I don’t want to write reviews here – just some short thoughts on a few books I’ve recently read.
“Foreskin’s Lament” by Shalom Auslander — I listened to the audiobook version read by Auslander himself. He’s like a cross between Philip Roth and David Sedaris. Seems like Auslander and I have drunk from the same spring. There were several moments in the story, which were, narrative-wise, similar to my story. For instance, in both mine and Auslander’s books there is an episode in which someone spills hot soup at the Shabbos table, angering the cruel father character. Scenes including watching people walk around the neighborhood on Shabbos. Where the protagonist doesn’t know how to situate their body. The strange feeling of breaking rules for the first time. while i didn’t write about it in my book, Auslander describes his preparations for and participation in his school’s blessing bee (bracha bee — like a spelling bee except students have to know which blessings to say on which foods). i also took part in a bracha bee in yeshiva as a kid and have my own story around that event. i can even remember which food stumped me out of the competition: Twizzlers licorice (i’d said the blessing was “shehakol,” but the main ingredient in Twizzlers is wheat (who knew?!), so the blessing is actually “mezonos”).
The point is, at first I thought, “oh crap. my story has already been written.” but as I continued listening, the differences and similarities came more into perspective. my story is very much NOT Auslander’s – his is the perspective of a straight boy, mine of a queer girl. while the world, the context is the same, the embodied experience is completely different.
I also just finished the anthology “Love, InshAllah: the secret love lives of American Muslim Women” ed. Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu. what an awesome book. important, relevant stories. we need this book not just because of post-9-11 American panic about terrorist threats and its oppressive effect on numerous racial and religious minorities, but because the contributors of this book help us understand the complexities and intersections of being independent, successful, baddass women AND being extremely pious women, devout to a restrictive, patriarchal faith.
My only complaint about this book is one I have with so many other anthologies, which showcase the experiences of a sub-sub-culture or group of people: the writing is mediocre. of course there were a few stories in the collection that stood out for their style as well as their content (Tanzila Ahmed’s “Punk Drunk Love,” and Melody Moezzi’s “Love in the Time of Biohazards” to name two). but for the most part, i was unmoved.
lastly, not having to do at all with religion (not exactly), i am about to finish Jeanette Winterson’s “Lighthousekeeping.” what can i say about it? Winterson is always a treat. she doesn’t just write about love. she makes you feel it: aching and rapturous altogether so you don’t know, at any given moment, whether to moan or cry.