Book Reviews

Notes on “The Fault In Our Stars”

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I hate hospitals, the smell of medicine, and everything that has to do with the themes of sickness and death. When I realized that “The Fault In Our Stars” was a book about two teenagers with terminal cancer, I was like “Oh, cr*p! What did I get myself into?” But I kept going on because I’d promised to read the book.

As I advanced in the reading, however, I found myself indulged in John Green’s sharp, crispy, witty and funny writing style. I particularly loved the bits of the book that are garmented with a touch of spicy sarcasm and enchanting metaphor. I also enjoyed the language of the book. The coinage of words such as “uncancery,” “Breakfastization” and “unlove” is typical of contemporary pieces, and it witnesses the fact that Green could be anything but a vocabulary Nazi.

The story of Hazel and Augustus is heartrending, though. Both teenagers suffer from cancer; a curse that many people would make use of to fish for sympathy and attention. However, these cancer-struck kids do teach us valuable lessons on life, death and love. From where I see it, their struggle is not meant to tell us how cancer patients go about their daily lives, but to show that they are not less normal than any other person. Did Green make an allusion to Orwell’s “Animal Farm?”. Maybe. However, this probably explains the abundance of instances of ups and downs in Gus’s and Hazel’s lives.

The main message in the book, among others, is twofold; (a) “the world is not a wish-granting factory,” and (b) “some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” I thought it was a so powerful message to tell the readers that not all of their wishes shall come true, but Green was bold enough to do it, and I think the outcome has been very positive. Furthermore, the idea of  relativity is heavily influencing. Green is transmitting the idea that small things can mean a lot if, and only if, they come from deep within the heart.

Among other attributes, it’s the blend of delicate and shocking storytelling that makes the reader wonder if the book is destined to make you laugh, cry, sympathize, think, or feel. For me, it was a bit of everything. So, if that’s how you define a good book, then “The Fault In Our Stars” is a must-read.

A dramatization of the novel is to be expected very soon.

My Very Informal Reaction to: “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert

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A “neurotic freak” would be an honest description of Elizabeth Gilbert. If she happens to have any reservations about this description, she might want to reconsider some events in her memoir “Eat, Pray, Love.”

Don’t get me wrong. I really do see the good in Gilbert’s journey of self-discovery and reunion with the divine. Nevertheless, being a man of a considerable amount of common sense and logical thinking, I find it hard to be 100% compassionate with her.

It’s not the fact that she wants a divorce from the man she has vowed to love till the end of time that makes me angry. It’s actually the fact that she’s angry with him because the poor thing “didn’t see that coming!” She’s angry because he chose her as his ultimate dream. She’s angry because he didn’t want everything they struggled for to collapse in a glimpse, and without a prior notice. How inconsiderate of him, right?

Moreover, she feels like she needs a break from her life to start anew, and what’s better than a PREPAID vacation to Italy, India and Bali to do that? She goes on a “cleansing” journey by money from her boss who is expecting a report about the journey in return. Doesn’t this sound like BUSINESS to you? …It does to me! Therefore, I find the authenticity of Gilbert’s work to be highly questionable.

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However, the book is not totally useless. I mean, if you’re bold enough to discard what’s been mentioned above as unimportant details, you can still enjoy the funny style, the imagery, the irony in Gilbert’s life, and you can even identify with her as she indulges in a bumpy search for everything.

Moreover, the book proposes a variety of scenery from different countries and cultures. Add that to Gilbert’s craft in storytelling, and you’ll end up traveling with her through the food paradise that is Italy, mystic India and exotic Bali.

If you’re into meditation, this book can be inspiring. Gilbert’s time in the Ashram in India, her maddening struggle with all the Mantras and Sanskrit, as well as the sleeping until the ungodly hour of dawn can be relatable in our daily lives.  Maybe not necessarily in that same order, or with those very same items, but it’s relatable, still.

So, if I am to give a final verdict, I’d just cut it short and say that if you enjoy shows like Sex and The City, then this book is for you.

