Brass Crescent Nomination!

Thanks to your support and input, I have been nominated for two categories in the Brass Crescent Awards: best blog and best writer! The polls are closing VERY SOON–just within the next couple of days in fact–so please take a moment to cast your vote and help me secure a win. Why? So I can go around saying I write an award-winning blog. So I can put that in a query letter when I’m submitting a manuscript to be published. So I can walk around in a little pink cloud of happiness that will inevitably evaporate when I start eyeing the next best thing.

But there are more reasons. Awards are important, people. Independent, self-founded awards like these are how activists, writers, and artists come into the limelight, how they get the attention they deserve. Awards are an invaluable form of exposure. They are a way to have your say on the Muslim content that matters to you. In a world where we have an established canon of “Christian” and “Jewish American” fiction but not its Muslim counterpart, where we have to explain ourselves before embarking on any narratives, where we are thought to be belligerent, misogynistic, and narrow-minded, it is so, so important to reward those who work so hard to change all that.

So be sure to vote. It doesn’t even have to be for me. Just go and vote. Let’s celebrate the Muslim blogosphere and show our support to the voices that mean the most to us, that come the closest to defining our spiritual experience in these times.

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On Reading Alif the Unseen

Image source: Amazon

Title: Alif the Unseen

Author: G. Willow Wilson

Publication Date: June 2012

Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Suspense

Source: eBook from local library

Please note that this book is a thriller-fantasy genre blend. I don’t read those genres, so I may not be the best judge of the book in that regard. However, there is a significant device used that led me to ponder the implications of reading this book as a Muslim. 

The book begins in griminess and heartbreak. Alif is an Arab-Indian living in one of the poorest districts of a large, nameless state in the in the Middle East. “Alif” is actually a screen name for his hacktivist activities, which involve protecting a variety of commercial and political entities subject to censorship by the state. He is betrayed by his lover and exposed to the Hand, the state’s digital security force and is forced into being a fugitive. In the process, a strange book is thrusted upon him. Titled Alf Yeom, or A Thousand Nights, it is a centuries-old narration by jinns that is transcribed by humans, imbibed with cryptic meanings, and, apparently, capable of elevating humankind to unprecedented technological heights. Or descent into complete chaos. As Alif struggles to understand the power of this book and out of the reach of the Hand, he finds himself in the company of jinn. Some of those jinn are helpful, others are mischievously vague, and some are outright demonic.

What I loved most about this book is how it enmeshes the spiritual and the digital. A toothless dervish blesses a USB key. A jinniya (a female jinn) who collects information in all forms tells Alif that “with the advent of what you call the digital age you have breached a kind of barrier between symbol and symbolized . . . it may mean you have grasped something vital about the nature of information.”

One of the most memorable passages in the book directly refers to one of the themes of this blog: living in strange times. A sheikh tells Alif that

We don’t live in ordinary times . . . I know it’s common for old people to complain about the modern moment, and lament the passing of a golden age . . . but in our case, my boy, I think I am not mistaken when I say that something fundamental has changed about the world in which we live. We have reached a state of constant reinvention. Revolutions have moved off the battlefield and on to home computers. Nothing shocks one anymore. We are living in a post-fictional era. Fictional governments are accepted without comment, and we can sit in a mosque and have a debate about the fictional pork a fictional character consumes in a video game, with every gravity we would accord something quite real.

I also adore Dina’s character and her embodiment of niqabi badass-ity. I’m still recovering from the the character Rabeya in The Taqwacores. Her bad-assity ventured too far near offensive territory. Hence, I needed another niqabi fictional character like Dina to counter her. I did, however, feel that Dina’s character development is a bit hasty (a concern I’ll discuss further below).

Dina gives Alif a searing critique when he suggests that they burn the Alf Yeom:

You can speak casually about burning the Alf Yeom for the same reason you’d be horrified if I suggested burning The Satanic Verses–because you have reactions, not convictions.

