Book 36: Islam and the Future of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz

I picked this book up on a whim the week before my classes started (violating my no-buy for the third or tenth time) at the campus bookstore. It’s assigned reading for some lower level undergraduate class from what I could tell, (it seems to be a new requirement to take a course that helps acclimate you to college life via higher thinking skills etc.) and it sparked my interest.

I’m very much against the rampant Islamophobia that is sadly dominating American culture today, and this looked to be a brief discussion on the subject of approaching tolerance. I was, however, quite skeptical when I got the book home and read the back jacket only to find that the authors are “a famous atheist and a former radical,” seeing as how there didn’t seem to be any moderate viewpoint that would be expressed, but it proclaimed to “make progress,” so I decided to persevere.

The style that this book is written in is quite casual; it’s literally a dialogue between two men. There are footnotes to help make the topics more accessible to the average reader. It seems almost like the transcript for a talk show, aside from the footnotes. Harris begins by asking Nawaz many questions, and the dialogue continues.

Harris and Nawaz definitely have different backgrounds and arguments. They’re both published authors with books on their respective subjects, atheism and radicalism. I can’t help but wonder how the publication of this text affected their sales.

I definitely appreciated that Nawaz had the perspective of a former extremist. His experiences help put the theoretical extremist into a real view, and shows the never-ending cycle of change that we as humans go through. Though I was skeptical about the extremist vs. atheist dynamic, I can certainly understand how that sort of opposition would foster in intense and meaningful dialogue. Overall, I enjoyed Nawaz for his willingness to explain the difference between a Muslim extremist and a conservative Muslim, something that seems to be a common area of confusion for the masses.

Harris can come off as arrogant at times, and certainly speaks with a tone that leads me to believe that he’s a bit full of himself, but those observations are hinging on baseless insult so I digress. I specifically have an issue with his choice to often interject in the dialogue and over-explain Nawaz’s points and vocabulary; treating the reader like they’re an idiot is never the best route to take. If the reader chose this book, they likely knew the definition of the word “secular” and did not need a paragraph of Harris patronizing them with a definition. Keeping in mind, I read as a writer, and I call total bullshit on the approach used here; always trust your reader’s abilities to grasp arguments, understand jokes/symbolism/etc.

I also heavily disagree with his choice to call Islamophobia a “pernicious meme,” and can’t get past his choice to continuously argue the concept of “literalism” when reading scriptures. The pages that delve into this concept as well as the argument that follows are tiring; there’s no singular literal interpretation of a religious text and the concept that there is does nothing but validate the thought process behind the development of extremist groups, as Nawaz discussed at multiple points in the dialogue.

I definitely see Nawaz as the more valuable resource here; he has the background and lived experiences that Harris lacks. Harris has plenty of data, but still an overall etic perspective. Nawaz’s writing/speaking flows well, is based on fact and lived experience, though it doesn’t seem heavily biased.

The use of the term “reverse racists,” on p. 49 was quite confusing, and different from what I’ve heard before but all the same quite alarming. Its definitely not being used in the same context as the faux sociological term, but it still made me a bit info mortals. Nawaz later calls it “reverse bigotry,” which I find far more palatable. It’s also in this section that Nawaz somehow predicts the failures of the UK’s liberals (what now could be argued as having come into fruition through Brexit).

It’s a quick read coming in at 128 pages, and it’s a decent one at that. It also includes an index and a list of further reading, should the reader wish to continue learning on the subject and in hopes to better explain their stances. Both authors’ books are listed as further reading. I might consider delving into Nawaz’s book, but this is undoubtedly my last book with involvement from Harris.

I give the book a 5/10.

Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue

Happy reading,
Scarlett

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Book 35: The Best American Essays (2015) edited by Ariel Levy

This book has a fairly transparent title; it is indeed an anthology of essays from 2015, compiled for quality. They’re all quite good, some better than others. Though it’s certainly not a book I’d have picked up at random, it was a good one!

I was assigned this book for my CNF workshop, and luckily it was quite the pleasant read.Our assignment was broken up over a couple of weeks, so I started it before book 33, but I’ve just now finished it up. If you’re keeping up with me on Goodreads you’ve probably noticed that my currently reading shelf is a mess, and it’ll probably be that way for quite a while!  