Reading Several Books At Once.

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STUCK!

“Stuck” is the word to use when all you can do to face your inability to cope with your several readings is goggle your eyes. Books of different shapes and languages are scattered around you, and they only accentuate your dilemmas about what to resume reading first. Is it this book in French by that very prominent sociologist, or is it this one in Arabic by this great Egyptian novelist, or maybe you should continue reading either one of those three English novels you started last week…

A Stuck Reader

Finally, you make up your mind and grab either one of those books. However, somehow, the words get blurry and the characters start jumping from one book into the other as if they were circus artists doing amazing confusing stunts! 

You might still want to focus. You’d probably start pondering about the merits of every book and author at hand for some minutes to make a final decision. But if you’re like me, you’d most probably just grab the remote and watch Mr. Bean, instead.

Is this really your idea of enjoying reading? If your answer is yes, then keep doing what you’re doing, and stop reading this post right now… NOW, I said. If your answer is no, then what follows might be helpful.

Hereafter are some pieces of advice you might want to consider:

                • Do not read several books at once:

Yes. I think that for people like myself, we just cannot commit to this kind of relationships. So my advice to you is to take it slow. One book at a time shall do you good.

What we need to understand is that we’re different, and so are our abilities. Reading several books at the same time is not a healthy practice for some people. Some others can do this but some others can’t. This doesn’t imply that my breed are stupid, or that people who can read many books at once are smarter, it just means that we have different skills and intelligences. So, don’t feel bad about it.

(What?… I heard that! And no, I’m not just comforting myself?)

After all, the only good thing about being able to read different books at once is that you can switch books if you get tired or bored. However, the cons of this practice outweigh this single advantage.

  • Do not mix languages:

If you’re going to read many books. Like, if you really really have to, make sure that they’re in the same language. Reading books in different languages at the same time is confusing, especially if you’re a fast reader in some language(s) but a slow reader in other language(s). You’ll make much more progress reading in the language(s) your fluent in, while you’d be lagging behind in the other language(s), which might stir some dissatisfaction and might, in some cases, lead to low self-esteem, depression and then, suicide. Just kidding, but you got the point!

  • Get time to read but don’t force yourself into it:

Make a schedule and try to stick to it. Choose the time of the day that fits you best and plan your readings accordingly. Some people prefer to read at nights, other people prefer to read upon waking up. Don’t forget to make use of your free time and weekends, too.

  • Prioritize:

Some things in life are more important than others, so are books. Start with the book which you have a strong and fresh desire to read, when you get tired of it, try the next book you’re looking forward to read. You should always have interest in what’s between your hands, otherwise, the reading experience would be ruined.

  •  “Prioritize” doesn’t mean ignore:

 If you leave a book for too long, you’d probably forget everything about it. Picking it up again would be kind of meaningless. Hence, if you feel that one of the books your reading isn’t as interesting as the others, leave it for another reading set, or just drop it altogether, but don’t feel compelled to finish it. This will only increase your anxiousness, and we don’t want that, do we? DO WE?

  • Use a timeline:

A notepad and a pencil would be very helpful. Track down the ideas, characters and events of the book. You can add your feelings, expectations and questions about the book. It’s also important to make sure to read your notes every time you want to resume reading, it’ll freshen up your memory and put you in the right mood for that particular reading.

  •  Read (a) whole chapter(s) every time:

Don’t stop in the middle of a chapter. If you do, you’d probably be lost when you resume reading. Think of this as watching a series, what would you rather do, stop watching at the end of the episode and wait for the new one, or stop in the middle of the current one?…There you go!

  • Real readers love challenges:

Eat you broccoli, finish your dish! If you start several books and don’t manage to complete anyone of them, the effect will be very counterproductive. So, go on and finish your books, at least some of them. The feeling is really satisfying, believe me. Remember that if you don’t, you’ll probably have a very low self-esteem, depression and might commit suicide. Just kidding again, but you got the point!

