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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by Laila Lalami

This isn't one of "The 25", but I want to help promote it any way I can. I read it last October when it came out.

I'm reviewing this because, by the fortune of coincidence, I was in Washington, D.C. last Thursday (6/15) on the same day she had a signing at Olsson's in Dupont Circle. I'm high on that meeting like I was high after meeting Greg Iles--not that they have anything in common outside of Having Been Published, but that for different reasons I value their opinions on the direction of the Door Carver above just about anyone else's. Iles writes how I want to write in terms of process and variety in his career path. Lalami is Moroccan, a native speaker of Arabic, a new novelist, and would have a great deal of insight into the subject I'm attempting to research. They both possess a deep love of books, whether or not it's to their personal tastes.

I didn't have much time, so I just came out with The Big Question (i.e. "What does a Moroccan person think about White Guy From Texas writing about their country?"), and she told me I could go nuts thinking about it, self-censoring, trying to get it exactly right. If I'm my own Ideal Reader, I'm the audience that matters. That's fantastic. It's a load off. Now, I'd love to think, "that's what I've been waiting for", but that's not it. It's a step, but I'm not sure it's enough.

She told me not to self-censor, but that's not the same thing as saying she'd automatically love it. Not that I was expecting that. The problem is I don't know, given even her blessing, whether or not I can really write the hell out of this story anymore. This lack of confidence is probably non uncommon with writers, I've just let it bother me more than I've let any other single factor bother me.

I feel a kinship to Ms. Lalami, though I doubt the feeling would be mutual. Like others who read her blog I have a lot of respect for the amount of work she puts into understanding the world of publishing, and for her ability to spin varying opinions with clarity, kindness, and enough vitriol to keep things interesting. What was great was seeing the Human Being--all that anger and frustration and intellect poised on a dais, delivering forth answers to moderate-to-hard-ball questions. But more than that was a strong element of worldly charm. She smiled most of the time (if I were a real Writer I would use the expression "smiled knowingly"), and has a great belly laugh that reminds me of my boy when he's being tickled. I was glad to see that the anger behind a large percentage of her posts is not all there is to her. The cool thing was when that anger came crackling out in response to a question about "Arab Perception in American Media"--her voice went up about a third, her word rate doubled, and I saw Moorishgirl, The Angry Blogger standing there, not just Laila. It was great to see those two sides.

I was also happy to hear she has a Ph. D. in Linguistics, and that her 30th birthday was what motivated her to pursue writing as a full-time career. I only have a B.A., and my 30th birthday was the same minus the "full-time" bit, but it was validating.

I think, in all honesty, I was more intimidated and more eager to ask her questions than if I met any living president. I can identify with her (the writer part of her, that is... not the Arab, the immigrant, the woman, the academe, in those I'm a child in the very shallowest end of the pool of understanding). We're roughly the same age, but she was able to do something in this arena while I'm still just starting out. But I have so many questions to pepper her with, I don't know where to start in my one opportunity. The fact that I got the Big Question out and answered was a huge victory for the ultra-shy part of me that takes over anytime I'm around someone who would get more than 10 Google hits on their name.

Huh, I didn't talk about her book, just me. Typical. I'll cover HODP in another entry.


Blogger incandragon said...

It sounds like a wonderful experience with a really neat person. Helpful experienced writers are a gift!

Sun Jun 18, 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

I can't remember whether I ever sent you this article, but it's perfect for you. I think the author also does workshops.

Mon Jun 19, 08:13:00 AM  

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