Category Archives: Bibliothek

An unexpected light

Waiting, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Sometimes, I run away and lie around in the park all afternoon, reading books and listening to music and taking photographs. Sometimes, I even skip around on my jump-rope (but I discovered early on that that works better on concrete than on grass), and my new goal in life is to buy hula-hoops. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that if I could get back into hula-hooping – as I did when I was a kid – I’d be much more coordinated and comfortable in moving my body, and then I’d even learn how to dance. It’d be amazing!

Last week, I did cartwheels in the park for the first time since childhood. Needless to say, I completely sucked (that part about extending your legs in the air is kinda tricky), but I couldn’t stop laughing along with Princess Pretty Pants and Beanay, and I didn’t even feel ridiculous for attempting something at which I knew I would fail. That’s progress.

(PPP captured all the laughter and cheering and my attempted cartwheels on camera, and they just might be coming your way soon via facebook-video, if we’re friends over there on that addictive, timesuck of a social-networking site. Also, via wikipedia, I found a nice little tutorial on cartwheeling. You didn’t doubt me, did you, when I mentioned “reading something on wikipedia once”? I look up everything.)

An Unexpected Light

Speaking of parks and lounging around and reading on the grass, I just posted this on flickr, and then I remember how much you Blogistan folks love books, too, so I’m sharing this here as well:

I’m currently almost done reading Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, quite possibly one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s nonfiction (as are most of the books I like).

An Unexpected Light is poignant, and unexpectedly funny, and perceptive. There are lots of references to chapli kabob and chai and Pathans and Sufi parables and open-armed unconditional hospitality, for those of you who are fans of such things. (As well as an equal number of references to guns and landmines and destruction and the mujahideen and Taliban and meddling/useless foreign nations, for that matter.)

What struck me most as I was reading this was Elliot’s respect and compassion for the Afghans. "He just has so much love and compassion for the people," I told [K] recently. "I love how he writes about them. Everyone is handsome or beautiful to him, I noticed. He never mentions people being ugly." Yet the Afghans are never exoticized or Other-ized here. Elliot sees them as dignified and beautiful, inside and out, because, for him, they are first and foremost profoundly human.

I don’t often make book recommendations (to each his own, eh?), and I’m too lazy to write books reviews.

But you should read this one.

That is all.


K and I had a lovely conversation about this book weeks (months?) ago, and it made me so happy to know someone else had read it. You can check out an excerpt of the Prologue on amazon.

(Also, don’t give me drama about those folded-over pages. I always dog-ear book pages while reading! Sacrilegious, I know.)

It’s not as easy as willing it all to be right

"What are you doing?" asked my friend, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I’m so tired of constantly feeling so tired – I don’t sleep enough, I fall asleep holding books I once could have finished reading in a single day, I sleep crookedly, and my neck has been aching for over a week. Also, there’s that drama that enters my head once in a while: “Am I doing constructive things with my life? Let’s switch it up again!” Clearly, I am my father’s daughter, bored too easily and always wanting change. And yet, too much standing still while questioning my next step, mired once again in indecisiveness and lack of direction.

It’s too easy to get lost in progress, or lack thereof, so here are three beautiful things to remember from last week:


Poetry reading by Mohja Kahf at the Arab Cultural & Community Center in San Francisco last Monday. It was a wonderful evening, not in the least because I got to see the beautiful ladies, Momo and Baraka, again. And also because Mohja Kahf is hilarious, and that must have been the first time I laughed so much at a poetry reading. She writes candidly about topics such as sexuality and motherhood in a way that’s quite refreshing, as is her take on historical figures that become more approachable and human through her poetry – Asiya, the Pharaoh’s wife, sitting with her husband at a table of Neo-Cons; Asiya written up in the tabloids, dismissed as “crazy.” I picked up copies of Mohja’s poetry collection, E-Mails from Scheherazad, as well as her new novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and asked if she could sign my sister’s copy of E-Mails from Scheherazad: “I’ve been specifically instructed to tell you that you’re her favorite poet.”

“Ooh, instructed,” she laughed. “Should I add some exclamation points to my signature?” And so, she did.

While I was waiting in line for the books, one of the women on the ACCC staff asked, “Do you write poetry?”

“No,” I said hurriedly, thinking she had confused me for RC, one of our rockstar Muslimah spoken word poets here in the Bay. (It wouldn’t be the first time; I think it’s the headwrap that confuses people.)

“You should,” she said. “We’re trying to organize some more poetry events here at the ACCC, and we’d love for more young people to participate.” She wrote down her name and email address for me.

I remembered how, the week before at the Poetry for the People reading at UC Berkeley, D had asked the same question, “Do you write poetry, too?”

“Ehh, no,” I said. “I only write maybe one poem a year, when I’m forced to.”

“But they’re always such good poems!” interjected my sister.

The day after the Mohja Kahf reading, my buddy A harassed me about my refusal to participate in the open mic at Blue Monkey, too: “Only losers don’t do poetry readings at an open mic.”

So now, apparently, I need to write more often.