I’m a huge fan of nonfiction, as I’ve mentioned here a handful of times, and though I usually go for memoirs I quite enjoyed several of these essays. Topics ranged from childhood, love, marriage and children, life and death, countercultures, near death experiences, and more.

A few of my favorite essays are as follows;
Tiffany Briere’s “Vision”
Meghan Daum’s “Difference Maker”
Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Crooked Ladder”
Margo Jefferson’s “Scene’s from Negroland”
Tim Kreide’s “A Man and His Cat”
David Sedaris’ “Stepping Out”
Zadie Smith’s “Find Your Beach
Cheryl Strayed’s “My Uniform”
Kelly Sundberg’s “It Will Look Like a Sunset”

I enjoyed most of the essays, even a few more than are listed above (some weren’t as public as the NYT, Guernica, etc. articles were, and some I didn’t feel quite as drawn to for various reasons). There were only a handful of essays here that I found to be lackluster, though most of them were probably just not to my taste.

There’s definitely a handful of essays here with feminist themes, but the whole book isn’t centered around it, so don’t get your hopes too high. I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of them, and if you’re into CNF it’s worth the price and time.

The Best American Essays 2015

I give this book a 9/10.

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 34: The Dogs I Have Kissed by Trista Mateer

This is a brief review because I am a little burned out on writing for the day, I’ve gotten over eight pages and three poems done today, be kind to my poor little fingers.

I fell in love with Mateer’s writing on the first page. Coincidentally enough, I started reading her work while I was waiting for a very late date (he showed up an hour and fifteen late, I’d already split to finish the book at home and brood).

Her imagery and emotion are incredible; if you’d like to know more about my favorite elements, you can view my highlights here. Her writing speaks for itself.

I’d definitely say that her writing has feminist themes; she writes a lot on sex, loss, and family.

The Dogs I Have Kissed

I give this book a solid 9/10, I would definitely recommend it!

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 33: Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara

This is the first of many course-required readings I’ll be reviewing here. As far as I’m concerned, if I read a book, by choice or not, it counts towards my challenge. I was required to read this for a poetry workshop, and I finished it up early to get a review up for y’all since it’s been a minute and I was a book behind schedule.

First of all, O’Hara wasn’t my favorite; he’s from the New York school of poets, which again, isn’t my favorite but is certainly well renowned and valuable. I generally prefer very current, young, more experimental poets, but that’s just my taste. I will admit, he grew on me through the course of the book.

Rumor has it that these poems were all written during his lunch break, and therefor titled appropriately. Many references to food and friends as well as common events around town lead me to believe that the rumor is true. This volume includes a few of his better works in my opinion, especially “Steps”.

Take a moment to read “Having a Coke with You”  and see how you like O’Hara’s style.

O’Hara’s writing is complex; he isn’t the most accessible poet, which is a large part of my problem with some of his works. He’s also a poet whose poems don’t always make sense, and that’s fine, but not my favorite. I prefer that creative writing be accessible without a literary background. Some of his poems contain stanzas that ramble, while some stanzas are incredibly constructed oddities. I particularly enjoy the second stanza of “Rhapsody,” for the surreal imagery and mythological components. It’s probably my favorite poem in the collection. In Lunch Poems I often find myself falling in love with a few lines and not loving the way that they relate to the rest of the poem. In some cases, however, the entire poem itself is quite moving.

O’Hara undoubtedly has a way with imagery, at times docile and intricate, at times quite gritty. “On the way to San Remo,” is especially gritty, but incredibly vivid.

I wouldn’t call this a feminist read by any means, so I’ll hold off and try to pick up something with feminist themes asap! I don’t have as much spare time as I had for the first eight months of this challenge, but I plan on keeping up my work regardless. I’m in the 30’s and on track thus far.

Lunch Poems

I give this book an 8/10.

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Announcing Book 31: Grayish-Black by Devyn Springer

It’s a true blessing to be able to review a book written by a friend, and Devyn Springer has been one for a few years. We met as students at Kennesaw State, and participated in some of the same student organizations working towards a better, brighter future for marginalized groups in our society. Aside from poetry, Springer works heavily within activist communities in Atlanta. He’s also a photographer; you can find some of his work at Urban Soul Atlanta, as well as between the pages of his stunning debut work.

