Saturday, November 15, 2014

Meeting Rawi Hage - The Story

Stendhal wrote in Red and Black "Familiarity breeds contempt”. Not always Mr. Stendhal, not always. Meeting Rawi Hage definitely proved it wrong. I am not claiming that I now am familiar with this author, but I did get to know him better when he expressed his opinions on different matters during an interview organized by the "Maison Internationale des Écrivains de Beyrouth".  Here are some of the highlights of the event with focus on the main points which made me appreciate this author even more.

There's nothing better than a group photo with your friends and one of your favorite authors

1- He thinks that scientists are the best readers. It's true after all, dare to say the opposite? hehehehe

2- He gave me probably the best dedication ever and one of the most thought ones.
"To Isabelle, thank you for giving books a home and a friend."

3- He saw the state in which my book was and I explained that I treat my books as my friends, I eat with them, drink with them, sleep with them etc. and he actually complimented me on that. Gotta respect such people.

4- He considers literature as a good/great substitute to religion. According to him, Lebanon is hijacked by religious leaders who partner with politicians to keep the people divided. This coalition is dooming the country because Lebanese have nothing to hold on to, or fight for. But there is one thing worth fighting for according to Rawi: culture (arts, literature etc.). I realized how true Rawi's vision is after he told us an anecdote about Winston Churchill (who by the way was a passionate painter). In the story, it is said that a minister came up to Churchill asking him to cut off the budget for the ministry of arts and culture in order to limit war expenses and that Churchill refused the suggestion replying that if he does so then what are we fighting for?

4- He highlights the importance of open endings as a means to escape grand morality which is a religious structure. Also in this line, he admits proudly that his aim is to write everything in opposition to Paulo Coelho. This was probably the best part about the whole interview for you ought to know by now how much I hate Coelho's writings!

5- He knows his limits and doesn't pretend to be able to pull out something he cannot. For instance, when my friend pointed asked him whether he is capable of writing from the point of view of a female protagonist (all his previously published books protagonists were men), he humbly admitted that he doesn't have the confidence to do so. Thank you! I mean I have hated many books written by male authors because they really couldn't grasp what women were about and never convinced me once that the protagonist thoughts, words or acts could have been those of a woman.

Other than that, the interview allowed me to discover how Rawi Hage became an author. He wasn't a good student at school but he has always been a secret reader. And then he was encouraged to write but he was mainly trying to write short stories and then ended up with his first book. In addition, many had comments about the fact that he is Lebanese writing in English i.e. not his mother tongue and questioned him about how he sees himself from an identity point of view. To this he answered that English may have helped him find his writer's voice and that he considers himself as a Lebanese Canadian author writing in English who is a little bit of the two types of writers that exist:
- The Socrates ones, the ones that rely on the inside, their lived experiences mostly. "I cannot get away of myself" he joked.
- The ones that rely on the exterior using their research to build a story. He admits that he enjoys this part a lot and overall he simply loves the cathartic process of writing.

Finally, I noticed that Rawi constantly mentions Lebanon and the Lebanese in his talk and his books. Sometimes he does it from an observer point of view, others from a critic point of view like when he claims that education in Lebanon unfortunately focuses mostly on financial success. After all an intellectual is someone who mostly criticizes his own community explains Edward Said. One of the interesting observations was his envisioning of the Lebanese people as existentialist kind of people, Camus-ian in a way, and this is why he justifies the strong Camus presence in one of his books. Another example was the comparison he made between Lebanese and great Russians authors whose works he admires but cannot help to point out how they lack humor unlike Lebanese.

To sum it up, this was an unforgettable encounter, and I hope this post conveys the essence of the interview to you.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Best Thing I Read This Year

Hey, I have come across this poem and video few days ago. I can't take it off my mind. I'm sure you'll feel something similar after reading it and watching the video, especially if you're reading it today, Sunday.

This is to all the people who are now alone: How to be alone by poet/singer Tanya Davis. 

"If you are at first lonely, be patient.
If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.

