Craving Story...

I am a reader; the tag of “book worm” felt pejorative as a kid (even though my mom helped me make a ‘worm’, which had to be taken down in short order because we ran out of wall space…), rather I loved immersing in another story, not to escape my own, but to experience something new.  A few decades into life, not much has changed; I can still finish an engrossing book in under 24 hours and still easily become infatuated with a certain genre or topic, though I’ll much more willingly put down a read for the sake of the outdoors (Dad, your persistence paid off…).

Since accepting the position in Beirut over a year ago, a subtle craving for writing pertaining to my specific location and the surrounding region (I use region loosely) has persisted.  Story such as Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, Grennan’s Little Princes (hands down the best book I’ve read this year), Christoff’s Half The Sky, and Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, while emotion provoking, were appreciated glimpses into raw realities. I loved the lighthearted and somewhat snarky take on Beirut in Beyroutes (I tend to borrow or download but this’ll be a purchase).  Thomas Friedman lived in Beirut as the New York Time’s correspondent for the better part of Lebanon’s Civil War; his take on the Middle East in From Beirut to Jerusalem provided some initial context before venturing east, and his economic musings in The Lexus and The Olive Tree were interesting to consider.  Friedman’s work also, along with Tolan’s The Lemon Tree and parts of Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, added context to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Midaq Alley, set in Egypt and penned by Naguib Mahfouz, and The Hawkawati, by Rabih Alameddine, were fascinating fictional accounts, painting worlds of intrigue and complexity not too unlike the real thing.  Most recently I’ve read Makdisi Cortas’ A World I Loved and Kenway’s Bliss Street. Both describe life where I now live mine, literally in the streets I walk each day.  The juxtaposition between turn of the century Hamra with that of its Civil War counterpart was fascinating, especially with the added layer of my personal experiences.  Movies have also helped to sate curiosity at different points; Nadine Labaki’s “Caramel” is a good start for any film junkies who might be wanting a more visual experience.  And a small dose of Khalil Gibran, Lebanon’s often celebrated author, has been absorbed through The Beloved, though The Prophet still remains on the “To Read” list (yes, I have a list, and yes, it’s long).

And the more I read, the more I want to read.  Amin Mallouf in some form or another has made the list along with What Every American Should Know About the Middle East (Rossi), Lebanon: Through Writers’ Eyes (Gorton; purposely brought for my sister so that I could read it too…), A History of the Modern Middle East (Cleveland), Beware of Small States (Hirst), Pity the Nation (Fisk), Beirut (Kassir), I sweep the Sun Off Rooftops (Al-Shaykh), Deniro’s Game (Hage), Beirut, I Love You (Khalil), and I Killed Scheherazade (Haddad; some call her the ‘Oprah of the Middle East’- controversial depending on your perspective…).

There is emotion in writing, and bias, what is tangibly written, and written between the printed lines.  And it is in the imperfection that insight is gained and assumptions challenged.  I may reach a “full” point, but not anytime soon.  So dear reader, might you have any recommendations?