Writing travels the world: Maliha’s beautiful essay, Necessary silence of being made its way to me not only via Blogistan, but also through an email listserve I’m subscribed to. I emailed her to let her know, and received the following reply:

I’ve been lurking around your site and wish you, missy, will take a break from all the messy and beautiful chaos around you, to write a bit more. But with spring weather finally here, and the greys and storms dissipated, I totally don’t blame you for sweeping specks of sun rays rather than blog.

So, there we go, another reminder to write more often, from the beautiful lady who excels at it. It’s too bad that, as I explained to Maliha, writing these days means, for me, too many incomplete posts saved as drafts, and too many scribbled bullet-points in my little moleskine notebook that need to be turned into real posts. And, yet, my buddy Z exclaims: “How did you blog so soon after the last one? How do you have enough material?” It’s not for lack of stories, clearly.


Explanation of the photo that accompanies this post: Ayesha my love and I canceled our dinner plans last Thursday, so I was left with a free evening, and was actually rather looking forward to being able to go straight home from work.

But then: “Come over to my place for dinner!” said R.

“Who else is going to be there?” I asked warily. I was not in the mood to socialize with people.

“Me!” said the co-worker-in-crime, B.


“Just us,” assured R.

“It’s not some fancy-schmancy thing, is it?” I asked. ” ‘Cause I won’t be able to stand it.”

“Not at all!”

So, I went over to her apartment in Fremont after work. We had dinner, and then it was time for maghrib, the evening prayer. There was no awkward questioning: Will you be praying? Will you not? Should we wait for you? Instead, it was all so matter-of-fact: Here’s a rug; the bathroom’s at the end of the hall; I have an extra scarf, if you need it. I appreciated the straightforwardness – needed it, in fact.

R pulled out a prayer rug for me to use – it was short and narrow and golden-yellow, the perfect size for my frame, and something about the beauty of it moved me nearly to tears as I was praying. When I sat cross-legged afterward, hands raised in supplication, my knees jutted over the sides of the slender rug. It had been so long since I had prayed (much less, regularly), and there was something bittersweet – ridiculous and yet so fitting – about the fact that a yellow sunshine-colored rug made me want to pray more often.

“What are you doing?” asked R, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.

“Taking pictures of your rug,” I said.


“Because it’s so pretty!”

“And what are you going to do with the pictures?” she asked, puzzled.

I almost replied, Put them up on flickr for the world to see, but said instead, “I’ll look at them!”

She rolled her eyes, picked up the prayer rug off the floor, folded it swiftly, and placed it on top of my purse. “Here. You can have it. Now you can look at it all the time.”

I hadn’t expected this, but I was too giddy with quiet delight to politely question her decision with, Are you SURE?

We sat around afterward, drinking mint tea (okay, I just experimentally sipped a little bit of it; “Will you be offended if I don’t drink this?” I asked R and her roommate L, but they assured me they would not be). “That’s fresh mint from Zaytuna,” L said proudly.

I nearly choked on laughter. “Were you skulking around Zaytuna, picking mint leaves in the dark?” Indeed, she had been. She also shared stories of living in Kuwait and Los Angeles. B and I were fascinated by her Kuwaiti/Lebanese/Hungarian heritage, so L brought out her laptop and began showing us photos.

“Dude,” I said, “these are beautiful pictures. You really need to get a flickr account and upload these.”

“I do have flickr!” she said. Oh, internet, how I love you. L went back to her room, and returned with her camera. She and I sat there scrolling through her photos, while R and B just shook their heads – especially when I started taking photos of the tea-glasses again.

B made fun of us: “Yasmine’s going to come to work one day and say, ‘I quit! I’m leaving to become a professional photographer!’ ”

She needs to stop giving me ideas.

Three Things: The Home Edition

Chukairiyaan, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

1. Waking up at 8am, realizing it’s a Saturday, and burrowing back under the warm covers to sleep in until 10:30. Washing my face, and then promptly sitting down at the computer. I check emails and weblogs while my mother pulls up a chair beside me and flips through catalogues and coupon books. We discuss an impending visit to IKEA (she’s never been!), and she tells me The Sister is on a newfound campaign to add a cat to our household. A cat would be nice, says my mother wistfully. She fondly recalls our previous next-door neighbor’s cat, Daisy, who used to keep my mother company in the garden.

2. I wash and condition my hair, then actually take the time to comb it out, too – albeit abruptly, top to bottom rather than the other way around, so that my impatient tugs result in lots of gnarled hair in the wastebasket. Still, it got combed. Since I’m a firm adherent of the “I don’t believe in combing my hair” philosophy, today’s effort is highly newsworthy and must be mentioned, especially considering I have conversations about hair quite rarely anyway (my favorite conversation is still that latter one, with a four-year-old, no less). I then sit in a pool of sunshine on the living room floor, willing my hair to dry while reading the last few chapters of John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, a book I love but have never reread since finishing it in one evening for my tenth-grade English class, eight years ago. In one passage that makes me smile, Gene says:

After the lights went out the special quality of my silence let [Phineas] know I was saying [prayers], and he kept quiet for approximately three minutes. Then he began to talk; he never went to sleep without talking first and he seemed to feel that prayers lasting more than three minutes were showing off. God was always unoccupied in Finny’s universe, ready to lend an ear any time at all. Anyone who failed to get his message through in three minutes, as I sometimes failed to do when trying to impress him, Phineas, with my sanctity, wasn’t trying.

