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Monday, September 15, 2008

Read

"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.

20 comments:

DUBAI JAZZ said...

READ, READ, READ. Indeed, the single most important thing almost every teen of these days is missing out on is reading. We didn't have access to NY Times bestselling novels at my days, but we had subscreptions to Al Arabi magazine and membership cards to the National Library. Student won't read these days unless it's study related. It's a sad tragedy indeed.

But that's we've diagnosed and talked about the illness, what can we suggest as a remedy Abu Fares?

saint said...

I was fascinated by Carl Sagan almost the same way, heard his interviews on NPR and watched his videos on public TV while he was trying to make people believe that of course there is life out there we should look for, before I come to idealize him the same way.

I feel your pain, I was recently following up with the LHC in Europe and enthralled by the courage and dare of the scientists. Following on the news back at my birth place where I spent big chunk for my life, I noticed and admired the reporting in Arabic on this event. The site administrator left separate section outside the news page for this important event. Went to the link and found the first comment requesting from commentators to be serious and to bring only what could be for the benefit of the serious readers. I, right away, wrote the links to the organization website, the results website and the clear description on NPR science Friday website, as well known to be the best program presenting latest science information in the US. I also added the link to young scientists who put together a small rap video describing everything about this historic test.

But I never expected that the baboons have a rule that no English written links are allowed on the pages of the State which had chosen for them to stay in the dark in the name of protecting their minds from poising influences coming from the west. Their manta: Thanks for the internet but no thanks for your information or your links. And then right away flashed in my mind the picture of that hunter looking into the eye of the dinosaur in the Jurassic park movie when he said: “smart girl”; before he was eaten by that girl.

Peter Shea, M.A. said...

A superb, heartfelt piece of writing.
I was distressed by the recent death of David Foster Wallace, one of the world's most gifted writers in fiction and non-fiction. Your post reminded me exuberant and lacerating voices are still out there.

abufares said...

@DJ
The pure joy of reading is so under-rated in our present culture. Children learn only on that "reading" means obsolete and boring school textbooks or somber and portent religious tomes. Subconsciously they grow up avoiding reading and considering it more of a punishment. Those few who have an internal burning flame are more likely to be sucked into orthodox religiosity for lack of an intellectual alternative.
The majority find solace and entertainment in the brainless array of colorful gossip and fashion magazines filled with pictures of passionate, sexy and trendy idols.

abufares said...

@Saint
In their obstinacy to defend their rancid intellectual turf, narrow-minded guardians of bygone enlightenment resist all attempts of renewal and correction. Among their arsenal of destructive weaponry is their refusal of "foreign" influence, good or bad, benevolent or malevolent, fruitful or barren...
Did you notice that I am writing the same way they speak:-)

abufares said...

@peter shea, m.a.
Thank you for your comment and contribution.
I have not read any of David Foster Wallace work but reading through the link you've provided made me very curious.
He certainly is next of my book shopping list.

Shannon said...

You reminded me I always wanted to read Cosmos. My father has always had it on his book shelf. I have hope that even if your children are influenced by the "swamp," they are still (if silently) being influenced by you. If you don't have the answer on how to drain this swamp, perhaps they will. Apparently, I'm feeling optimistic today! As always, great post.

abufares said...

@shannon
whenever you show up on this blog you bring along a sense of optimism. Your father knows best. You're in for a super treat in Cosmos. It's one of those rare life-changing books, at least as attitudes toward the "unknown" are concerned.
I think that our Muslim culture is going through the dark ages phase at the moment. While many consider the trend a revival of Islamic principles and practices I plainly think otherwise. As I grew up in the late 60's we enjoyed a much more open atmosphere and acceptance.
I hope it's just a phase. I really do.

Abu Kareem said...

Abu Fares,

If reading trashy Arabic magazines makes your bowels move, reading this post is cathartic for my soul. It is because I feel EXACTLY as you do especially with regards to the inane garbage spewed by those narrow minded, mentally-stunted, "hyper religious" idiots.

Mariyah said...

Abu Fares, I don't know where to even begin with describing my frustrations on this issue. I see the same disinterest in the eyes of my nieces and nephews. Leading by example, I guess, is all we can do.
Excellent post. Oh, and by the way, our familiarity level just skyrocketed with your description of your bathroom habits. Thank you for that indelible image! ;)

abufares said...

@Abu Kareem
"Hyper Religious" is the term which eluded me during the writing of this post. Thank you.
Unreading (how about this term) in the Arab World is a very serious issue. We have no casual readers, that is a very few are hungry and dedicated readers while the mass majority doesn't read at all. In the West many people read during traveling and commuting only or when on vacation for instance. They are everywhere in airports, train and bus terminals, ...etc. This large group is absolutely missing here. As thus we have the Hyper Readers and the Non Readers. Since most Arabic publications are restricted to religious topics, cookbooks, What to Do on Wedding Night and dream interpretation books, many "exclusively Arabic Language" readers are of the very same Hyper religious group you've mentioned.
Breaking the circle could be only achieved through the acquisition and the proper mastery of a second language (French or English). Belonging to this group, (such as you and me) pauses another dilemma. The frustration of the average second language reader pushes him into denial. That is he/she doesn't want to be another swimmer in the swamp and eventually pulls himself/herself to an aloof status in an isolated bubble.
We are in dire need for intellectuals who didn't make that final decision to abandon ship. Then we need them to start writing in Arabic. There are already a rare few of these good ones and I hope that their efforts gather momentum and eventually turn into a wave of change.
A formidable task to say the least...

abufares said...