This made me think of how “Muslim rage” can be so reactionary, and the pitfalls of perpetual skepticism. Arguing for the sake of arguing cannot possibly be a sign of one with taqwa. Along with Alif, I felt that Dina called me out, too. (If you’re surprised by this, that’s because you have not seen the tiffs my mother and I have.) I was extremely humbled by this realization and am so glad that I could make such a personal connection to dialogue.

One of the turning points in the book starts with Alif’s realization about how he can penetrate the Hand’s digital fortress. This realization comes about—wait for it—when he hears the sheikh speak of how there are endless interpretations to the verses of the Quran, all existing simultaneously, without contradiction. What follows is a magnificent description of a two-day hacking session, where Alif’s creation is said to be a giant construction, and the Hand is anthromorphized as a beast. Wilson’s affinity for the comic book format, which often traditionally involve action and head-on battle with evil forces, are fully evident in this epic scene.

This book is best enjoyed as a fantasy/thriller novel, which means that it is more plot-oriented than literary. But I am not sure how I feel about some of the implications of that. For a nonbeliever who treats this book as a true-blooded fantasy, they may swallow this representation of other world of the jinn, hook, line and sinker. They temporarily suspend the outside world while living this story, and cheerfully put it away once it is over.

But can the same be said for Muslims?

When you are growing up in a Muslim-majority community, jinns are talked about in hushed voices, in a way that one might relate ghost stories with complete conviction. I feel that this attitude (although it may be more of a cultural than a religious attitude) is out of sync with the treatment of the jinn in this novel. In this story, a jinn is a being whose place of abode almost all of the main characters enter into fairly easily. They can be communicated and bargained with, even called upon in times of need. And there’s something a bit off about the nonchalance with which this happens. For an entity that we don’t have too much knowledge of, it feels as if the book goes too much into describing them.

As the sheikh in the book says, “We are not meant to fear [jinn] because they are powerful, but because we ourselves are so easily mislead.” Perhaps, this depiction of will unintentionally mislead us. While having living, speaking nonhuman characters works well for the purposes of a fantasy novel, it does not mesh well when it involves a fundamental article of belief. For a Muslim must believe in the jinn, whether or not she chooses to dwell on them.

Are the world of the unseen and its inhabitants something like what the author describes in this book? Are they an interplay between fur, claws, shadows, and smokeless flame? They vcould be. They could also be a thousand different other possibilities, all existing together, without contradiction. But I’m not sure we have the capacity to retain all those possibilities. We are beings who seek representations, generalizations. We drawn to depictions of people, places, and things from works that affect us deeply. (Try to think of the Titanic disaster without thinking of the James Cameron movie. Not easy, is it?) So it bothers me that the book has now given a concrete definition, a description, of the world of jinns. Will this mean that we will unconsciously start thinking that we have more knowledge of the unseen than we actually do?

I do want to emphasize that I am very, very happy with the subject matter of the book and cannot be more thrilled that some of the main characters in the book are jinn. What I can’t help pondering, though, is that they exist in the novel in between a fantastic and a matter-of-fact way while they should be more real. My personal preference would have been a magical realist treatment that takes this existence as reality, but that is a too tall an order for a book of this genre. Perhaps another more literary novel can attempt this treatment.

On a different note, I also felt that the character transitions of the female characters were rather abrupt and didn’t take place in a very organic manner. (If you have not read the book, you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid spoilers.) The impressions I had of them in the beginning and towards the end of the book completely changed, but there was too much happening in terms of plot for me to understand or fully process the changes. Dina, for example, goes from being a fiercely religious character who thinks The Golden Compass is blasphemous to a sharply-witted woman who easily lays out Alif’s lack of convictions. Intisar goes from being a brilliant scholar and an enchantingly and inaccessibly beautiful aristrocat to a hollow, selfish, and petty girl who refuses to marry Alif because she didn’t want to “not have nice things.” Even if Alif’s change of perception in regard to these two women partially explains their drastic transitions, I still felt somewhat cheated as a reader, as though I was never supposed to see the two women the way I did at the beginning of the novel.