3. Lazily sitting around the dining room table after we’ve just finished dinner, The Sister looks around at each of us individually and asks, wide-eyed, “Anyone want chocolate cake?” I laugh at her excitement, and she adds, “I’ve been looking forward to this all day!” Our mother, ever the practical one, advises that we save the dessert-consumption for after taraweeh [the nightly congregational prayers held during Ramadan], but the daddy-o – never one to refuse dessert – overrules that suggestion with an authoritative, “Well, in that case, we can have two! – one dessert now, and another one when we get back from taraweeh.” A quick peek into the refrigerator makes me laugh at all the choices available to us: apple-caramel-pecan cake, chocolate ganache torte, apple pie, chocolate-orange sticks, and, in the freezer, two pints of ice cream, one of which (my new favorite: Ben&Jerry’s American Pie) merited an excited email from me to fellow ice cream fan 2Scoops months ago, raving about how it was “basically exactly what it sounds like – apple pie with ice cream!” Just for 2Scoops, I would like to add that the American Pie ice cream is still SPECTACULARICIOUS.

May you inherit a world of light and love

Those of you who’ve been following along know that Baji is my (and everyone else’s) favorite robot monkey pirate. And, guess what! A wee one by the name of Mr. Mini Monkey Pirate has recently swooped down and crashed the (boat)party. Run along and wish Baji congratulations on the latest edibly adorable addition to her familia. May he grow up to own many bookcases [the best prayer I can think of for the son of a fellow bibliophile]. And may he read books, not eat them or stab them with his pirate sword.

Hundreds of pages, pages, pages forward

THIS…is the fastest way to my heart, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Last Friday, I managed to drag my friend A along with me to Oakland, where I usually pray Jummah salah [the Friday congregational prayer]. I kept extolling the virtues of this favorite masjid of mine, until she reminded me that she had gone there with me once before.

“Really?” I said. “I don’t remember.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there before.”

Really? When?

This, of course, was the mystery.

Only after we had entered the masjid and settled in for the always lovely, humorous, and inspiring khutbah [sermon] from my favorite imam did I recall that A had come to Jummah with me during the summer of last year. And that afterward, a group of us had gone out to lunch at Berkeley’s Naan ‘n’ Curry restaurant [not the usual one we frequent on Telegraph, but the new – and subpar – one that had opened on College Ave.].

M, who is Iraqi, had offhandedly mentioned that he didn’t enjoy desi food, or didn’t eat it all that often, or something like that.

“But you should have said something!” I said. “We didn’t have to eat here!”

“It’s tradition,” he said simply.

I couldn’t argue with that.

Sitting in the masjid last Friday, I couldn’t help but laugh inwardly at another memory from two summers ago: the post-conference meeting for organizers/volunteers, held at the Telegraph Naan ‘n’ Curry. At the end, W insisted on paying for everyone’s meal, and went up to the register and did so, whereupon M leapt out of his chair in an effort to stuff some bills from his pocket into W’s hands. W fending him off, dodging him, the two of them running through the interior of the restaurant, skidding around tables and chairs and other customers, strangers who looked on perplexedly while the rest of us held our stomachs in aching laughter. It was good times.

After last Friday’s Jummah salah, it was time for lunch in Berkeley. Another tradition. I parked my car, and A and I made our way up Telegraph Avenue. We passed by Moe’s Books on the way, and couldn’t resist ducking inside. We went up to the third floor to look at the books on sale ($5-8 FOR BRAND-NEW BOOKS!), and I laughingly recounted to A the story of the last time I had been there, with HijabMan and my sister in September. We had all lost track of one another in the bookstore while pursuing our own literary interests. Finally, HijabMan had texted me with, “I’m on 3rd floor. East religions,” and my sister and I had gone upstairs to find him agonizing over the piles of books he had been tempted to buy.

A and I went to lunch, then walked back down Telegraph to my car. In front of Cody’s Books, someone had set up a table with the above “BOOKS AND EVERYTHING ELSE: 25 CENTS” sign. Books lined the sidewalk in neat rows. I had to stop. The lovely A stood by, waiting patiently while I jabbered on and on excitedly and picked out books. All ELEVEN of them.

I don’t know where I’m going to put these, and, more importantly, I don’t know when I’ll even get around to reading them. But I wanted them.

Here’s what I got:

Anthem, by Ayn Rand
The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald
Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter
9 Plays by Black Women, edited by Margaret B. Wilkerson
Seven Short Novel Masterpieces, edited by Leo Hamalian, et al
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt
The Man Who Moved the World: The Life & Work of Mohamed Amin, by Bob Smith with Salim Amin
The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse, edited by Oscar Williams
The Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
A Pocket Book of Modern Verse, edited by Oscar Williams

After I had gleefully dropped my quarters into the blue plastic mug and we began walking away, I looked back again, and gasped, “Oh my GOD, there’s MORE!” There, at the edge of the sidewalk, was a row I hadn’t seen.

