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Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. 2016. 144 pages.

After Trump won the election last November, I vowed to make 2017 the year of more diverse reading. Instead of just picking up my usual go-to, a memoir written by a foodie or a photographer or another creative type, I wanted to read books from different perspectives with a more historical or political focus. When I sat down in December to make my “2017 Reading List,” I added historical names, like John Lewis, and some more modern shakers like Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

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Muslim Girl is about exactly what the title suggests it would be about: a Muslim girl. It’s the story of how Al-Khatahtbeh grew up in a New Jersey suburb in post-9/11 America and how she navigated her faith through the rise of Islamophobia in the United States. I know this is a very touchy subject, so instead of getting into all of the politics of everything, I’ll just tell you what I took away from the book.

Muslim Girl wasn’t the best written book I’ve read, but the subject matter kind of makes the writing seem not so important. In a quick 144 pages, Al-Khatahtbeh takes the reader through her experience of growing up during and after 9/11 as a Muslim immigrant family, both in New Jersey and then briefly back in her father’s native home of Jordan. The most powerful part of the book, however, was when Al-Khatahtbeh first came back to the United States and she sat in the car with her father while trying to decide whether or not she would walk into her New Jersey school wearing her hijab despite the growing Islamophobia.

There were times I wanted more from this book, but I applaud Al-Khatahtbeh on bringing a voice to such an underrepresented group. Al-Khatahtbeh is also the founder of MuslimGirl.com.

Bridget's Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

What I Read In January

Not My Father’s Son. Alan Cumming. 2015. 290 pages.

This is the first book I purchased new from our local bookshop in Hoboken in a long time. I usually either visit The Strand in the city for used books or the Hoboken library to try and conserve some shelf space. But as Cumming’s memoir had been on my list since its publication, I figured it was a good book to add to my shelf between Conrad and Dahl.

The story jumped back and forth between present day and Cumming’s past with each chapter. Truth be told, these are my favorite kind of memoirs. I love when the writer tasks you with trying to make the connections of his life instead of simply telling you his own interpretation.

Not My Father’s Son was a fairly quick read about a young boy who was abused by his father and how that affected him and his family. It was also an emotional story of whether or not blood and bone alone is enough to make someone family. The continuous surprises will have you rooting for Cumming from beginning to end.

The most important opinion, of both my work and my conduct in life, is my own.
— Alan Cumming

Mutant Message Down Under. Marlo Morgan. 1991. 187 pages.

After I spent a month in Australia learning about Aboriginal culture from locals, I went to my favorite used bookstore in Syracuse searching for more information, more stories. Mutant Message Down Under came highly recommended from the man behind the counter and $4.50 later I was walking away with it tucked underneath my arm.

When I first bought this book, I thought it was memoir. After adding it to my Goodreads, however, I found that a lot of readers considered it to be fiction. And extremely racist fiction at that. I’m not sure if Morgan’s walkabout story with an Aboriginal tribe is true or not, (parts did seem exaggerated), but I enjoyed the story nonetheless.

For me, Mutant Message Down Under was a reminder of the importance for both the earth and our personal growth of living simply and within our means. It provided an interesting comparison between the Aboriginal way of life and the Western way of life. Do we really need all of these chemicals to heal or should we be finding more natural remedies? Are we taking the time to listen to the earth and the universe or are we shouting above it with all of our industrial revolutions?

You either have faith or fear, not both. Things, they think, generate fear. The more things you have, the more you have to fear. Eventually you are living your life for things.
— Marlo Morgan

How To Be A Woman. Caitlin Moran. 2011. 301 pages.

I usually just delete the many emails I get and scroll past the tweets I see about the x amount of books this type of person MUST read. But at the end of 2016, I slipped and read through a list of 25 Books Every Woman In Her 20s Must Read. Moran’s collection of life lessons on her journey of becoming a woman was on that list.

I had high expectations for this book. I love memoirs, and I love collections of essays, and I love women. The writing was witty and quirky at times, but it just wasn’t as serious about women’s issues as I would’ve liked. The only part I found Moran to be heartfelt about was her view on abortion.

Otherwise How To Be A Woman was just not my cup of tea. Too many sweeping generalizations about men, women, and society and not enough strength in her own views to get past all the clichés. 

I can’t understand antiabortion arguments that center on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain, and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.
— Caitlin Moran
This. From "She of the Mountains" by Vivek Shraya

"What do you like about me?

The question was unexpected. On its own, it implied an insecurity  forcing the other person to respond with a list of compliments:

You are intelligent,

      sexy,

      hilarious,

      adventurous,

      thoughtful...

Fishing was not her style, but before he responded he found himself envious that he hadn't thought to ask the question himself.

Everything.

He put his hand over her hand.

That's not an answer.

She pulled her hand away.

But that's my answer.

He didn't know how to say in words that she was the first person he had ever liked outside of his needs. He didn't like her because she was another person whose approval he craved or merely because she liked him back. He liked her for herself and everything she embodied.

But even more than this--before her, he hadn't known how to trust love because he had always had to work for it. Every smile, phone call, birthday gift, he had fought for. Put out his neck for. Stood in the rain for. Earned with muscle and memory. He noticed the details no one else paid attention to, remembered the occasions that everyone else forgot, weathered rejection or no response at all, found a void, and then found a way to fill it.

So when someone had said I need you, it just meant he had been successful. If they didn't need him, he hadn't bent low enough, gotten on his knees, and his skin hadn't developed the right callouses.

When they said I miss you, it just meant that they were responding to the gaps between his carefully timed, repetitive appearances in the inbox or on their doorstep.

And when they said I love you, he wanted to respond: You should. And then walk away. 

But not with her. With every step he had taken toward her, she had taken a step toward him.

His hand reached for her hand again.

No, really, what do you like about me? she insisted.

Why?

I figure if I know, I can keep doing it to keep you for as long as I can."

                                     ***