@Mariyah
You're right! The least we can do is lead by example.
Just to set matters straight as far as my bathroom habits are concerned :-)
I don't buy any of these magazines!!! Somehow they find their way into our home (I'm not pointing fingers but there are 3 ladies in the house). According to them they are members of a large matrimonial familial society where they individually buy trashy magazines and exchange the ensuing wide selection.
Now here's my part in this "no doubt" fascinating story. I enter the bathroom and I immediately grab anything with letters and words on it. A shampoo bottle, the back of a box of paper tissues or the tiny writing that come with a medication and explains in details the usual side effects headache, nausea, hyper-sensitivity to light,...etc. When I'm out of all the above, I reluctantly reach to Zahret Al-Khalij, Sayidati, Al-Shabaka, Al-Maw3ed and if I'm really desperate I might sink as low as taking a look at Al-Jaras. Eventually after I read all the adds and if a fresh supply of magazines doesn't arrive on time, I ...read... editorials, scandals, who is at war with whom. For instance did you know that Haifa and Alissa are not on speaking terms since they appeared on some occasion wearing the same red dress while Nancy is in love with a dentist and Dana is happy that the teenage boys in a party and some dirty old men (my age probably)saw her sexy white panties. (I was happy too because there was a picture of her showing her sexy white panties.
When my colon can't take it anymore, I read the dream interpretation and the "you are all going to hell" sections.

Now you have the indelible image:-)

Mariyah said...

Thank you for expanding on that. I suspect the backs of the shampoo bottles are getting rather old not to mention the extreme tedium of such magazines (white panties excepted). Perhaps you could use a "reading basket". You can go about the house collecting readable objects and put them in your basket - jam jars, CD covers, vacuum user manual, etc. Then, when nature strikes, run to the bathroom with your basket in tow. I'll add that to my image...imagined or not. :)

KJ said...

Do you know it's considered a luxury if you read here? The other day I was complaining to my colleagues that I have several books on the shelf waiting to be read but I can't really find the time (and when I do, energy to concentrate) to read them... they replied "you read books? Are you SERIOUS you have so much time on your hands man fadi ashghal... badal ma troo7 tetsalla (read: clubbing) a3ed bel beit 3am te2ra"

abufares said...

@KJ
Yes it's either a big deal for some or a peculiar and strange habit for others.
Forget em and remember that:
Some of my best friends are books.
BTW your new posts are still not being published on Syplanet. I think that it's a broken link (RSS) or whatever rather than negligence or something intentional. Please check it out and do what needs to be done. Since blogspot is blocked the easiest way for many and others in Syria is to regularly check Syplanet for new entries.

KJ said...

I already mailed them and they fixed the RSS. I just have not posted anything since they updated it!

Anonymous said...

Abufares, eventhough we, on the other side of the Atlantic, have everything at our fingers disposition the joy of reading for ones pleasure is becoming obsolete in the younger generations.

My two daughters are considered wierd because of their passion for books. How did I accomplished this feat?

Well first, of course, is by example, since they always see me reading and enjoying it thouroughly.

Second, I started buying books for them since they were babies. We always read to them bedtime stories when they were not able to read themselves and later on when they were able: "At 8:00 PM was always bedtime, even when they were in middle school. Bed time meaning, is time to turm the TV off, go to your room and if you are not sleepy you can read"

Of course they read simple books, and went through the Harry Potter series, the Isabel Allende trilogy for teenagers, silly romance novels (well they are girls after all) Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and such adventures, but they have also acquired a taste for Historical novels, read Shakespear and other classics and always believe that reading a good book is better than movies and TV.

So, in essence, probably your example will be the key to their understanding of this wonderful world of reading, but buy them BOOKS!!! Even if they do not read them, keep buying them!!! All kinds of books!

Love as always,
w.b. yeats

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
Welcome back! I hope you had a great time in Scotland.
You're so right about ingraining the right attitudes in our children. It is, however, a major responsibility. Although I have always tried to spend as much time as possible with mine I always think that I should've done more.

Anonymous said...

Scotland was superb!
Great scenery, food, wine, whiskey, MUSEUMS, and friendly people!

We are tempeted to take a Sabatical over there : )

Glad to be back though,

cariños,
w.b. yeats

[ j i m m y ] said...

wow, what a refreshing read!

you must have missed dubai's feature, stupid excuse of a book that every bookshop tries to shove down your throat. i'll let you investigate it if you don't know it already. and don't get me started on metropolitan religion.