Adventures in Reading


Nonfiction: Writing Women in Central America by Laura Barbas-Rhoden, 2003

“Weapons, plots, violence. Lush landscapes and guerrillas. Central America is a site of danger (again), but not because of its revolutions. The danger is in words–the words of women.”

If you’re interested in feminism, literary criticism, women writers, historical perspective, and/or Central America, Laura Barbas-Rhoden’s Writing Women in Central America: Gender and the Fictionalization of History is a feast of information on the Central American authors Claribel Alegría, Rosario Aguilar, Gioconda Belli, and Tatiana Lobo and how these women reinterpret history through their fictional works.

Reading Barbas-Rhoden’s book was peculiar as I’ve never read any of the authors she critiques, but I was very attracted to the subject matter and I enjoy reading literary criticism. Though people frequently ascribe a stark contrast between nonfiction and fiction, Barbas-Rhoden’s book explores how the novel disrupts and adds to historical narrative, and frequently expresses the the silent Other: often women and indigenous populations. (This idea actually played a large part in a paper I wrote about Jane Austen.)

Not being familiar with the authors that are discussed was a definite draw back in that I had no point of reference. On the other hand, Barbas-Rhoden introduced me to some great and thoughtful women writers from Central America.



Fiction: Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff, 2008
November 1, 2008, 1:57 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,

“One dude stood all afternoon at the buffet wearing just his boxers, licking the orange dust off barbecued potato chips. Next to him, a dude was scooping into the onion dip and licking the dip off the chip. The same soggy chip, scoop after scoop. Dudes have a million ways of peeing on what they claim as just their own.”

Terrible, terrible, terrible cover. As a reader I was immediately repulsed by the hideousness of the cover and I must thank the library for removing the jackets of hardback books or I’m sure I would never have given this book a chance. (Even looking at the image to the left has my eye twitching! Seriously, who gave the okay on this?)

The term “snuff” is usually used as a reference to violent pornography that depicts the death or murder of the subject, and porn being porn this subject is often a woman. In Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel Snuff , an aging porn star is attempting to break the world record by having sex with 600 men and resulting from a variety of concerns trepidation unfolds through most of the novel that this set could easily become a snuff film. Told through the voices of four characters, three men labeled as their numbers and the organizational guru Sheila, Snuff unfolds in the waiting room of the porn shoot.

I really didn’t think I’d be able to stomach this book at all because of political reasons, but I managed to work my way through and even finish the novel. And what is most curious is that with such a premise as Palahniuk establishes nothing much happens and the conclusion is just terrible. Now as I’ve said that I’d still like to chime in and say that Palahniuk seems (and is certainly accredited) to be a smart writer, but with Snuff the only reason I continued to read was because the random assortment of sex history and trivia ranging from famous pornographers to Hollywood actors of the silent and silver screen was kind of interesting.

Palahniuk briefly dabbles in the complexity of pornography, but it’s just… not very good. I did finish the novel and it was a quick (and thin) read, but Snuff is definitely a shabby read from who is usually described as a promising author.

Conclusion: Returned to the library.



Nonfiction: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD

Sourcebooks, Inc. kindly sent me a copy of the memoir In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed, MD, which was perfect timing as I had just heard Ahmed’s interview on the Diane Rehm Show and was quite curious about the book. Ahmed, “a British Muslim doctor,” is denied a visa to stay within the United States and quickly makes up her mind to accept a position in Saudi Arabia. Her memoir In the Land of Invisible Women offers a unique perspective of a western woman, professional doctor, and Muslim living within the kingdom.

I feel that most of what I know about Saudi Arabia has been my interpretation of evening news’ sound bytes. Via an original and interesting perspective, Ahmed takes the reader through her experience of Saudi Arabia, particularly in Riyadh [1], where she worked as a doctor for two years at the National Guard Hospital. In the Land of Invisible Women reads as a cross between a medical narrative and a memoir, and also manages to pursue two distinctly interesting themes: a western woman’s experience within the Kingdom and a lifelong Muslim’s interaction with more extreme forms of Islam.

My only complaint about the book regard some structural issues as some chapters read as disjointed. Assumedly the format is chronological, though certainly gaps of time are missing, but the reader at times is expected to make shaky leaps between one handful of chapters, for example, that focus on Hajj season to the next handful of chapters detailing Ahmed’s experience with romance in Riyadh. Relatively a minor distraction, but it did force me to wonder if I had managed to skip pages.

What I most appreciated about this book was Ahmed’s divulgence of her opinion and how she avoided becoming dismissive of other’s beliefs. The author is consistently willing to acknowledge the complex traditions and cultures that, for example, produce both negative and positive responses to wearing the abbayah. Nevertheless, Ahmed still beautifully asserts her arguments and confronts the anti-Semitism, the sexism, and the anti-western attitudes she experienced.

In the Land of Invisible Women gave me a lot to think about, and just not about the complexities of Saudi Arabia but also my country’s, the U.S.A., interactions within the Middle East.

[1] I now have a new appreciation for The Girls of Riyadh, a book I previously shrugged off as so-so pop-literature.

Other opinions: Book Addiction.

Conclusion: Available on Bookmooch.