Ah, well. Next time then.

Well, I walked over the bridge into the city where I live

Last week, I went to Borders to study for my neurobiology and my molecular & cellular bio final exams.

(As an aside, nothing has made me mentally curse over the past few weeks as much as thoughts of neurobiology do: Friggin’ hell! I understand that NPB stands for Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior, but, friggin’ hell, maybe I’d actually understand it if it were less physiology and more behavior. So, once again, friggin’ hell, man! Alright, I’ll stop. Moving along now.)

I walk into the Borders cafe, a bit chagrined to find all the tiny, individual tables taken. The only one that looks nearly empty is the long, rectangular table in the center of the cafe, occupied only at one corner by a mother and her small daughter. I approach them from the opposite end of the table and smile. “Mind if I sit here?”
The mother shakes her head. “It’s a bit too big for just us.” The daughter, sitting in her mother’s lap, regards me wide-eyed.
I smile my thanks and drop my messenger bag on the floor, place my discman and headphones a bit more carefully atop the table, and pull out a chair at the corner diagonally across from them.

“I saw my daddy today!” the little girl tells me as I sit down. “And he brought me this juice!”
The little girl is Asian, although her mother apparently is not. The daughter has lots of shiny black hair and huge, dark eyes, and she’s gulping down an Odwalla Superfood beverage, holding the opening of the plastic bottle right up against her mouth in the manner that little kids are wont to do, so that her mouth is totally surrounded by a large green-black ring. In a word: Adorable. I suppress a smile.
“Is the juice good?” I ask with genuine interest, since it looks really…well, greenish-black, and I’m trying not to wince at the color. She nods enthusiastically.

She points outside in the direction of the parking garage. “We came down here in the elevator!” And then, with characteristic forthrightness: “How old are you?”
“I’m 24. How old are you?”
“Four. No, four and a half.”
“Not yet,” laughs her mother.
A stranger sits down across from me, smiling politely at us before delving into his book.
The little girl watches him curiously “Do you know him?” she asks me. “Does he know you?”
I shake my head, while her mother speaks softly into her ear.
“How old is he?”
“Maybe not everyone wants to say how old they are,” says her mother.

I take my books out of my bag and spread them out in front of me while the little girl watches. “How did you tie up your hair?” she asks, pointing at my headwrap.
“Well,” I say, accustomed to hearing this question often, “I doubled my hair up in a pony-tail, and then I tied a bandanna around it, and then I just wrapped this other big scarf around my head.”
“Can you show me?”
Her mother tries to shush her. “It probably takes a lot of time, and I don’t think she would want to take off her scarf and re-do it all here.”
“I can tie up my hair,” the little girl murmurs. “I can tie my hair around my hair, too.” She gathers her hair in front of her and starts braiding it. I’m smiling to myself, because this is the most talkative, articulate four year old I have ever met. And also because she is sitting in her mother’s lap with her back against her mother’s stomach, and her mother seems to have no idea of the large black ring around her daughter’s mouth.

As I pick my sweater off the table and drape it across the back of my chair (never underestimate the speed with which my fingernails turn blue in air conditioned environments), the little girl remarks, “You look different without your coat.”
“I do? How?”
She shrugs. Her mother smiles and correctly points out, “She wasn’t wearing her coat when she came in.”
“Yes, she was!”
As they get up to leave (the mother finally noticing and trying in vain to wipe the black circle off her daughter’s mouth), I turn around in my chair to say goodbye. While passing by my chair, the little girl gravely sticks out her hand, and I shake it just as solemnly. “I’m Yasmine. What’s your name?”
“Bye, Lily! It was nice talking to you.”

Only after she is out the door do I realize I could have added, “We both have flower names!” But maybe that would have been overdoing it. After all, I do laughingly refer to my own as a “generic flower name” often enough.

I find a small table of my own and move my stuff over, but now that Lily and her entertaining chatter are gone, I’m bored already. I watch everyone else around me, in an effort to distract myself from studying, and cringe at the too many girls under twelve who sashay about in their ruffled mini skirts. My blend of pity and irritation is soon alleviated by my amusement at the old man gravely reading “eBay for Dummies” across the room, and the South Asian boys next to me fervently discussing the merits of “Nintendo Power.”

I look up for a split second, and the woman sitting with her back to me at the next table is perusing a book whose pages address concerns such as “Flaking Eyeshadow” and “Bleeding Lipstick.” I want to say, “Buddy, eyeshadow is fun, but seriously, makeup is not worth all that drama if you have to read a whole book about it,” but decide to leave her to her reading.

