How Do Arabs Fare on Summer Reading Lists?

‘Tis the season of summer reading lists. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and even TV stations clamor to suggest the books you should take to the beach, with an emphasis on the lighthearted, the fast-paced and the vampiric.

As you might imagine, most of the Arabs who appear in these summer reading lists are not starring as authors, but as subjects and backdrops, as in Layover in Dubai, by Dan Fesperman and the al-Qaida-oriented Intercept, by Patrick Robinson.

But, for the love of Maged, we do write light-hearted, fast-paced, enjoyable books over here! Two have managed to squeak their way onto summer reading lists:

The Independent chooses:

Suad Amiry’s Nothing to Lose But Your Life.

Yes, this is a good beach read: engaging, easy, funny. All the things we’re told to want in a summer book. Selina Hastings apparently selected Amiry’s book for the list. In her words:

‘Amiry is a renowned Palestinian architect and courageous,’ says Selina. ‘She disguised herself as a man to accompany Palestinians who risk their lives working on the other side of the wall.’

The National Post (Canada) chooses:

Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights

The original beach read. The National Post writes:

Malcolm C. Lyons’ translation is bright and modern, compulsively readable without sacrificing the stories’ cultural and historical complexity. And such stories these are! From the well-known accounts of Ali Baba and Aladdin to the bawdier tales, this is a treasure box of storytelling that will last for hundreds of years more.

A couple more you could bring to the beach:

The Dark Side of Love, Rafik al-Schami (2009, Arabia). It’s big, it’s sweeping, it’s beautiful, it’s about love. I find it at times a little Orientalizing, but it was deservedly on the shortlist for the Independent’s “best foreign fiction” award this year.

White Masks, Elias Khoury (2010, Archipelago). It’s fast-paced, it’s engaging. It’s not Khoury’s strongest work, but it doesn’t have the heavily cerebral/poetic side of some of his work. Ergo, good for a day at the beach.

The Scents of Marie-Claire, by Habib Selmi (2010, AUC Press). The dissolution of a love affair between the Tunisian narrator, Mahfouth, and his Parisian girlfriend, Marie-Claire. Engaging, charming. Sometimes stiffly translated.

Oh, and for goodness sakes, if you like to win things, don’t forget the summer reading challenge….