Tell Me What You Read is a series of interviews with well-kenned folk in their professional domain, about how and what they have read in their lives has influenced them, and what has really got them grumpy.
Tell me which authors, or what reading, you can see now were influential in your life and career?
I do not have any favorite authors in mind as there are many of them whose works have inspired me in my life. I think one gets inspired by some wise or well-thought of statements found in different works but not necessarily the whole works of a famous author. For example, Shakespeare still makes sense as he has many observations on human behavior and nature that are still true, yet not everything he has written can be regarded as appealing in today’s standards.
Since I come from the Middle East, I’m inspired by some of the Arabic poetry of Nizar Qabbani and Imam Al-Shafia’i who both come from different backgrounds and time periods but sometimes provide important insight into human beings. Many of Noam Chomsky’s studies, especially those dealing with the media like Manufacturing Consent, provide interesting observations on the nature of propaganda and the inner-working of media organizations. Reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time at an early age made me question religious interpretation of creation and I started wondering about our place in the universe.
What or who do you read to forget about the world, to escape?
Since starting my academic career, I found it extremely difficult to read for enjoyment and to escape. This is a sad reality but the majority of academics I know face the same dilemma as they must publish or perish. I used to read for Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Iraq and his works, especially Love in the Time of Cholera, used to make a lot of sense. What is fascinating about Marquez is his love for details which makes you live in the fictional world he creates. I liked reading Colin Wilson, especially The Outsider, which became very popular in the Arab world after its translation. It deals with existential issues facing young people struggling to find their true identities and trying to understand their desires and sexual impulses and where they are situated in this world.
What reading do you choose for a long journey?
I would personally choose a book on Mesopotamian mythology. There are many reasons behind my choice including the fact that I’m originally from Mesopotamia, now Iraq, and that there are so many pieces of wisdom one can learn from people living thousands of years ago. The Epic of Gilgamesh would be my favourite book since it can also create many interesting discussion points with accompanying friends or family members on this long journey.
What was your last huge reading disappointment?
This mostly happens when reading a tedious novel when there are so many unnecessary details and probably repetitions. The reader might end up feeling that the plot slows down and/or that it is moving in circles. My huge disappointment is when reading a book by a well-known author but realizing that I have learnt nothing important or new.
And finally, what was your last happy reading surprise?
I think my happy reading is when I read some great and insightful works written by someone I personally know. It gives me a pleasant feeling that I can actually exchange more ideas with the author, and the experience makes me more engaged and constructively critical of the work.