Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Book Report

Remember in high school when you had to write a book report? Well, there is no way in hell I'm going to write a book report for you right now. I'll just write a little lazy list of some books I've read recently that you may want to check out.
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer. An awesome novel. Funny, deeply smart, about current art, older art, sex, love and death. Super gorgeously brilliant.

Then We Came to The End, by Joshua Ferris. I really liked this novel. It takes place in an advertising agency, but smartly, it does not go into the minutiae of advertising, which would bore people to tears (plus, no need since Mad Men). Instead, it chronicles the human and sometimes inhuman habits of office employees, hilariously, darkly, with great style, and more profoundly than The Office on TV. I was very impressed with this book. Ferris is a former copywriter who can actually write.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. A sweet, sharp, entertaining novel about the travails of an English language newspaper in Europe (obviously the Herald Tribune). It has some great moments and it is very fun and enjoyable, but given the hype, I expected to be more dazzled.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado. This is a memoir of a Jewish family exiled from Cairo in the 1950s. It is an incredible story, written without charm or style or grace. Still, Lagnado's descriptions of glamorous, cosmopolitan Cairo before the Nasser revolution and its incredible Jewish community gave me pangs of sadness at how much fabulousness was lost. It is an unbearably sad book, for the fate of the writer's family, the fate of the ancient Jewish community in Cairo, and the loss of one of the greatest cities in the world to xenophobia and intolerance. Countries that mistreat and expel their Jews are stupid. They may plunder the material riches the Jews are forced to leave behind, but they lose so much more. They lose a big part of their soul. This book made me realize the devastating loss of Jewish Levantine culture, something nobody in the Jewish world has paid much attention to. The history of modern Jewry has always been Eurocentric, perhaps because of the Holocaust, and because the pioneers of Zionism were mostly European, but the culture and the history and the heritage that were lost in all the Arab countries that expelled their Jews after the creation of Israel is irreplaceable and utterly, heartbreakingly tragic.
Let's face it: colonialism was very bad, for sure, but in places like Cairo, Shanghai, and Casablanca it was swanky and glamorous and fabulous. I wish I had been there.

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