  • Join Goodreads.com

Goodreads is a great reading carrefour. People write reviews and send updates about their readings. You can set up an annual goal and work on achieving it. A little competition would never hurt.

This, dear bookworms, is what I can think of for the moment. I’m sure you can have many other ideas on how to accomplish this task. So, please feel free to share them in the comment section. 

Happy reading, everyone!

Book review: “The ABC Murders” by Agatha Christie

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Agatha Christie

Finally, I got the chance to read something by Agatha Christie, the Queen of mystery fiction. “The ABC Murders” is not a fascinating book, but it surely is a good detective story.

We are reading from Captain Arthur Hastings’ narrative. Upon the Captain’s return to England from his ranch in South America, he visits his old friend Hercule Poirot. Poirot is the great Belgian detective who helps the British police solve some of the biggest mysteries they happen to encounter.

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Poirot and his strikingly dull, but faithful, sidekick try to get to the bottom of some mysterious murders committed by a cold-blooded serial killer. The latter is a psychopath who tries to outsmart detective Hercule Poirot by revealing the place where his crimes will be committed.

The plot in the ABC Murders is genuinely sewed. The twists are very complicated, which makes them even more stimulating to the reader. However, unlike the serial killer in this story, I never try to outsmart the author in guessing the identity of the killer because I know my prediction will not be the correct one. Hence the frustration anxious readers might get as they read along.

Nevertheless, if you’re curious enough, you’ll keep perplexing your senses in a try to “help” Poirot and his sidekick, Captain Arthur Hastings to track down the serial killer and solve those complicated cases.

All in all, “The ABC Murders” is a good book, but not the kind of book that leaves you open-mouthed. You know who’s going to “win” even before you start reading, so basically, readers might only be interested  in the plot and its twists rather than the ending, which to me, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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I know very well that you can’t judge a book from its cover. Nevertheless, the moment I set my eye on The Kite Runner’s cover on one of my favorite bookshop’s  shelves, I decided it was good. The moment I read the synopsis on the back cover, I decided it was great. One hour later, I was telling myself it was one of the best books I’d ever read!

The Kite Runner Book Cover

Amir and Hassan are bond by a friendship that is closer to brotherhood. Hassan and his father are Hazara Shia who work for Amir’s father who is a Sunni Pashtun. Nevertheless, the alleged superiority of Amir’s descent and religious affiliation, and the continuous molestation of Amir’s Sunni Pashtun neighbors never made him give up on Hassan…until the day cowardice betrayed him.

So, Hassan got raped and Amir couldn’t do anything about it, although Hassan suffered his fate just to secure Amir’s glory after he’d won the kite running competition in Kabul. He could’ve given Assef the blue kite and saved himself but he hadn’t wanted to betray Amir who, on the other hand, just hid there and watched his friend, brother and servant get humiliated in the most awful of ways.

Leaving your friend suffer this atrocious humiliation is a coward deed, indeed. However, and since he’s not a naturally bad kid, his indignation and fury get beyond description and what does he do to redeem himself? He plans to kick Hassan and his father, Ali, out of their mansion! Guilt and disgrace are killing him in the inside and he can’t stand looking Hassan in the eye anymore.

When the Russians invade Afghanistan in 1979, Amir and his father sought refuge in the USA. As years passed by, Amir has succeeded in becoming a published writer. He’s now married to a beautiful Afghan girl with a suspicious past but they’re in love and happy as can be.

…But sometimes, it only takes one phone call to change the course of our lives.

Rahim Khan, Amir’s father’s friend, calls Amir from Pakistan and tells him that Hassan was killed by the Taliban along with his wife and that their son, Sohrab, was still alive in Kabul. Rahim Khan then whispers a phrase that shakes Amir’s world and life: “There’s a way to be good again.”