When I get bored of biology in all its various forms, I wander over to check out the real books, because we all know textbooks don’t count. The Calvin and Hobbes compilations hold my interest the longest. I stand there and laugh, speedily flipping through the pages – like I used to with those mini animation booklets we made in elementary school – then drag the books back to my table, against my better academic-oriented judgment. “I’ve got nothing but consonants!” continuously exclaims Calvin in outrage, spelling three-letter words as Hobbes condescendingly put far more elaborate tongue-twisters. It reminds me of all the times I’ve played Literati over at Yahoo! games with Chai & Co., and whined about not having any vowels at my disposal.

A middle-aged gentleman leans over my table on his way out and says, “Thank you for brightening my lunch,” then turns and scuttles away before I can even think to formulate a proper reply. I don’t know why exactly he was thanking me, unless, knowing me, I had probably smiled absently in his direction whenever I turned my head to scrutinize the local Persian artist’s paintings hanging on the wall just behind his table. I laugh silently at how I am The Most Oblivious Person In The World™ (yes, it merits capital letters and a trademark symbol, it’s that bad), and am reminded of H#3 and his habit of shamelessly flirting with every girl at our workplace. One morning, I walked over to his cubicle to grab some paperwork and greeted him with my standard, “How goes it, buddy?”
“Better now,” he said smoothly.
“Oh,” I said with concern. “Were you not feeling well?”
His winsome smile slipped away, replaced by a wide-eyed, incredulous, “ohmygod she totally didn’t get it” look. Meanwhile, I wandered off obliviously, and then laughed out loud when it finally hit me while I was sitting at my desk, a good hour or so later.

I listen to Amos Lee on my headphones while consuming ice-blended chocolate drinks and a raspberry latte. Two years later, and I sadly still don’t know the difference between espressos and mochas and lattes and whatnot.

As I am leaving Borders at the end of the day, I catch a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye, and turn to see a little boy running by, exclaiming in wide-eyed awe, “Dad, I SAW BUTTERFLIES!” My wide grin comes naturally, as does the irrepressible laugh that follows. The other cafe people look up with vague interest, then return to their magazines and coffees and books and muted conversations.

Those were the best parts of my day: Lily and Calvin and The Butterfly Boy.

as if i haven’t already amply proven my nerdiness….

as if i haven’t already amply proven my nerdiness…

Hi, my name is Yasmine and, lately, all my posts seem to be about books. I am a complete and utter nerd. The end.

Alright, so Baji is making me do this survey thingamajig under threat of incarceration, which actually doesn’t seem so bad if it means I get to take all my books with me.

Let’s begin:

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Apparently, everyone is hella confused about this question. If you’re asking what book I want to douse in gasoline and light a match to, then, to be honest, I really have no idea. I usually only buy books I’ve already read and liked, so I’m slightly attached to all the books in my bookcases. If there were any I ever disliked, I most likely sold them back.

Oh wait, I know! Jasmine, by Bharati Mukherjee. It was handed to me by my 10th grade English teacher, who was amused by the similarity between my name and the protagonist’s and thought I would enjoy a novel by a South Asian writer. Umm, no. First of all, we all know how much I hate hate hate the name “Jasmine.” Vomitrocious! [See below.] Secondly, Jasmine was just highly annoying and kept making stupid life mistakes and apparently had multiple personalities because she kept changing her damn name: Jyoti>>Jasmine>>Jase>>Jazz>>Jane. What the holy freakin’ smoley?

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Do they have to be fictional characters from books? Because I did want to marry MacGuyver when I grew up. Okay, fine, at the risk of destroying any sort of literary credibility I’ve established, I would have to admit to crushing on the Goblin King from Labyrinth. Hey, I was ten. I remember watching the movie a few years later and just about dying of laughter (it was released in 1986, so what do you expect? Most other ’80s movies I grew up with totally rocked though). The Goblin King sounded much better in the book than he looked in the movie. I was a shallow kid, okay?

And I don’t think this constitutes crushing, but I’ve certainly always had a soft spot for Sidney Carton (he’s so damn jaded yet genuine) from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and for Charlie Gordon from Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. I read the latter for the first time when I was about twelve, and I think it was the second book that made me cry. The first book was Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, when I was ten. I wanted a best friend like Billy Colman, and I totally bawled my eyes out when Old Dan and Little Ann died. Alright, I think that’s it.

The last book you bought is:

How to Eat Like a Child: And Other Lessons in Not Being a Grown-Up, by Delia Ephron with drawings by Edward Koren. I bought it a couple of days ago from the Friends of the Library section at my local public library, and it’s hardcover, so it cost $1. Paperbacks cost fifty cents. The flyleaf says, in cursive handwriting dated 7/25/79, To Alexis, This is so you never forget how to act like a child. Love, Gwyneth.

Highlights include sections entitled “How to Laugh Hysterically,” “How to Tell a Joke” (Immediately repeat ten times.), “How to Torture Your Sister,” “How to Talk on the Telephone” (Hello. Are you English? Are you Swedish? Are you Italian? Are you Finnish? Well I am. Goodbye.), etc. The crowd-pleasing “How to Express an Opinion” offers the following word choices:

Oh, barf
Boy, is this dumb

And how could I not share with you all the author’s sage advice on how to eat ice cream cones?