This is a marvelous story, a highly recommended read for anyone even mildly interested in a fantasy novel with refreshingly original characters in a currently relevant political context. I cannot be more thrilled that the book has met with so much mainstream success. I love that these characters now exist in the literary world without apology. I love its recurring Islamic motifs and its relevance to the digital age. I was terribly morose when the book finished, because, for now, I’m not sure I can have a similar reading experience again.

On My Facebook Fast

Before, I never gave Facebook too much thought. I didn’t really understand how people found it addictive, as I found the interface terrible, the advertising annoying, and its more self-absorbed users to be overbearing.

But people change, and shockingly enough, I’m no exception. Over the past few months, I was becoming increasingly—and uncomfortably—aware of the amount of time I was spending on Facebook. It went further: it brought out a side of me I didn’t like, a side I didn’t like to acknowledge. I started to experience sadness, jealousy, and loneliness far more than I felt content and connected with others. It was just a tedious, energy-sucking tedium I could do without.

And then Ramadan came. I could quit Facebook and be virtuous about it! So I proceeded to do so.

It wasn’t as straightforward a process as I would have liked. I was the administrator for a group and for this blog’s fan page, and I had to hand privileges to trusted friends and colleagues. I missed out on a couple of event invites, but in two cases the hosts were gracious enough to make an extra effort and email me about them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit disconnected and out of the loop at times. However, that was alleviated when friends bemoaned the fact that I was missing, even for a short while.

What this Facebook fast really reconditioned me to do was not instinctively open it every time I opened my browser. That habit had become automatic, for I was used to firing it up in my browser without thinking about it. When I deactivated my account, my brain felt a little puzzled at not being able to do that anymore, so it found alternatives. I fixed up my LinkedIn profile. I followed worthwhile people and organizations on Twitter. (The effect of Twitter is nothing like Facebook because, based on how I’ve curated my ‘following’ list, I am informed far more than I am entertained.) I (gasp) even checked the news. I watched documentaries, managed to do some writing than I had done in the past few months, finished reading an epically amazing book—you get the picture, I had a swell time.

I’m back on Facebook, and I’m too refreshed from that break to go back to my old habit of being plugged into it all the time. Ramadan always leads me to improve my eating, sleeping, and praying habits, and I’d like to think that this time, that tendency extends to my use of Facebook as well. Now, I’m planning on being next to inactive, for inactivity means minimal notifications, and minimal notifications mean less of a reason to be glued to it.

I now also have this romantic notion of a life that is untethered to Facebook: outings, trips, and thoughts that are mine alone, that exist independently of there having to be an account of it online. I like to think that I have reclaimed my life events and thoughts as mine, not what they appear to others.

On the Ethics of Reviewing: A Report, A Response

Professor Linda Hutcheon recently gave a talk at the Toronto Public Library discussing the ethics of reviewing. Since I have a fairly unconventional approach to reviewing books, I was very interested in what she had to say. This post is a (not very brief) summary of Hutcheon’s richly nuanced and insightful talk and my response to it in relation to the book reviewing I do on this blog.

Hutcheon began by discussing some prolific novelists’ takes on reviewers and the reviewing process.

  • Virginia Woolf makes the distinction between critics and reviewers by saying that “The critic dealt with the past and with principles; the reviewer took the measure of new books as they fell from the press.”1 For her, this inevitably meant that the critic took their role much more seriously, whereas reviewers were pressed for space and were often in a hurry, not lavishing the kind of effort and dedication required for in-depth commentary. Hutcheon pointed out, however, that reviews were anonymous at the time that Woolf penned this essay, and it was afterwards that reviewing became professionalized.
  • According to George Orwell,

The prolonged, indiscriminate reviewing of books is a quite exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting job. It not only involves praising trash . . . but constantly INVENTING reactions towards books about which one has no spontaneous feelings whatever. The reviewer, jaded though he may be, is professionally interested in books, and out of the thousands that appear annually, there are probably fifty or a hundred that he would enjoy writing about. . . . The rest of his work, however conscientious he may be in praising or damning, is in essence humbug. He is pouring his immortal spirit down the drain, half a pint at a time.2

