"The universe shines a little more dimly now."
Dave Eicher on the occasion of Carl Sagan's death
My reading preferences follow the bends of a space-time continuum. A commended book is kept for the opulence of my bed or the ecstasy of my solitude on a secluded beach. I blissfully surf the web for my favorite pages at the small table in my bedroom or at my own private office early in the morning or in the after-hours.
Science fiction and modern literary novels are surely my preferred forms of reading. I value the classics of science fiction and I overtly revere the grand masters like Jules Verne, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Through their feral and unbridled imagination they had expanded the horizon of generations and had set the course for thousands and thousands of hungry minds in the pursuit of their dream of becoming scientists. Circuitously, their work influenced the rapid and wondrous space exploration feats of the 20th century. My fascination with science fiction inevitably guided me to become an avid disciple of a single form of non-fiction reading. Science in general and astronomy and the related physics in particular became my quotidian hobby of interest. One day I came across Cosmos by Carl Sagan (1934-1996) and my outlook on life and my assessment of my self changed forever on a deep and profound level. I had never since read a book by a mortal, as encompassing, as true and as timeless as Cosmos.
In modern literary fiction I have acquired a taste for aesthetics and opened my mind to the supremacy of words and the splendor of creativity. Although I have started reading at a very early age, I deem that I had barely wetted my cerebral toes before I came across the modern American novel. My freshman extra-curricular repertoire was heavily weighed by my initial exposure to the writings of Irwin Shaw, John Irving, Joseph Heller and Irving Wallace to name but a few. I was twenty two when Bread Upon the Waters was published. Strangely I found myself enthralled with the main character, a middle-aged professional man by the name of Mr. Strand. Is it a mere coincidence or was it an occult prophesy that twenty five years, a marriage and three kids later my life is paralleling that of Strand? To have faced and still face the very same conflicts of a character in a novel, a figment of imagination conceived in the mind of the son of Russian Jewish immigrants to America (Irwin Shaw 1913 -1984). Is it another fluke or an oracle that Irwin Shaw and I share the same birthday?
The transitory reading raids of random sites and blogs takes place in between writing or responding to work-related emails during my morning job. I have also become absurdly addicted to the laxative effect of the casual perusal of Arabic magazines in the bathroom. The combination of religiously grave portents and tastelessly whorish editorials within the folds of a single publication greatly facilitates my bowel movement. I often revert to re-reading interviews with “average” people in shopping malls about their feelings and attitudes toward, say, mixed working environments (men and women sharing the same office) or the interpretation of dreams by some devout and omnipotent witch. I come across things during these escapades, disturbing things no less. I have learned for instance that in the absence of aesthetic accountability a deranged man or a disturbed woman with pens in their hands can wreak havoc on simple and unsuspecting minds. The percentage of readers in the Arab world is among the lowest on the planet. Tragically, those who read are more likely to be aficionados of idiotic astrology, imbecilic dream interpretation and regurgitated religious books. In Dubai, where any whore, blonde or brunette, any Scotch, single-malted or blended, any religious book, interpretative or foretelling can be found on a street corner, a luxurious hotel or a superficial bookstore, my friend had to place on order and wait for 7 weeks to receive an Arabic copy of Samarcande by Amin Maaloof. I click page after page of Arabic absurdity on blogs written supposedly by the crème de la crème in our society, on Masturbation in Ramadan, on the God-ordained obligation of Hijab, on the correctness of shaking hands between men and women, on Fatwas (Islamic decrees) to kill the infidels (not agreeing that Hijab is a God-ordained obligation might be considered as a manifestation of infidelity).
As I further withdraw into my own world of enlightenment, enchantment and learning a lingering pain disturbs my serenity. My children’s intellect deteriorates in the confines of an archaic school system. Their dilemma is further compounded by a severe draught of humanitarianism in prevalent literature and even in the amusing entertainment they are being exposed to. They have no real and valid choices anymore. A teenage girl’s role model is either or. A bitchy hot performer or a shapeless veiled nobody. She is being brainwashed with obsolete ideas. Ideas that we had as a society convincingly and fully overcome in the late 40’s and 50’s of the last century only to discover with dismay that like fungi they are reemerging in the shadows of darkness.
I struggle as a parent to bring up normal children in a decaying swamp. Although my adversaries have insignificant intellect they possess formidable power nonetheless. My lot in life is to compete with men and women who, according to them, have God Almighty on their side or with men and women who look like Mohannad and Roula Saad vying for my kids’ attention. How can I convince them to read something which admittedly was not written by God himself if it doesn’t contain any sexy photos of handsome studs and gorgeous chicks? How can this and the next generations escape? We have left them high and dry in the hands of God or low and wet amid the breasts and thighs of Haifa, Dana and Melissa.