Ask for a double scoop. Knock the top scoop off while walking out the door of the ice cream parlor. Cry. Lick the remaining scoop slowly so that ice cream melts down the outside of the cone and over your hand. Stop licking when the ice cream is even with the top of the cone. Be sure it is absolutely even. Eat a hole in the bottom of the cone and suck the rest of the ice cream out the bottom. When only the cone remains with ice cream coating the inside, leave on car dashboard.

…and french fries?

Wave one french fry in air for emphasis while you talk. Pretend to conduct orchestra. Then place four fries in your mouth at once and chew. Turn to your sister, open your mouth, and stick out your tongue coated with potatoes. Close mouth and swallow. Smile.

I freakin’ love this book! LIKE OH MY GOD, BECKY, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. Okay, I’ll stop now.

The day before that amusing purchase, I bought Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for $1 from the American Cancer Society shop in downtown.

The last book you read:

Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, a “biomythography” of her life as a queer woman of color. While the writing is pretty sexually provocative at times, it is for the most part also lovely, poetic, and fascinating enough that I’ve left dog-eared pages all the way through the book. If you can handle reading about queer women of color, then I highly recommend it.

What are you currently reading?

Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. It was assigned reading for a womens studies course I took last quarter. I’ve only just started it, so I am quite obviously an academic slacker. Also, I read two chapters of Karen Armstrong’s new memoir, The Spiral Staircase : My Climb Out of Darkness, standing up in the unversity bookstore this morning, so I think that totally counts, especially since I’m planning on buying it eventually, unless I just end up finishing it by reading a few chapters every time I stop by the place. And last night, I started Deafening, by Frances Itani, which I had bought months ago (for $1!) and then promptly forgotten all about.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

Do you realize how painful a question this is? You’re killing me. Five?! Geez louise. Alright, here we go:

The Quran, as edited by Abduallah Yusuf Ali, because I agree with Baji – footnotes are a good thing. And I haven’t read the entire Quran in translation nearly enough times yet.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle. If there was one single book that helped me survive eighteen months in Pakistan (ten years ago) with limited reading material in English, this was it. My brother and I swapped it back and forth and discussed each story in detail, endlessly. Not to mention all the times the binding started coming apart and I had to keep gluing the pages back in. The brother still has it, because we’re all sentimental fools in this family. Hardcovered, four novels, fifty-six short stories, over one thousand pages… The island’s not looking so bad after all.
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. “The narrator is a downed pilot in the Sahara Desert.” Hey, if he can make it, why can’t I? It’s a simple, rich, and poweful little book.
Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales, by Ray Bradbury. Quantity and quality, all at once. I love this man. ‘Nuff said.
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, as edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell. As I mentioned recently, I love this book; it’s definitely one of my favorites. The funny thing is, though, that I keep re-reading the same poems and bits of prose over and over, so I definitely need a desert island in order to make it through the book in its entirety.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Baji is making this so difficult by already having picked the other bookworms I can think of straight off the top of my head. Who else likes books around here? Alright, here goes:

Najm: because my fellow vampire child was online really late the other night, and, in response to my interrogative inquiries [is this a redundant phrase?], he confessed it was because he had been reading a really good book. In my haste to go to sleep, I forgot to ask what the really good book was. I also want to know what all those other books are, the ones he’s stockpiling on his shelves but has never gotten around to reading in their entirety. [Dammit, kk beat me to this. I shoulda posted this deal last night instead of saving it as a draft. What was I thinking? Well, fine then! I’ll find someone else! So there.]

BAQ: because he’s a bookworm and I know it, and also because, as with me, conciseness is not his strong suit either, which means I’m anticipating a pretty thorough post in response, so I’m already rubbing my hands together in giddy expectation. Also because maybe this will give him a push to update.

Queen_Hera: because she is the absolute best QUEEN of books, and I can imagine her eyes lighting up at these questions, and only someone with such an enormous collection of books would appreciate my excessive nerdiness.

bki./: because he likes Eric Carle (which is always a selling point with me), but he clearly also likes a lot of other literary stuff as well, if his awesomely-composed “globalog” is anything to go by. Besides, he knows German. How many of you know German, huh?

Also, I’d like to cheat (and monopolize this quiz thingamajig) by saying that I’d enjoy hearing from the following people as well, if you’re up to it:

Yaser: because he’s blunt and straight to the point, which I think is an admirable quality and so I always always trust his book reviews.

Fathima: because I want to know what books are being read/recommended by someone who writes as amazingly as she does mashaAllah.

HijabMan: because I’m thinking it’s going to be good, unexpected, or, at the very least, definitely different and thought-provoking.

Sister Scorpion: because she reads everything. Also, because someday I would like to be as articulate, open-minded, hilarious, and talented (say, “MashaAllah”). So I gotta get a head start by stalking her bookshelves.

Knicq: because he needs to update that joint already, and nagging fellow ramblers is so much fun. Plus, he thinks I’m funny, for some reason, and I totally suck at accepting compliments, so this is my lame kindergarten way of responding along the lines of, “Thanks, I think you’re cool, too, so, Tag! You’re IT!” [Okay, kk beat me here, too. Ugh! Creeps! Crummy! I give up.]

