I just listened to Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply as an audiobook on Audible. I’ve never listened to a full audiobook before, and I thought I would be easily distracted and unable to focus and follow along. I usually listen to podcasts while knitting, which I find works really well. But surprisingly, listening to Levy’s book was actually a really engaging experience. I was hooked in a way that I hadn’t quite expected. Much like a book you don’t want to put down, I didn’t want to stop listening. That, of course, is testament to Levy’s writing but also that — given the right conditions — an audiobook can offer just as immersive an experience as reading a book, perhaps even more so. I also listened to it on speakers so it felt like my space had really filled up with the words. As for the book — I like a lot of Levy’s work at The New Yorker, and this essay (which is part of the book) is incredible. I completely agree with this brief review by Roxane Gay on the Goodreads page - the writing is beautiful, but the last section of the book feels kind of driftless, which I’m not sure is because it is a memoir or just the way the book is structured.
Last year, the U.S. government released a list of video/film and book titles available at Guantanamo, in response to an FOIA request. The entire list is on GovernmentAttic here. I hadn’t looked at the entire list until now, and I did a double take when I saw Bakra Qiston Pe is available.
Carol Rosenberg’s incredibly invaluable reporting on Guantanamo includes updates on the library: Rosenberg reported that the library added Moana last July. In 2013, she reported on how censors did not approve a book by Noam Chomsky.
Last month, The Independent reported that Pakistani detainee Saifullah Paracha was refused permission to read a book about non-violence authored by family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks.
There’s also a tumblr of images at books at Guantanamo: http://gitmobooks.tumblr.com
For consumers of South Asian popular culture, here are some of the titles available at Guantanamo:
Bakra Qiston Pe – one of the standouts of Pakistan’s comedy theatre productions, the stage play is a classic, rife with sketches of a Genghis Khan-like character, a lot of Michael Jackson music and moonwalking and references to America, and some bawdy and stereotyped humor.
Fifty Fifty – An Urdu satire/sketch show, probably considered among the best shows produced in Pakistan
Taleem-e-Balighan – A classic Urdu play on school education
Bollywood Zero Hour Mashup – If this is the same mashup I’ve heard at workout studios, it’s not very good.
Something called Shahid vs Ranbir, which is what? A Bollywood face-off?
Desi Boyz (A really, really average Bollywood film)
Veer Zaara – A soppy, sappy film about an Indian man who languishes, forgotten, in a Pakistani prison for years, torn from the woman he loves, and is only saved when a lawyer takes up his case
Dhoom and Dhoom 2 and Dhoom 3
(and Chennai Express.)
Dil Se – a Mani Ratnam film about nationalism, insurgency, and love in India. (This piece by Daisy Rockwell on the film is great.)
Tremors – Every Pakistani saw this film in the 1990s.
In the library, along with works by Murakami, Nietzsche, Marquez, Mahfouz, Rowling are works by Saadat Hasan Manto (written as Minto in the list – one wonders if the letters to Uncle Sam are included?), Mustansar Hussain Tarar, and Khadija Mastoor.
Sex and the Single Girl was published in 1962. I first read it last year, and every few months I get back to it. I reread books a lot, but this isn’t the book I read to kill time before an appointment or eating alone. This is the book that I read when I feel uninspired and sad and in the opening-last-bag-of-chili-chips throes of misery, and every time I read it, I go away wanting to do better, be better, dress better, and to just get to work.
Sex and the Single Girl was revolutionary when it was published. But there’s still something about the book that feels startlingly different: that it doesn’t consider as strange or unnatural to build a life as a single person, a life for yourself, a life that celebrates the idea of independence, a life that is fun. The reason it feels new, still, is because it’s so imbued in practical advice. This is an actual guide; not the glossy version of single life, not the cliched parts, but the parts of SATC that were about the hustle.
Of course, Brown’s book is mired in the idea of getting — or at least, being appealing to a man — singledom with a view to getting somewhere. There are archaic, stereotypical views — particularly of gay men — and parts that will make you cringe.
But it’s the everyday routines where Brown’s advice on what to wear, how to decorate, how to spend, how to focus on work is absolutely fantastic. Sometimes I wish I could go back to my 18-year-old self and hand her this book. Brown’s advice is so different from the notions of indulgent self-care – sure, you should indulge in self care, but also do well at work. Brown is brutally honest – and right – about so many things, like byob – who wants a party where you have to bring things at? Or the merits of chilled rose – so far ahead of the last few years’ rose and frose trends. Or the joy of creating a jewelbox of a tiny, cheap apartment — more people, she writes, will say “That girl has the most divine apartment” than they ever will about a divine husband, which I would get inscribed on a t-shirt if I could. Brown doesn’t think it’s a compromise to live on a miniscule budget, but to feel pride in living within your means and having a career and to not feel shame or guilted into entertaining or dining out when you’d rather save it for the Balenciaga coat of your dreams.
Cupboards, she writes, should be almost bare: “Who are all these other people you’re feeding?”
Brown describes how she’d turn her ennui – once not being invited to a shower by a girl she’d apparently slighted – into opportunity, entering a competition (which a friend of hers had won previously, making her jealous) Brown doesn’t pretend to be immune from all the feelings that plague us – envy, jealousy, loneliness, exhaustion, weight. But she teaches something more important: that a single life is a great life. The fear of missing out is real, but don’t let being single — or being poor — make you think you can’t enjoy brunch. It is the life that other people should and do covet, not the other way around. And this is a lesson that’s perhaps even more important today, in a world of faux #goals (a word I have happily muted on Twitter and would on Instagram too, because in the immortal words of Chrissy Teigen:
Brown’s book is a compelling get your life together spiel. So: Why are you sitting around feeling sorry for myself? Why don’t you condition your hair and go out for a walk? Why don’t you drink a glass of cheap something and study up on your French? (Or Arabic or Farsi or whatever it is you’re doing?) What excuse do we have for sitting around and waiting for things to happen?