  • Kurt Vonnegut famous for saying that “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”3

Hutcheon then proceeded to lay out three broad categories of reviewers, defining them in ways that ranged from the highly practical to the highly amusing:

The executioner is the destroyer of reputations and of sales. They undertake conscious or semiconscious search-and-destroy missions sand establish their reputations by what they like or dislike.  Anonymity on the web makes this easier. “Less ethically defensible,” Hutcheon qualified, “but easier.”

The louse is a small, but still nasty and irritating threat. “Lice” include those who don’t put much effort into the review, at times merely recounting the book’s plot. The louse can also be a narcissistic replacer who insinuates that they could have written something better, or makes the review about themselves rather than the book. (Guilty as charged?) The most serious kind of louse, according to Hutcheon, is the one who claims fairness but carries some hidden agenda or conflict of interest.

The star maker is the reviewer who prides herself in discovering big names, often continuing to advocate for them. This is the place where reviewing and fan cultures overlap.

All in all, reviewers function as what Hutcheon elegantly calls “spokespeople for values of a community.”  They’re jurors rather than judges, and they are creators of educated taste.

Taste, a quality good reviewers are presumed to possess, is a curious thing that is not necessarily innate. To shed light on the qualities that comprise such an aesthetic sensibility, Hutcheon cited David Hume’s theory of taste. “Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character.”4 To this list, Hutcheon says she would add another important quality: a deep love for the art form being reviewed in order to “root the authority they claim to have as reviewers.”

Hutcheon said that as a professional literary critic and an amateur restaurant critic, she has an increasing interest in the revolution that reviewing is currently undergoing. She believes that there is is a consensus on the fact that people who follow and read reviews want the book reviewer to be as knowledgeable about books as, say,  a restaurant reviewer is about cooking.

But what are we to make of such a standard today, the heyday of crowdsourced reviewing, a day when when one can be a reviewers simply by virtue of having read a book? We now have the faceless sea of thousands of reviewers on Amazon and reviewing sites such as Goodreads and Librarything. The economic viability of professional reviewing is, well, no more: professional circulations are now scrapping their dedicated review sections, laying off full-time reviewers and contracting the work to freelancers.

Another phenomenon that’s come to dominate reviewing is the “positive cult of personality” of the reviewer, such as popular celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. Celebrities in any field are not only allowed to air their personal opinions; those opinions are validated by audiences because of their celebrity status. While this in itself is not a negative aspect, it still affects demand of expertise in the professional reviewer.

Publishers are now recognizing that respected and established bloggers are perhaps better vehicles of communicating the worthiness of a book than printed advertisements. However, Hutcheon notes that bloggers serve more of a “narrowcasting” rather than “broadcasting” function. The latter can be done only by means of a reputable and a widely-circulated periodical.

Now we get to the ethics part, or what I like to call the ‘shoulds.’ Recognizing that “all reviewing can coexist” while catering to different needs, Hutcheon believes that

  • Reviewers have a responsibility both to the reader and to the work, so they must ensure that their review is about these things and not about themselves.
  • Reviewers should acknowledge the place they are coming from. I take this to mean that since some degree of bias and one person’s certain experiences of a topic inevitably shape a review, the reviewer should be cognizant of that bias and address it however possible.
  • Brevity, cogency, speed, and wit are especially important in electronic book reviews.
  • The book and writer should be given the benefit of serious consideration as opposed to the benefit of the doubt.
  • The most valued reviews are those that provide added value about the author or subject(s) of the book.

So where does this leave me?

Do I have the credentials to do book reviews? I’m not quite sure an undergraduate degree in literature suffices, since literary theory can often cloud one’s discussion of a book’s subject matter. And I certainly don’t read, quantitatively, nearly as much as I should. Although life can feel awfully strange when I’m in between books, my love for books is not as deep as my love for worthy content. I’d rather read one obscure book and be changed by it for the better than read twenty bestsellers and have them not affect me at all.

