Reviews of Books I Haven’t Read

The Guidebook as Literature. The new guidebook Beyroutes offers a very non-guidebook take on Lebanon’s capital city. Scholars, writers, architects and artists explore the city—mostly on foot—giving a literary view of the city and its history. The Daily Star doesn’t seem overly enthusiastic about the book, complaining that it seems to spend too much time on the wrong side of the tracks, and noting that:

Scholarly articles rub shoulders with the pseudo-scholarly. Hilarious takes on Beirut life are placed alongside visions so idiosyncratic as to be somewhat bewildering. Photographs and illustrations from numerous artists are thrown into the mix.

Nonetheless, the Star admits that the book has its fascinating moments, and notes that its sleek design helps knit the whole thing together. More images from the book at YMag. Available in Beirut bookstores, and I’m not sure where else.

Gay Egyptian Literature. In the World of Boys, by Mostafa Fathi and published in 2009, has been a phenomenon; Bikya Masr discusses it from a social rather than a literary perspective. Michael Luongo, of Gay Travels in the Middle East, also writes about it here. It’s brave, it’s popular, but I haven’t seen an assessment of its literary merits. Nonetheless, this is interesting (from Bikya Masr):

On another occasion, Fathi recounted, a journalist met with him for an interview concerning the book. The journalist began the interview confrontationally, said Fathi: “He said, ‘why do you write about these people? We should take them in the street and kill them.'” The interview continued and by its conclusion, the interviewer leaned in and confided in Fathi, “‘I, am gay’.”

Luongo says, in The Advocate, that a translation into English should be coming soon.

Dictator Lit. More than a decade after its publication, the Guardian books blog inexplicably reviews Moammar Ghaddafi’s short-story collection, Escape to Hell. It’s reputedly rambling and only semi-coherent. Unless you’re a Ghaddafi scholar, or need something to talk about at parties, I’m not sure why you’d seek this out. Available from Amazon.Com.

The Salvation of Egyptian Literature. Filmmaker/author Ahmed Khalifa is pretty excited about Soloman’s Ring (خاتم سليمان) by Sherif Meleika. He says:
Every once in a while you come across a book that gives you hope. Hope for Egyptian literature. Despite the amount of literary junk that Egyptian writers have been producing this past decade (most of it pretentious, hypocritical non-fiction), there are some books out there that give one, as a reader as well as an Egyptian, hope that Egyptian writers still have masterpieces hidden under their sleeves. Mansoura Ezz El Din’s Maryam’s Maze is one such masterpiece. Soloman’s Ring by Sherif Meleika is another.
Not (yet) available in English. However, since Meleika practices medicine in the U.S. and is developing a literary presence, perhaps it soon will be.
Nonsense Lit. Youssef Rakha reviews Nael El-Toukhi’s Al-Alfain wa Sittah: Qissat Al-Harb Al-Kabira or Two Thousand and Six: The Story of the Big War, which he calls a “Halsisst” novel; i.e.: irreverent nonsense, hilarious noise, creative nihilism.
This is Not a Review. It’s the Beirut39 collection, now available online in Arabic. Read up!
I don’t understand what’s going on with my spacing here. Sorry.