We can start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library, where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books; you’re not supposed to talk much anyway so it’s safe there.
There is also the gym, if you’re shy, you can hang out with yourself and mirrors, you can put headphones in.
Then there’s public transportation, because we all gotta go places.
And there’s prayer and mediation, no one will think less if your hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.
Start simple. Things you may have previously avoided based on your avoid being alone principles.
The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by chow-downers, employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town, and they, like you, will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.
When you are comfortable with eat lunch and run, take yourself out for dinner; a restaurant with linen and Silverware. You’re no less an intriguing a person when you are eating solo dessert and cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger. In fact, some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies. Where it’s dark and soothing, alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.
And then take yourself out dancing, to a club where no one knows you, stand on the outside of the floor until the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one’s watching because they’re probably not. And if they are, assume it is with best human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats, is after all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you’re sweating. And beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things, down your back, like a book of blessings.

Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you. Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, they are always statues to talk to, and benches made for sitting gives strangers a shared existence if only for a minute, and these moments can be so uplifting and the conversation you get in by sitting alone on benches, might have never happened had you not been there by yourself.

Society is afraid of alone though. Like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements. Like people must have problems if after a while nobody is dating them.
But lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless, and lonely is healing if you make it.
You can stand swathed by groups and mobs or hands with your partner, look both further and farther in the endless quest for company.
But no one is in your head. And by the time you translate your thoughts an essence of them may be lost or perhaps it is just kept. Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those “sappy slogans” from pre-school over to high school groaning, we’re tokens for holding the lonely at bay.
Cause if you’re happy in your head, then solitude is blessed, and alone is okay.

It’s okay if no one believes like you, all experience is unique, no one has the same synapses, can’t think like you, for this be relieved, keeps things interesting, life’s magic things in reach, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t connected, and the community is not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it.

Take silence and respect it.
If you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it, if your family doesn’t get you or a religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it.
You could be in an instant surrounded if you need it.
If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it.
There is heat in freezing, be a testament."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bookish Halloween Costume

If you know me by now, you would know I am crazy passionate about author Amélie Nothomb. When I was invited to the Halloween party organized by my friends from the Lebanon Book Club around the themes of books, I knew I finally had a chance to walk her walk and talk her talk. In addition, I enjoyed designing the most important accessory in Amélie Nothomb's clothing; her hat.

Now Halloween themed costume parties are in my opinion the most successful ones. Combine that with books and you get one hell of a night! Thanks Simon and Katia for organizing this.

Check out the result and let me know what you think. My friends tend to think that I am starting to look like her in real life because I am that crazy about her. This is by far the best compliment I ever heard.
Other than that, here are some of the costumes that were worn on that night, hope this will inspire you for your next Halloween party.
Schehrezade, The last of the Mohicans, Samurai, The general from Anna Karenina, little red riding hood, a dress code in red and black in reference to "Le Rouge et le Noir" by Stendhal, The rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, Jane Austen or a Victorian Woman, A reader (no costume) etc.

Happy Halloween!


With a reader, signing his book

With the latest Novel, Pétronille 

Just another one of those "Pause for the Camera moments"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Message to Story Tellers

Early in the morning, I was driving my car when this heavenly song was played on the radio. Nothing special so far right? You've heard it many times before. Except that you're a crazy book lover, it's autumn; "the season of soul" as Nietzsche calls it, and you have just met one of your most favorite authors of all times: The one and only "Rawi Hage". And suddenly the song has a personal meaning, and your day couldn't have started any better!

"Scientists are the best readers." Rawi Hage, personal communication

Rawi Hage wrote several books among which "Carnival", the book that has touched the deepest part in me. Picture this, me listening to the song and Rawi Hage popping to mind. In Arabic, "Rawi" is a name, and it also means story teller. His parents must have had a premonition or something! And this song is just everything I would have ever wanted to tell him and all the writers that make me love books so much. So here it goes:

I will soon post a new entry about my encounter with Rawi Hage. But for now, I just urge you to listen to Souad Massi's song "Raoui". The song comes with English translation for those who don't understand Arabic or Algerian dialect. Let me know if you've liked it and if it makes you think of any story teller in particular.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO Reading Award 2015

Dear all,

Remember the reading competition I won last year? (Click Here if you don't) Well it's on again this year!!!

The Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO in Lebanon is organizing  a reading competition. If you've been reading for free, now you might get some money out of it! The prizes are 3,000,000 L.L. (2000 dollars), 2,250,000 L.L. and 1,500,000 L.L. For details, please see below. Briefly, you can participate if you are over 25 y. o. and are willing to read 5 books in 5 months and write a review for each.