As this is Springer’s debut collection, I feel especially privileged to have had the opportunity to read it and review it ahead of time. I received a document of the inner contents of the book in July and read it in August in order to provide potential quotes for his first printing. I’ve had this post sidelined until I was given the go ahead to post it last night.

The book was set to release on Amazon on September 1st, 2016. An interesting turn of events has lead to it being released today instead! 

Springer writes poetry that evokes emotion; his subjects range from race, gender, and sexuality to love, passion and many more. I truly enjoyed the collection, yet I saw a good bit of growing room in a few places. I expect that we’ll see quite a bit more from Springer in the future. There are dozens of stunning poems within the pages of this book, and they truly reflect his thirst for justice and change.

One unique element of the book is the interlacing of Springer’s photography; often self portraits and images that he has poured a great deal of work into. It’s rare that we find such a multimedia publication that doesn’t come across as somewhat trite, yet Springer avoids melodrama in most instances and interlaces beautiful photographs that encompass emotion as diverse as his writing. I especially appreciated that his photographs weren’t all self portraits, and that his inclusive strategy spotlighted women of color in multiple instances.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the few sketches and handwritten lines that Springer incorporated; I was reminded immediately of Rupi Kaur’s stunning illustrations and the incorporation of Tupac Shakur’s handwritten poetry in The Rose that Grew from Concrete. Organic is the first word that comes to mind here, as it should be.

The poems that he has titled have fitting titles, and those lacking titles don’t need them in most instances. I think my greatest critiques would deal with the overuse of the word love and the occasional cliche. In some instances Springer’s emotion was too forthright for my taste which in turn read as less organic than he is capable of. Still, I couldn’t put it down and read the entire collection in one sitting.

I give this book an 8/10 and look forward to more of his works in the future.

ISBN: 1534909613
ISBN-13: 978-1534909618

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 32: Love and the Eye by Laura Newbern

Wifi, sweet sweet wifi! Now I’m all settled in and set up in my apartment, wifi included. I’ve finally had a chance to slow down and read a bit since last week, and I’m bringing forth another gem for your (hopeful) consumption. Genre: poetry

PSA: I will eventually be working with Laura Newbern in my program; she’s currently on sabbatical, but there’s a chance she’ll be my thesis advisor. Fingers crossed!

I decided to pick this book back up after reading some of it before submitting my application to GCSU. Newbern’s writing is absolutely stunning, and just coded enough to require the attention that good writing deserves. She writes on topics across the board, yet the entire work comes together with a beautiful, languid flow.

Newbern’s line breaks were quite interesting, and I found that they truly stood out in several poems. In some cases they almost heightened the frantic elements, in others they slowed my reading pace and helped me to better appreciate her purpose.

If I had to choose a favorite poem from the book, it would be “Luscious Prayer,” hands down. The way that Newbern ties together religion, death, and lust in such a beautiful poem is entirely unique. “The Idea of Love,” is also spellbinding, almost haunting.

It’s a true pleasure to read work from someone who I might have the chance to grow under as a writer. I would definitely recommend her book, and any of her works you might find in various publications.

Love and the Eye

I give it a 9/10, (which is roughly the highest rating I give anything).

Happy reading,
Scarlett

cute lil update post

Today I got stuff done.

Lots of it.

I found my building (and met a few of my professors), got my parking situation all sorted out, read one of the many student publications I picked up in said building, and read a stunning book of poetry! I even got a couple of super rough drafts started.

I owe some of my productability to Starbucks; I still don’t have wifi at home, so I camped out here for a few hours in order to actually use my big-girl laptop.

Back to that book of poetry!

Book 31 hasn’t been released yet, and all that I can tell you is that it was written by a friend. I’m holding onto my review until the release date is set and I’m given the go-ahead to share it with you all. (Don’t bother checking Goodreads either, you won’t even find a hint.)

Expect my next review to be on the eBook I won this week.

Happy reading,
Scarlett