As it turns out, Rahim Khan knows about everything and he’s now providing Amir with a chance for redemption. Nevertheless, Amir is happy and relatively well-off now. Should he opt for his happy American life or go to Kabul and haunt his haunting past in a city controlled by the Taliban wolves?

As mentioned above, Amir wasn’t a bad kid and he hasn’t grown up to be a bad man, either. Therefore, he  seized the opportunity to reconcile himself with his past and undo his mistakes.

Kabul is not a welcoming city, neither are its rulers. However, true Afghans like the driver Farid and Rahim Khan are there to help. Amir sets foot in Kabul with one goal in mind; finding Sohrab. Sadly, Amir learns the boy is sold to entertain one of Taliban’s big guns, whom, it turns out, is no one but Assef, Hassan’s rapist!

After a big quarrel between Amir and Assef, and with very considerable help from Sohrab and Farid (Sohrab is genius with the slingshot and Farid is an amazing driver,) Amir manages to break free from the Taliban. After an even bigger administrative quarrel, Amir succeeds in getting Sohrab out of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Adult Amir and Sohrab

“The Kite Runner” is a feelings stirring phenomenon. I think that you can hate the book, but you I don’t think you can deny it moved you. The reason I used the word phenomenon is because, up to now, there is not a single person I know  read the book and wasn’t moved by the events. Some people liked the book, others loved it, and a few hated it, but they were all moved to different extents and in different ways. Actually, someone complained that she hated the book because it was TOO moving!

The story in “The Kite Runner” is a complicated mixture of overlapping connections. Friendship, brotherhood, bravery, regret, guilt, redemption, racism, in/justice and love are all heavily presented themes. Hosseini makes good use of his storytelling skills to convey images that actually speak to you. The description is startling yet realistic. The thing about “The Kite Runner” is that the film plays on after one or two lines. I know we can imagine while reading other books but the description and the storytelling in this book enjoy a high quality graphics! Also, the events are enchanting in good and bad ways but they’re all deeply moving. If this book doesn’t move you, I don’t know what will.

As far as the characters are concerned, one cannot but remark that each one of them enjoys unforgettable traits. Amir, Hassan, Baba, Ali, Rahim Khan, Sohrab, Assef, The General, Soraya…are quite different people but whose behavior is very relatable. I think one of the most attracting features in this book is that the characters’ traits are not farfetched. You can see relatable examples of their behavior in everyday life.

However, I think that this novel falls short in describing the Taliban. I’m sure they’re bad people but Hosseini’s description was extravagantly grotesque. Hosseini sure hates them, but the way they are portrayed is surreal. Sometimes, I felt I wouldn’t be surprised if the book said the Taliban had fiery eyes and threw flames of fire out of their mouths!

Holding my copy of the book

Finally, I think that, although it might bring you down to tears, “The Kite Runner” remains one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had. Also, if you’re into writing as I am, then this is the kind of book that when you finish might scream: “This is the book I want to write.”

“Orientalism;” An Ongoing Discussion

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If there is anything I appreciate about the Internet it’s its power to eliminate distances. Fortunately, I could make use of this powerful treat offered by the Internet in one of my most valuable experiences. This unique experience is nothing but my amazing ongoing discussion of Edward Said‘s “Orientalism” with my American friend.

Edward Said

Even though we live in totally different places, my friend and I communicate on a daily basis and we always manage to discuss different stimulating topics. So we thought of taking our discussions to the next level and read a book together. Thus, I chose Edward Said’s “Orientalism.” This choice was partly because I’ve always heard of it and wanted to read it, and partly because I knew it contained very interesting and debatable topics that both my friend and I would enjoy.

Ok let’s face it, the writing style is obtuse. Also, It takes some knowledge in different fields to be able to fully understand Said’s words. He can hover over a variety of topics such as history, politics, culture, media, anthropology, literature, epistemology, etc. in one or two pages. Furthermore, sometimes, I feel as if Said takes it for granted that the reader is acquainted with some references and allusions, which can be an additional burden on the shoulder of the non-specialized reader.