Besides the obvious tempting financial rewards, there are many reasons why I think you should sign up to this competition.

1- You like to read and have been reading for ages and this is finally your chance at getting some recognition and appreciation for your passion.

2- Just another excuse to read five new books (as if you needed one).

3- To encourage other people around you to read and maybe participate with you in the competition.

4- To make a statement: Lebanese people read! Just look at how much participated in this competition alone.

And last but not least,

5- Because I won the first prize last year and there's no reason why you can't win it this year!!!

At the awards ceremony (I'm the girl in the middle, second row)

Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO Reading Award 2015

True to its mission to promote the culture of spreading knowledge, the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO launches the second edition of the annual national reading award, aimed at promoting reading as a means for the construction of thought and the blossoming of the human being, and therefore as an enabling factor for sustainable development.
Target Group:
Readers over 25 years old, not working in the publishing industry.
Conditions of Participation:
- A minimum of 5 books must be read.
- Minimum length of book is 125 pages.
- To be eligible, the selected books should not have been used by the applicant to write an academic research study, a newspaper article, a report for a publishing house or to participate in a cultural forum.
Submission Process:
Phase I from 10/10/2014 to 10/11/2014

Registration at the Lebanese National Commission office (Hamra – Ministry of Culture Building – ‎‎1st floor)
Phase II from 16/03/2015 to 31/03/2015
Submission of a 500-word reflection paper for each book read during a specified period of time. Applicants must avoid plagiarism.
Selection Process: from 13/04/2015 to 17/04/2015
The selection process is carried out by an assessment committee formed at the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO, and is made of two stages:
1. Screening and shortlisting of the candidates.
2. Oral interviews for the shortlisted candidates will be conducted to assess the quality of reading and its influence on the reader’s thoughts and vision of the world.
The announcement of the winners and the awards ceremony will take place under the patronage of the Minister of Culture, in the framework of the national reading week, in the end of April 2015.
1st Prize: 3.000.000 L.L.
2nd Prize: 2.250.000 L.L.
3rd Prize: 1.500.000 L.L.
Note: Cookbooks, poetry, astrology and religious books are not eligible.
For further information, kindly contact the Lebanese National Commission: 01-749105
(Mrs. Katia Ibrahim - Head Librarian and Activity Coordinator).

Good luck readers.



Monday, October 6, 2014

The Proof of Honey - Salwa Al Neimi برهان العسل - سلوى النعيمي

"The Proof of Honey" is a controversial book, famous for being erotically bold. I wasn't at all attracted by this literary genre (Although I hate classifications in general), but I was definitely very intrigued after knowing that the author is a contemporary Arab WOMAN. The only Arabic book in this genre I had read before and absolutely hated and hated myself for reading it was "Meryl Streep can suit herself" by Rachid Al Daif. Just saying, I started reading "The proof of Honey" with a lot of apprehension.

Plot wise, the book is not complicated: From the beginning we discern that a nameless Arab female narrator is taking us readers on a journey through her sexual adventures. But statement wise: this is huge! Most people in our Arab societies are not ready for it yet. Girls having sex and admitting it openly is a serious crime. The minimal sentence for such act is mental lapidation.

From a literary point of view, the author has a an exquisite pen and I'll post below some of her quotes to let you judge yourselves.

The story was also very dynamic: We have anecdotes about the various lovers, snapshots of the narrator's life in Paris. We also plunge into her librarian work and the research she is entrusted with and which fits perfectly with the theme of the book because it deals with Arabic literature and sex. We also travel with her on a voyage, and get introduced to stories of her acquaintances. To sum up, one is not bored at all while reading this book.

Adding to all the above mentioned "signs of a successful book" as I like to call them, was the fact that the author quoted many authors/ poets/ religious personalities and brilliantly incorporated these historical flashback parentheses in her manuscript.

The cherry on top of the cake for me was the novelty of some of the ideas and the all over the place feminist statements of her very strong female narrator when she for example declares that:

The book was excellent in every sense of the term and I highly recommend it for curious readers. Let me however warn you that there are some pretty steamy and bold descriptions of the main character's sex encounters. I did not however find them disgusting like the ones in the other book I mentioned earlier. In any case, sensitive souls better abstain.

