Reading, reading…

04 Jul

Quite a curriculum now appears on my bookshelf, so it is time to catch up a little. But first, did you happen to see First Tuesday Book Club on ABC last night? It was most entertaining: Shane Maloney was hilarious, off to a good start when Jennifer Byrne addressed him in her opening as “Murray” (the central character in Maloney’s excellent crime fiction novels) instead of “Shane”! Maloney’s put-down of Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World was comprehensively bullshit-free: so refreshing! “Like wading waste-deep through kapok…”

Now some quick reviews of my own:

Appeal Denied by Peter Corris (2007). I do like Peter Corris, but then I like Glebe… (Australian crime fiction) I am not sure this is the best Cliff Hardy, but I had a ball reading it.

Losing You by Nicci French (2006). “Nina Landry is supposed to be taking her two children on a Christmas holiday today. But the road away from Sandling Island seems littered with obstacles. Most pressing of all, her fifteen-year-old daughter, Charlie, has yet to return from a night out… Minute by minute, Nina’s unease builds to worry and then panic. Has Charlie run away? Or has something more sinister happened to her? And why will nobody take her disappearance seriously?” Charlie??? (UK crime fiction/thriller) Pretty good: kept me reading, so I recommend it. Tries too hard in the strong female character department though; I didn’t quite believe the way the denouement was engineered either.

And now the big one: *** BEST READ OF 2007 Nomination***

For Lust of Knowing by Robert Irwin (pb 2007). Deconstructs Edward Said; there is an interesting review there from AL-AHRAM Weekly in Cairo. See also The fossils bite back in The Guardian.

I mentioned this book some time ago after reading an article by Irwin in Prospect: see Apr 7th, 2006. From that article in Prospect:

Arabs and Muslims commonly feature as terrorists, religious fanatics, drug dealers, pimps and so on. In the course of the last 50 years or so they have replaced the Nazis as hand-me-down villains. Films in which Arab points of view are realistically and sympathetically presented, such as David O Russell’s political action film Three Kings (1999), set in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf war, are hard to find.

The presentation of Islam by Muslim apologists, on the other hand, has little appeal for non-believers. In the 19th century, a significant sector of the British public read sermons for pleasure. Today’s readers have lost this taste. In any case, Muslim apologists tend to present current Islamic practice and past history as more perfect than would seem plausible to an outsider. Besides there are too many competing accounts of Islam in print—Wahhabi, Deobandi, Barelwi, Ahmadi, Sufi, liberal. As for journalism, its coverage of the middle east is crisis-driven, providing only a restricted context to the latest terrorist atrocity or rigged election. The longue durée of the middle east has been elided.

Orientalist writings, in the sense of books and articles written by academics specialising in Arab and Islamic studies, currently play a negligible part in informing and shaping public opinion. Orientalism is now a pejorative word and its practitioners have become losers in the politics of knowledge. Arabic studies has lost prestige and the resources devoted to it keep diminishing. In a debate in the House of Lords on 24th March 2004, several peers expressed disquiet at the way oriental studies and the teaching of difficult languages had declined in Britain…

I still don’t have a problem with the idea of post-colonial readings, but Said will never be the same again. I hate to say so, but Irwin makes his case very convincingly and very entertainingly. This book is actually much better than a polemic against Said — whose views on such matters as Palestine and music Irwin is at pains to say he does not necessarily disagree with — because it is actually better than Said, though, ironically (as The Guardian review said), the book would probably not have been written if it were not for Said. Thoroughly recommended. And I mean thoroughly!

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One product of Orientalism…

Bible reading

I am working through Numbers right now, up to the rather delightful legend of the reluctant prophet Balaam with his talking donkey at the moment, probably the highlight of the book. The Hebrew title “In the Wilderness” makes much more sense. It has to be said God behaves much of the time like a certifiable nut-case in this ancient text, even if the text itself is not nearly as ancient as many Jewish and Christian fundamentalists still manage to believe; at the same time the Exodus and the unaccountable wanderings portrayed in this book, which bear very little resemblance to what really happened, is still one of the great journey and liberation archetypes. By the way, I really can see why those who favour the old “God was a space alien” thesis (which I don’t believe for a moment) would take comfort in Numbers.

Check this interesting atheist post: Don’t Ask Me to Read Your Holy Book from which I borrow the following:


Except I would say, “DO read that holy book!” On condition that your brain stays in gear while doing so. God does not need our human delusions about infallible sacred texts — there are none, as all such texts inhabit the human world of texts and always have done — but we still need God, in my opinion anyway. I would even go so far as to suggest that God him/herself requires us to abandon the comfort of infallible texts and institutions, whose evil effects are only too obvious in the world around us. Some will find my views outrageous; others will find them disappointing as seeming not to face the obvious about God, however that concept is defined. At this stage, all I can do is refer you to my faith and philosophy links.

Irwin, by the way, is quite amusing on the sad effects of the quaint belief held by so many for so long that Hebrew is actually what God speaks — of course we now know He speaks English — and was therefore the First Language…

Some may be interested to know this too: Bishop John Spong is to preach in the 10am service at Pitt Street Uniting Church on Sunday 19 August. See also Common Dreams Australia.


I’ve been waiting for my first poll to reach a percentage read, and, for what it is worth, here it is. This may or may not reflect the faith positions of my readers…


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One response to “Reading, reading…

  1. Daniel

    July 5, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    I would probably fit into the Indifferent-Atheist category if there were one. I can’t be an Agnostic-Atheist because that is a logical impossibility. Though now I come to think of it, on some days I might be an Other-Buddhist!

    Hope this helps!

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