I don’t give negative criticism for the mere sake of it. I feel a deep personal obligation to balance honesty with a sense of humanity and connectedness both Muslim and non-Muslim writers. If I find something outright bad (as in the case of Empire Falls or Twilight) I would usually put a two-sentence review on Goodreads, and leave it at that. Most ‘bad’ books aren’t worth my attention, and I’ll be the first to admit that if I find myself tempted to do an especially incisive review of a book I didn’t like, I’m far more likely to be using the book as a punching bag for other personal issues I am wrangling with. So tempting as it is to do negative-adjective packed, nuanced critique of why a certain character or plot line doesn’t work, I have to remind myself that I’m not in the business of breaking hearts or spreading misery. I also have to remind myself that karma can be a real bitch.

What I will freely and unashamedly take credit for is that I always honestly acknowledge the place I come from. I am guilty of making the books about me and sometimes meander into topics only tangentially related to books, but by doing so I try and demonstrate how a reader–in my case, a female Muslim who considers herself a global citizen–reads books and is changed by them.

A blog, while lacking the “broadcasting” element, serves as an excellent way of  exploring such a phenomenon. Since I’m not accountable to anyone but myself, I can “review” whichever way I please. And I daresay that those who read and follow me do so not just because they are interested in the books I review, but because they value my insight.

So perhaps I’m not a reviewer in the strictest sense of the term. I don’t really do justice to the book on its own terms. I cannot help but wonder, though: am I a changing breed of a reviewer, or am I something different altogether?

All I Know About Blogging I Learned From Here

Several friends ask me what got me to start blogging, and some who have been considering starting one themselves have asked me for advice. This post is a consolidated response to both queries.

Until very recently  I was anti-blogging for several reasons:

  • I didn’t think I had enough to talk about.
  • Even if I did, blogging seemed to require a considerable degree of self-absorption, and the thought of being a person capable of that has always been repulsive to me.
  • I’ll admit it: I was vain enough to worry about other people stealing my content and putting it out as their own.
  • I was wary of criticism, especially criticism founded on some assumption on what I am.

Nonetheless, I tried my hand at blogging a few times, but it didn’t seemed right. Every time I hit ‘Publish,’ I had this feeling that the world was doing me a favor by letting me have my say. Blogging is the thing that all aspiring writers seemed to do, were supposed to do, yet although I was going through the motions, I had no desire to share my work with others. I then stopped and paid it no more heed.

But then a series of things happened that completely transformed my approach to blogging. These things were:

1. Reviving the Islamic Spirit

When some of the most outstanding scholars and speakers are pleading with you to take charge of the ummahs future, it’s difficult not to take that to heart. I attended the RIS convention in Toronto the first and so far only time last winter, which was December 2010.

I went in a feeling a little lost, plagued by the feeling of purposelessness that pins one down when life isn’t dealing them any card of any kind. I didn’t have any grand aspirations. I went because I had never been. I went because it had been a long, long time since I had felt like I was part of a greater community of faith.

But everything those world-renowned scholars said struck a deep chord in me. That 9/11, tragic as it was, gave us an opportunity to show the world what we were really about. That it’s a time for change. That we need to garner courage and define a new, vibrant identity for ourselves.

A lot of people tell me that this enormous uplifting sense of inspiration goes away within days of attending a RIS. For me, by the grace of Allah, that inspiration stayed. It nestled and planted a seed in my brain that shone and started to grow. I knew I had to do something with my weird, idiosyncratic Muslim self. It was just a matter of finding out what that something should be.

2. Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It!

As that seed grew, something else happened. Having just found out that I was to be kick starting the ebook program at the small press I was interning in, I looked for ways to learn about digital promotion of the authors we represented. And so I came across and started reading Crush It!

Just a few chapters in, I had forgotten whom I was reading for. The book wasn’t speaking to me as a digital product marketer. The book was speaking to me.