To wrap up, I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that this book has earned its author name calling and other preposterous accusations, judgements as well as insults, only because the narrator is a girl. The reviewers judged the author and not the book or the story attacking her with all the hideous connotations just because the narrator has a lifestyle that doesn't fit to the reviewers' standards (Reference available upon request). These same double standard reviewers never attacked just to give an example Rachid Al Daif's book even though the narrator's name was Rachoud. They did not confuse for some reason the author with the narrator. Also it seems that men are entitled to write and live as they please while women are to be figuratively damned for it. What a shameful and sick mentality! But what reason do we need more to read the book and praise it and piss them off?

Yours Truly,


Friday, September 26, 2014

My Epistolar Traces

If you know me, or have read the blog, you would know by now my obsession about this Belgian author who answers to the name of "Amélie Nothomb".
(But please feel free to click here if you have no idea what I am talking about)

The other day, I stumbled on a letter I wrote to lady Nothomb on the 17th of January, 2010.  I couldn't help but read it of course, and it plunged me in the same emotional state that I was in when I first wrote those words to her. I also remembered how magical writing letters to each other is, and how very few people in Lebanon still do it. Most importantly, I realized all of sudden that aside from my reviews on the blog, I have almost no writings of my own, except for the letters I exchange with my friends and loved ones.

I have decided to share with you this personal letter (written in French) in an attempt to preserve the few witnesses of my pen traces and to urge you to write to each others as if mailing was the only means of communication known in your time. The world's greatest writers, poets and even scientists and rulers did it so why wouldn't you? Check it out yourself if you don't believe me by following this link.

And now for my letter:

"                                                                                                                                         Le 17-01-2010

Chère Amélie,
J'aimerai sincèrement saluer votre courage et vous remercier d'être venue au Liban quelques mois après une guerre très marquée encore dans nos esprits à tous. Je vous remercie également de m’avoir retourné la photo ; j’y tenais vraiment beaucoup.

Le courrier comme vous l’avez indiqué est une jolie façon de se rencontrer. En tant que lectrice fidèle, je me considère très chanceuse de pouvoir vous écrire et vous lire en privé ; vous mon auteure préférée dont les œuvres m’ont transformé en lectrice. J’ai l’impression de me répéter encore dans cette lettre mais je ne peux pas m’empêcher de vous déclarer mon estime et admiration à chaque occasion qui s’offre. Autant c’est un plaisir de vous écrire, autant c’était un plaisir d’avoir lu vos mots doux. J’ai été très touchée par votre lettre et surprise que vous vous intéressiez à moi, à savoir ce que je fais en ce moment. Et bien, je galère un peu comme tout le monde pour commencer une thèse mais je suis optimiste et je travaille beaucoup afin de mener à terme ce projet, donc tout devrait bientôt s’arranger.

Sinon, j’ai fait la connaissance de plusieurs personnes admirables sur le forum actif qui vous est consacré, et de fortes amitiés sont nées entre nous : ma vie est plus joyeuse depuis.

Enfin chère Amélie, je tenais à vous dire que je vous écrirai régulièrement une (peut-être deux) lettre(s) par an tant que vous le permettez. Nous sommes très nombreux à vous écrire et je ne souhaite vraiment pas vous épuiser ni abuser de votre gentillesse. Même si je ne vous écrirai pas souvent, sachez bien que je penserai souvent à vous : vous faites vraiment partie des personnes les plus importantes, influeçantes et présentes dans ma vie.
Bonne année et à l’année prochaine

Votre disciple Isabelle

P.S. Eh oui je dis bien disciple, quelques amis et moi étions vraiment surpris d’apprendre que nous étions des disciples, voir même une secte !!! Mais nous nous sommes tous mis d’accord : quand vous (que votre nom soit loué) auriez décidé de la fin de notre monde, nous nous jetterons tous dans une mare de carpes – ou si nécessaire dans un aquarium rempli de poissons rouges.

P.S.2 Mes tantes aux États-Unis à qui j’ai offert « Stupeur et tremblements » et « Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam »  pour Noël vous saluent beaucoup aussi. »  

If you're reading this post, I would really love to have more interaction with you. So let me know if you have ever written to authors you like or if you consider it. It would also be great to discover what you think of epistolary relationships.