Just a few random, rambling thoughts this sunny, mild Valentine's morning...
Had a busy weekend, which began with my looking at my friend Susi Wyss's web page, www.susiwyss.com. I met Susi at the AWP conference in DC last weekend and I instantly liked her: she just seems so smart, wise, and interesting. Susi has what seems to be--I haven't read it yet--an excellent novel coming out just a few days before The Jack Bank does, and from the same publisher (St. Martin's). Her novel is ALL about Africa--weird and wonderful coincidence, no? We're going to try to do some joint Africa-themed events in the Baltimore area.
Anyway, I was reading some of Susi's stellar reviews, and that got me hunting down reviews of my own. I was pretty pleased with this one from Library Journal: “Retief has a skillful, subtle style that conveys a sense of atmosphere and his own otherness that grips even when he describes in detail the sordid brutality of boarding school life.” Gripping my readers with sordidness--yes! That'll pull out the book-buying hordes. But then I got thinking: as a writer, should I even be reading my own reviews? My own Valentine, Peterson Toscano, asked a similar question at just about every panel he went to at AWP: should we writers listen to our critics? I told him no, I am just going to ignore my reviews, all they can possibly do is muddy the creative waters. But then I realized: if I put my head in the sand, who will collect the good reviews for my web page? Tenure file? Writers conference applications? So I guess I'm going to be reading my book's reviews after all, God help me...
Yesterday, at the Quaker meeting Peterson and I attend, folks had a lot to say about Egypt: how inspiring the nonviolent change there has been; how destructive the military and financial support for the Mubarak regime. I think I was the only one in the group to have traveled to Egypt, all of the way back in 1993. I remember the beauty of the Nile, the endless hustling of the tourist totes, and the breathtaking pyramids at Saqqara. But I did think: if we North American liberals are going to get THAT inspired by a country we've barely thought about for the last several decades, how about we teach ourselves a little about it? So here are some beginners' links and suggestions:
The novels of Egyptian Nobel Prize winner, Naguib Mahfouz. I especially enjoyed Palace Walk.
If you haven't already, read the Koran, a brilliant, sometimes disturbing, poetic sermon on how to be righteous. It also contains alternative versions of the major Bible stories.
Watch some Egyptian movies!
Finally, a sad Valentine's moment--a segment on BBC World Today, about the BBC reporter who had to flee Uganda after telling an MP he was gay. I'm not denying the awfulness of what's happening there in that country, by any means. When I visited in 2000 I was very struck by the climate of terror and homophobic hatred. But really, what does Scott Mills expect if he asks random people in the streets of Kampala what should be done with homosexuals? If I asked this question in rural Transkei, many of the respondents would think I was talking about intersexed people ("hermaphrodites," as they say in rural Africa). Without asking Ugandans about their understanding of the word "homosexual," interviews like this simply become a display of mutual cultural ignorance.