If you absolutely love books and I’ve inadvertently left you out, feel free to participate. Let me know so I can add to my ever-increasing list of future books to read. On the other hand, if you’re not a bookworm at all, please accept my deepest apologies. We’re so outta control. I accept full blame.

for all my fellow bookworms. Check this: The 100 …

for all my fellow bookworms.

Check this: The 100 favourite fictional characters… as chosen by 100 literary luminaries [via Kottke]

Tin Tin! Dr. Watson! God! Jane Eyre! Paddington Bear! Antonia Shimerda! Anne of Green Gables!

(I think I need to expand my literary collection, is what.)

And, in response: Character witnesses, as chosen by Independent readers

Sidney Carton, Holden Caulfield, Tom Joad, Rebecca de Winter, Jo March, Atticus Finch!, Eeyore!

(Ditto the parenthetical confession above. Good lord, why haven’t I read barely any of the other books on this list?)

And: My anti-Hero (because the bad guys are so much more interesting)

Also, because I am now obsessed with the Enjoyment>>Books section of this site:
– Interviews with authors whose books I want to read:

* Nuruddin Farah
* Eric Carle (one of my very favorite authors/illustrators of children’s books)
* Asne Seierstad
* Sarah Vowell (a.k.a Violet Incredible!)
* Nadeem Aslam (“Most ordinary Muslims say, ‘We just want to get on with our lives. Don’t identify us with the fundamentalists.’ But it’s a luxury. We moderate Muslims have to stand up. As a child I was really frightened of the game Hangman. I was terrified that my not knowing the answer was going to get somebody killed. As a grown-up, I feel that a game of Hangman is being played on an enormous scale in the world, and that sooner or later I’m going to be asked certain questions, and if I don’t give the right answer somebody is going to get hurt.”)

Plus, an argument: Independent versus Chain bookstores

Knowing that life is life, not mood

I’m not too easily embarrassed. But I don’t need the drama of trying to use a credit card when I know perfectly well that there is no money available there for me to use, and I’m not the type of person who’s so mortified that I will offer the cashier, my companion, and the other customers in the line behind me an explanation as to why my credit card was declined.

So when, on my way out a bookstore the other morning, I swiped my debit card to pay for a pile of books and found it declined, I didn’t turn red or shuffle my feet apologetically or stammer a possible explanation for that unexpected turn of events. But I did raise an eyebrow and say confusedly, “That’s so weird. I know my deposit cleared,” because a quick phone call just five minutes beforehand had confirmed that I did indeed have money available in my bank account.

I was in the bookstore because I can never pass up the chance to duck inside one. And because I love bookstores and their wide floor-plans, comfy armchairs, café tables, window seats, and, of course, the endless array of bookshelves to wander through, fingers trailing along the books’ spines as I hold my head to the side to read the titles.

I really wasn’t expecting to buy anything, until I came across Tamim Ansary’s West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story, a memoir that my father had loved and made the entire family read and had raved about to friends and strangers for weeks afterwards. Turning it over in my hands to skim the back cover, I smiled to myself, remembering an email I had written to a friend in July 2002, soon after reading the book myself:

There is a passage in the book, where the author is talking about Pashto, and I was remembering your IM to me the other day that your friend dictated in Pashto. (Pashto is a kickass language, for reals.) I thought you and your friend might find this amusing:

“Pashto was the language of the ruling clan and the official language of Afghanistan, and no one was allowed to make fun of it or insult it. My father infuriated the authorities by going the other way. He championed Pashto too much, loudly proclaiming it ‘the mother of all the languages.’ He drew up lexicons of words in Pashto and other languages that sounded similar, and drew forced etymological connections. The name Mexico, he claimed, derived from the Pashto phrase ‘Maka sikaway’. Pashtuns, he explained, had discovered Mexico but didn’t like it, and when they came home, they told their friends, ‘Maka sikaway’, which means, ‘What are you doing? Don’t do that.’”

Isn’t that hilarious? I think the Afghani Pashto is a little bit different from the one we speak at home, because we would say it as, Muku sukaway. Or actually, in the real order, it would be, “Sukaway? Muku!” But that whole thing about “Mexico” being derived from Pashto just totally made me laugh, though.

I switched Ansari’s book to one hand, knowing that I wanted my own copy. Continuing through the bookstore, I stopped eventually at a table where books were selling for a fraction of their usual prices. I found a 2003 collection of Alice Walker’s poetry, Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth, and flipped through the pages for a few minutes:

Loss of vitality
Is a sign
Things have gone

It is like
Sitting on
A sunny pier
Wondering whether
To swing
Your feet.

A time of dullness
Sodden enthusiasm
This exists
At all.

