Furman University. She also teaches Contemporary American Popular Culture, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Literature of the Arab World, and the Feminist Literary Tradition. That’s all a very complicated way of saying that she really likes to read. And to think and talk about what she reads. And, you know, to have an audience. She really likes having an audience. It makes her feel special – and somewhat drunk with power.


  1. says

    Loved the post! I’m checking out the book blog now. FYI: The 99 is semi-huge over here in my part of the world, and it was getting a lot of press about eight or nine months ago. At the time I was working on adapting my dissertation into a graphic novel (a project I’ve set aside until I’m better equiped, artistically), so I was looking at a LOT of graphic fiction. The 99 stuff I read online was, indeed, pretty amazing. I’m glad you reminded me of it!

  2. Rima Abunasser says

    Thanks, Sam!

    I actually just read (when looking up info on The 99 last week) that it was incredibly popular across the Middle East and Gulf states. I’m really happy to hear that. I’d also read something about it being turned into a weekly cartoon and/or full-length feature. I suppose it remains to be seen what forms it will take in the coming months/years. It’s a good step for this kind of art in the Arab World, though.

    Also, I would love to see your dissertation/graphic novel when that happens. Sounds fascinating!