This book lays out the steps to identifying your passion and building a platform based on your contribution to the conversation about it. It’s a guide to utilizing what the digital world has to offer.

I’ve always known the importance of going digital generally. What I realized upon reading this book was that I owed it to myself and the world to start blogging. And, more importantly, my blog couldn’t be arbitrary. I had to find something I was passionate about, something I could spend eons writing and conversing and reading about.

Not too soon after, I realized what it was I wanted to focus on. I had to write about books and faith. Religion and the writerly mode of being. Reading this book made me realize that I owed it to myself to make the most of this passion, and I finally set up my blog and started to publish all the drafts I had been writing. I could no longer be the quiet hijabi who happens to be a publishing intern, or a publishing intern who is a quirky and intriguing supplement to a book-lined office. I was tired of being an exception, of straddling two worlds I loved. I had to make them fuse, even if it was only through my thoughts.

The confidence that stemmed from this realization was staggering, and I was no longer afraid of sharing what I wrote in the vein of this passion. That, and realizing that sharing was just as important as creating, led me to finally set up my blog and publicize it through social media. Am I, as Vaynerchuck would put it, crushing it? Perhaps not. But I now am understanding what it takes.

If you don’t get around to reading this book, know its most important lessons are that you need to:

  • Find something you are very, very passionate about
  • Figure out what you can bring to the table in terms of current conversation regarding that passion
  • Find your form (blog, podcast, and/or video) and start churning out your content
  • Reach out. Join every conversation out there about your subject of passion.

3. Steve Pavlina’s post, How to Build a High-Traffic Web Site (or Blog)

My father forwarded this post to me not long after I started blogging, and I devoured it. Although Crush It! was an excellent guide in its own way, it keeps purporting the idea that the blog should be a means to an end, an end where some publisher comes knocking at your door, where you are called for speaking engagements, where you are officiated as a product reviewer for whatever it is that you love. Much as I respect the entrepreneurial spirit and the ethic of hard work, I’m not the sort of person who is driven by those kind of goals. I needed to be driven by something grander, especially since my area of interest was not quite monetarily lucrative.

Personal development guru Pavlina, like Vaynerchuck, also became successful by virtue of having highly lucrative online content. The meaning he gives to how this process happened, however, is something that greatly resonated with me. I needed to be told that the length of my posts, their frequency, this whole keyword and SEO nonsense, makes no difference in the long run. If content is good enough, if you are passionate, if you have something startlingly unique and timeless to offer, the word of mouth is more than enough.

And a genuine desire to help, to be a source of inspiration and insight, is what really makes one’s authenticity shine through. So does engaging with those who enjoy your content. I love pointing Muslims in new directions and making them think in different ways, but I’m too wary of the messiah complex to think that it all ends there. I have to keep seeking to learn from others. Conversation and meaningful engagement–including highly critical responses to my pieces–add to the process, not take away from it.

Plus, a genuine desire to help is not something that Muslims should have to learn. It’s something that should be driving them anyway. It’s not terribly hard, therefore, to do an Islamic reading of Pavlina’s post and apply it to help beget a spirit of generous honesty and bounty by means of collaboration.

4. Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on Nurturing Creativity

Every sentence Gilbert enunciates in this marvelous talk is a polished gem of wisdom. I’m not a big fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but after watching Gilbert speak about the writing process and the terrifyingly high bar she allegedly has set for herself, I found myself gaining a respectful reverence towards her humility, honesty, and sense of humor about her writerly self. I also loved the way she talks about her acceptance of the fact that she may never write anything as good. But most of all, I was struck by the beauty and incredible relevance of her proposal: that we look at the pitifully rare but much-needed depth of creative insight as a kind of miracle, a blessing from some grand, external dispenser of all creativity.

For me, the insights from this talk have become the antidote to the powerlessness I feel when the words don’t come. If they don’t, it’s up to Allah to do what He wills and I strive wait patiently, just as a person of taqwa is to endure with patience any kind of trial from Him.