On the other hand, what my friend and I are enjoying about this book is the fruits of our discussions. You can think of Orientalism as a “discussion stimulator,” and a thought-provoking starting point to our in-depth talks. Therefore, we always end up with very interesting discussions that help us better our understanding of the American as well as the Arab mindsets.

Our talks make us view issues from different perspectives. Therefore, many of our lingering questions have finally been answered. Many assumptions have been altered, and many fallacies corrected. Thus, I’m now starting to see how Americans REALLY view us, and vice versa.  I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that I have learnt more about America and Americans since I started reading and discussing this book than I had done in my entire life. My friend, too, made it clear that she has come see things from a different angle and from a fresh perspective, and that she has learnt a lot as well.

I think that what we appreciate about this ongoing discussion is that we both accept each other’s opinions and points of view no matter how distant our stands are. No one is claiming that their way of looking at things is the best, and no one is ridiculing the other’s views or opinions. It’s a friendly discussion with a special interest in mutual understanding.

I wish we all opted for dialog instead of surrendering to preconceived ideas and stereotypical views of the other. I think a lot of the world’s tragedies would have been avoided had those in power resorted to dialog. However, I believe that hope will still be glowing at the end of the tunnel as long as there are people willing to talk, discuss and open their minds.

Book review: “OCCUPY” by Noam Chomsky

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When I bought the book a week ago in Rabat, I thought it was written by Noam Chomsky. When I started flipping thorough its first pages on the bus, I discovered it wasn’t actually written but SPOKEN by Chomsky. This pamphlet is a collection of Chomsky’s speeches and discussions with some Occupy militants where he answers their questions and provides insights for the movement.

The book is divided into 5 main sections: Occupy, After Thirty Years of Class War, InterOccupy, Occupying Foreign Policy and Remembering Howard Zinn. In the end of the book, there is a Q&A section that gives guidelines as to how to protest and what should militants know before they sit-in or when the police knock on the door.

Professor Noam Chomsky with some militants of the Occupy Movement

Chomsky calls attention to many interesting issues such as; economics, the working class, the 1% and 99% imagery, political parties, elections, etc. which he discusses not in great depth but with a simplicity that makes international matters accessible for the average reader. Nevertheless, if one is not acquainted with the American political and social systems, one might find some difficulty in absorbing all the jargon.

When asked if he’d speak for and represent the movement, he simply said that his voice wouldn’t be heard and that the PEOPLE should depend on themselves. Chomsky believes that the movement doesn’t need leaders, but that it needs to be organized and mobilized.

The most striking idea I came across in this pamphlet, however, was Chomsky’s vision of how REAL democratic elections should take place. After denouncing the American electoral system which Chomsky regards as “farcical” and “radically undemocratic.” He moves to explaining his idea in an InterOccupy conference call as follows:

As I mentioned to Occupy Boston, the people in the town would get together have town meetings and discussions and come up with some ideas that they think ought to be done in the locality, in the country, foreign policy, the whole range. They might just pick their own candidates; or, if there are national candidates running, they could say, “You can come to visit us if you’d like, but we don’t want to hear speeches from you, we’re going to tell you what we think policy ought to be, and if you can convince us that you’ll accept these policies and carry them forward, then maybe we’ll vote for you.”

So basically, Chomsky says that Instead of listening to politicians, politicians must listen to the people. This sounds not like a unique concept but the way Chomsky puts it makes the whole concept crystal clear. I think that this  would sound like a very unorthodox idea of how elections should take place to many people. Yet, I am quite positive that they’ll find it very appealing and extremely democratic. The changes, policies and all major decisions should stem from the people, from the base, a bottom-up strategy and not the other way around. This is exactly what the people are longing for.

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One could speak volumes about each of the topics discussed in Chomsky’s “Occupy.” The bottom line, though, is that Noam Chomsky continues to be faithful to his beliefs, and he’s always trying to provide all the help necessary for the people’s voice to be heard.