Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006

Wading Toward Home by Michael Lewis
Are Iraqis Optimistic? by The Lincoln Group
Room No. 12 by Naguib Mahfouz

As you can see, I've been a very, very bad girl. Within the past three days, I have devoured the last half of TBA Nonrequired Reading 2006. I read it so uncharacteristically quickly that I didn't have time to keep up with their respective blog posts. As a result, I've decided to be lazy and economical with my space by attemping to squeeze my thoughts on the final half of TBA Nonrequired Reading into one post. (Large inhale.) Here it goes:

"Wading Towards Home", another personal account on the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in New Orleans (and after reading the articles in the New Yorker it feels as if I've read many), is surprisingly original. It has added a new layer to my understanding of the tragedy by telling the story of the people on the other side of town, opposite from those in the Lower Ninth Ward, the upper middle class. I haven't read too many stories about the people on the dry side of the flood most likely because most of them weren't the ones sitting on their roofs waiting for rescue, or herded into sports centers or shipped out on buses.

What I also didn't know is that some of those who did stay (or in some cases, came back) were preparing themselves for the race war of the century. At one point a misinformed police officer advises his white friends, "If I were you , I'd get the hell out of here. Tonight they gonna waste white guys, and they don't care which ones." Another young man who has just flown in on a Russian assualt helicopter (where in the world did he get that thing?) says, "Hell, yes, I was scared. We didn't know what to expect. We thought Zulu Nation might be coming out of the woods."

Yet, in all of his travels through his middle-class neighborhood, Lewis never comes across a raiding, bloodthirsty black person and it doesn't take a genius to figure that what the young militant man really meant was that he was hoping the Zulu nation might be coming out of the woods. Then he would have had a reason to shoot, therby giving him an outlet for his repressed racist anxiety.

This anxiety seems to be the real subject of "Wading Toward Home". Lewis writes, "They harbored a deep distrust of their own city and their fellow citizens - which is why they were so quick to believe the most hysterical rumors about one another." However, Lewis is optimistic: "The ghosts have been flushed out of their hiding places; now there's a chance to chase them away, or at least holler at the a bit." I wish I could be as optimistic as Lewis. I wish I could believe that the floods exposed the nastiness hiding in New Orleans, which will then melt away like the water flowing back into the sea. I wish I could, but I don't. I will hope though.

"Are Iraqis Optimistic?", a newspaper article written by an American soldier posing as an Iraqi journalist who denounces terrorism and puts a positve spin on the Iraqi, is a part of a PR campaign sponsored by the Pentagon. There isn't anything surprising in this piece. In fact, once you know who's writing it, the article says everything you would expect it to say. For instance: "Our national wealth is once again our own, instead of that of a terrible dictator. Hundreds of thousands of satellite TVs are in Iraqi homes...most important, we can now practice our religion as we choose, whether we are Sunni, Shia, or Christian." Huh. No comment. The only thing surprising about this piece was its existance but, then again, even that's not a surprise - not in the world we live in today.

I'm not quite sure what I think about "Room No. 12" by Naguib Mahfouz. Its ending in certainly a suprise. Mass murder by drowning is not quite how I expected the story to fold. I suppose, however, when one considers the hotel manager, a man so in need of control that he becomes unhinged when he's presented with a situation beyond his comprehension and power, a situation which comes in the form of mysterious woman and a large party, the fact that he condems the party to death is not so much of a surprise. After he gives the order that the people in Room No. 12 should be left to drown, Mahfouz writes, "...he felt his great burden lighten, as his confidence returned with his clarity of mind." As it turns out, in the little world of his hotel, the manager is nothing more than a petty dictator and he acts the part to perfection.

Ok ladies and gents, it's getting late and I'm zoning out. I think this is as good a place as any to stop so I will. I promise I'll finish this post tomorrow. Until then...night, night.

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