I may not be a blazing genius or a writer with enough stamina to sustain a novel, but that could not matter less when the writing process is an end in itself. That such a thing was possible has in itself become a source of contentment. Just like one should be humble and simple in the clothes they wear and the food they eat, it really shouldn’t take much for a writerly Muslimah to find her grounding and to savour this process for what it is.

That’s why it’s more than enough to be living in a time where I have an unprecedented ability to be heard, to have even a handful of people read something I have written and have it resonate with them. I have a long way to go, and there are, I admit, things I want with this. But blogging is very much of a process as opposed to a means to a destination. It is a matter of finding bliss in the moment as well as the drive to excel further.

On Changing Gears: A Farewell to Publishing?

Publishing has been awesome. But it’s like it was too awesome to be true. It was like a love affair that, incredible as it was, simply wasn’t meant to last forever.

Something had to change, and my quarter-life crisis (Yes, I was having a crisis. I hid it so cleverly, didn’t I?) was about what that something had to be. Based on the paths I was considering and praying on, I was getting myself ready to write a post entitled either “On Changing Gears” or “On Selling Out.”  The latter post would have been if I became a slightly well-paid editor for the communications department of some big auditing or IT firm. Thankfully, I haven’t sold my soul just yet. So “Changing Gears” it shall be.

What on earth am I on about? I’m going back to school. This fall, I’ll be starting my graduate studies for a Masters in Information Studies from the University of Toronto.The reasons are several:

1. The need to broaden my horizons, career-wise. It’s really hard to find full-time work in book publishing. Internships are great, but after a point it’s hard not to start resenting oneself for being yet another overprivileged twentysomething working full time for a pittance.

2. My parents were hatin’ on me for being such a smart aleck and not having a Masters degree. That’s how awesome they are. That’s how blessed I am.

3. I do believe publishing is important, and books are too, and I don’t regret a single moment of the time I spent studying publishing and working in it. But let’s face it: the industry keeps failing the noble ideal of putting out authentic, original, quality content. Publishing is not dying, but it’s definitely flailing. There’s not only the transition to eBooks–there’s considerably shorter attention spans that cannot withstand the length of a book. Hence, there’s the decline of an audience of book readers as people turn online to be informed, inspired, and most of all, entertained. (I’ve talked about the irrelevance of traditional publishing from a writerly perspective here.)

As good as it feels to bash book publishing for not always being a good content filter and pruner, I don’t mean to pose my course of study in opposition to it. It’s about a blurring of boundaries, not a stricter delineation of those boundaries. Which leads to my next point:

4. Publishing is just one form of information dissemination. This reason was a huge factor in my personal statement for my application to the program. Nowadays it is much harder to be somebody because of writing something; one must be someone before they are published. Plus, forward-thinking people recognize that content-sharing is far more important.  And to be enrolled in a course of learning focusing on the classification of information has a thrill for me. I feel like it’s more relevant to the challenges we face today.

Also, although I love books and have a genuine passion for the role of publishing, I sometimes feel like a fraud. I don’t nearly read as much as any publishing professional should. My tastes aren’t nearly as eclectic as a book nerd’s should be. This is an issue I have beat myself up about, but rather than continuing to do so I can extend my love for the books I do read to love for the process of curating information in general.

So. How will that change affect this blog, my online presence, in all its glory and tweetiness?

Some things won’t change. I’ll still do book reviews about Islam and do the Islamic slants on books not directly related to Islam. I’ll also keep talk about the writing and creative process, and strive to cover pretty much anything that has to do with Muslims and publishing. If my course of study lends itself to the nature of this blog, great. If not, no problem. I’ll simply be an information scientist by day, the ghost of my former bookish, writerly self by night. And if the impulse to go on a whole different tangent altogether is strong enough, I’ll simply start another blog, assuming of course that I decide that sleep and a social life is something I can do without. (Joking, of course.)