The sticker on the back said it cost $5. I held onto both books and continued down the table, breathless with surprise and delight when I came across Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Fifth Book of Peace. Four hundred pages, hard-covered, for $5 again. Months ago, I had stood in a different bookstore as rays of late afternoon sunshine drifted across the carpet, having just picked out a card for HijabMan, and reading the first twenty pages of Kingston’s desperate rush into the Oakland-Berkeley hills in a failed attempt to save her home and her material possessions. Everything she owed, including the manuscript of her novel-in-progress, was lost as the hills were ravaged by fire in October 1991 just as she was driving home from her father’s funeral. I remember driving up through those winding roads with my own father soon afterward, on one of our endless trips to the Children’s Hospital Oakland, as he gravely explained to me about the fire, while I, ten years old and terrified of losing my home, gazed out the car window at the blackened hills I loved even then.

I had been sorely tempted to buy Kington’s book that first day I came across it, but I had had only enough money for one book, and that had to be The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, as edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell, for which I had been searching for days and had finally found on the bottom shelf of a bookcase, somewhere in my bookstore journey between the revolving card-stand at the window and Kingston’s book on the table in the back. So Rilke it was, an identical copy of the book I love, true to the original German and beautifully rendered into English with both languages displayed on facing pages, clean and smooth compared to my own mercilessly dog-eared copy, the perfect gift for a new friend who possesses amazing wisdom and clarity of vision and who was about to leave on an inspiring journey. And I don’t even give books as gifts. But that’s how perfectly fitting Rilke’s book was.

So that was all a few months ago. On this day, then, I had three new books picked out, which is usually enough to make me giddy, because that’s just how much a nerd I am. To celebrate yet further, I scooped up a few Lindor truffles from the little bowl at the end of the register counter while waiting in line behind a lady with two young children.

When it was my turn to pay, I piled the books onto the counter and laid my truffles next to them. I chatted with the girl at the register as she rang up and bagged my purchases, she asking about my headwrap and I smiling a lot because it turned out she was Pakistani and her name was the same as that of one of my aunts. And then, as mentioned before, my debit card was declined, much to my confusion. “That’s so weird though.” I swiped it again, and again the same. The girl looked apologetic. I shrugged unconcernedly. “Can I put these on hold and come back for them in the afternoon?”

“Sure,” she said. She grabbed a pad and pen to take down my name.

From behind me, I heard a voice say, “I could pay for those.”

I turned in surprise. The man behind me in line was perhaps in his thirties, and so completely nondescript that I cannot now remember anything about his appearance, except how very grim and solemn he looked.

“I can pay,” he offered again.

“Oh no,” I said. “I couldn’t let you do that.”

“I’m paying for my stuff anyway,” he pointed out. “I can just add yours to it.”

“No, really,” I protested, “Don’t worry about it.” He shrugged, still unsmiling, and I looked at him and the counter girl helplessly, torn between laughter and awkwardness and pure amazement at his generosity.

The girl stepped back from the counter, throwing up her hands in surrender. “I’ll let you two fight this out,” she said in amusement.

“Look, it’s okay, it’s not like it’s a hardship for me,” he said, holding up his hand, “I have a gift card, see?”

Oh yeah, I thought, I have one of those, too, suddenly remembering that the university’s Women’s Resources & Research Center had given me one the other day as a thank-you for designing and facilitating the women of color discussion circles this quarter. Flattered and touched at the gesture, I had slipped the gift card somewhere in my messenger bag and then promptly forgotten all about it.

I smiled and said out loud, “I really appreciate the offer, but don’t worry about it, I’ll be back later for all this.”

He stared at me for a second, and I was disconcerted by the juxtaposition of his gruff demeanor and generous offer.

“You sure?” he asked.

“I’m sure,” I said firmly. “But thanks so much for the offer. I do appreciate it.”

He shrugged expressionlessly, holding his hands palms-up in what could be construed as a gesture of defeat. Or an unsaid, Your loss.

“Have a beautiful day!” I said, moving away from the counter.

He nodded brusquely and turned away to place his books next to the register.

For a split second, on my way out the door, still moved by this unexpected kindness from a veritable stranger, I looked back to see him standing at the counter, face blank and eyes shuttered, and wished I had let him pay after all, if it meant he would have smiled.

from Ray Bradbury’s The Beggar on O’Connell Bridge…

from Ray Bradbury’s The Beggar on O’Connell Bridge

The snow was falling fast now, erasing the lamps and the statues in the shadows of the lamps below.

“How do you tell the difference between them?” I asked. “How can you tell which is honest, which isn’t?”

“The fact is,” said the manager quietly, “you can’t. There’s no difference between them. […] So what does it prove? You cannot stare them down or look away from them. You cannot run and hide from them. You can only give to them all. If you start drawing lines, someone gets hurt.”


A moment later, going down in the haunted night elevator, I found the new tweed cap in my hand.

Coatless, in my shirtsleeves, I stepped out into the night.

I gave the cap to the first man who came. I never knew if it fit. What money I had in my pockets was soon gone.

Then, left alone, shivering, I happened to glance up. I stood, I froze, blinking up through the drift, the drift, the silent drift of blinding snow. I saw the high hotel windows, the lights, the shadows.

What’s it like up there? I thought. Are fires lit? Is it warm as breath? Who are all those people? Are they drinking? Are they happy?

Do they even know I’m HERE?