Literary Greats Always Cheat at Golf

Saturday, January 20, 2007

From Decent Background Reading to Sloppy Trash

One. I read Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, the inclusion of which is slightly suspect in a blog which is not supposed to be about schoolbooks. I wasn’t reading it for any specific project, however, just for background flavor, and it was written for layfolk so I think I can count it to the fifty.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the book, the prose is often overwrought (sandy locks on an impassive face blowing in the dusty wind style) and the tone has an arrogance that I’m uncomfortable with, but I almost always feel uncomfortable as an outsider studying a controversial region. I guess that’s what bothers me most of all. Friedman makes much of his discomfort as an American and as a Jew in Beirut, but, not to get all Saidish, he doesn’t do a lot to critically examine the ways that his view might be slanted or unfair. He acts put out when his credentials are questioned (I think reasonably questioned, why should the PLO, for example, have felt comfortable being represented to the US by someone unlikely to take up their part? They questioned him about his fairness, they didn’t shoot at him. Calm down T.Fri.) and he doesn’t present a complex picture of the individuals he encounters—his descriptions either lionize them or demonize them and I feel uncomfortable when it gets lost that the leaders of movements are, first of all, people, and will behave as people do. Perhaps a little more boldy or timidly than others, considering ideological constraints, but they will act as people do.


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