I may no longer be able to stay as current with publishing trends as I would like, but my foray into the industry has been more than worth it. I’m going to explore options in freelance manuscript evaluation and eBook creation, and I’m I am still very open to discussions and questions regarding publishing, especially when they relate to the word in a larger sense and not just its literal papered, inked, and bound definition.  What I wanted to make clear in this post, however, is from here forward I will no longer be talking about publishing as one who is currently in the field. I’ll simply be someone who has studied it and has had enough experience to have a good idea of where books come from.

Time to get back into a student frame of mind: assignments, readings, projects, late nights. I’m both nervous and excited.

Let’s see how it goes. May Allah pave the path for better things for all of us.

Adventures in eReading

I’m now going to now give you the eReader spiel: what I tell nonreaderly types what the whole deal is with eBooks and eReaders.

I could throw around some numbers about Amazon’s Kindle book sales trumping printed books sales and how industry experts project the phasing out of the mass market book altogether, but in doing so I would probably be boring myself more than boring you.

So I’m going to do something slightly different. I’m going to talk about my readerly experience with my eReader. Just to offer a glimpse of what the reading life is like with my device.

I often use my mother’s iPad, I’ve read on the Kindle, and I’ve played around with the Kobo, but at the end of the day I am more than happy with my device, which is a Sony Reader Touch Edition. I was prompted to buy it a year ago when I had a summer job at an educational publisher for which the commute via public transit was very long. I was tired of lugging around two or three heavy books at a time, and it is necessary for me to carry that many books because I never know what I’m in the mood for on any given day.

I was the first of my friends and family to get a dedicated eReading device, and no one was surprised. I’m very big on going digital. My friends crack up every time I insist that they send me e-cards only, that if they draw something for me they send me a scanned version of it as well, and that I don’t really see anything “endearingly personal” about receiving a handwritten note, as I’ll simply be too guilty to throw it away and annoyed at the prospect of finding a place to store it.

So it was only a matter of time before I jumped on the eReading bandwagon. And it’s been awesome. Here are the highlights from the year I have spent eReading:

  • I love the visual element of shelves filled with books. But I also really, really like it when when I don’t have too many things cluttering and taking up space in my life. So with an eReader, I started getting more exposed to and start reading all the possibly crappy books out there, and not even be worried about shelving it or returning it to the library. This experience is reflected in studies done on eReaderly habits: that people who are eReading are not only more open to trying out different genres; they are also read more in absolute terms.
  • A lot of books on things like relationships are not books I want to be seen carrying around, so my knowledge on how to handle men has increased exponentially ever since I bought my eReader. On the same reader, mind you, I also read more than half of Remnick’s epic biography of Obama. It was only out in hardcover at the time and weighs 2.5 pounds in that format. Had I not had it on my eReader, I wouldn’t have been bothered to carry it around and read as much of it that I did.
  • I look for content that speaks for itself. You know a book is good when you forget what you’re reading it on. In a weird way, I become a better judge of what’s good.
  • There’s not very many negatives to it, but there’s one downside with eReading that I experienced. Unlike printed books, I must admit that an e-reader does let you down. My battery is great and lasts me almost a week if I read for about 2 hours every day. But if I don’t get around to charging it, I do end up having it die on me and not having anything to read on the subway ride home.
  • Library eBooks are BRILLIANT. I’ve paid an alarming amount in library fines for printed books. An eBook that expires itself not only keeps me from racking up fines–it also pushes me to finish a book before it expires.

A lot of writers and readers are very spooked by the eReader revolution and dislike eReading. I sympathize with their attachment to physical books, but can’t help but notice that their reasons for sticking to printed books are not that practical; they are more romantic. eReading, I feel, has its own way of growing on you, and even if it doesn’t compare to reading printed books, it’s a whole new experience unto itself.

So what do readers think? Am I on to something here, or has my love for all that is digital gone to pathological extremes? Do you read eBooks, and if so can you relate to the highlights I listed above? If you don’t read digitally, do you think you will make the transition sometime? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!