Wednesday 25 April 2012


(March 2012)

I really don’t know what to say about this. The only definite thing is that this book is gorgeous, inside and out. The publishers have given it a very worthy binding and the illustrations are beautiful - stunningly so. I’d love to get some of the original artwork, but it’s probably well out of my reach. As for where I stand on the rest of it, I’m not sure.
As I said at the beginning, these aren’t really reviews. Sometimes though a book demands to be more than a prompt for asides about my technological commute-occupier of choice. Occasionally, if I already have a pretty strong idea about what I want to say, I'll have a look at some other reviews and see how they match up. It’s partly why I went to town a bit on Loco’s book; lots of people were saying 'it makes you think,' but no-one seemed to be saying what it made them think in any depth.

I’ve avoided pre-emptive googling for this though. If I’m going to be uncertain, I should at least take ownership of that uncertainty. Habibi is set in a fictional Middle Eastern country with a name like a medieval Eastern European principality. And that slight note of dissonance continues to sound throughout the book. Lots of little things that don’t quite fit. A couple of snails boarding the Ark making wisecracks about being hermaphrodites, Issac and Ishmael’s absurdly comic of expressions of relief, and Noah the fisherman, who despite being insane has still somehow managed to construct a Heath-Robinson water purifier.

It's extends to content as well as tone. As those examples would suggest, religion, specifically the Abrahamic religions of the book, is a major theme, as are: race, gender, oppression, survival, sacrifice, motherhood, childhood, slavery, capitalism, modernity, tradition, numerology, calligraphy, environmental degradation, and sex. Let's not forget the sex. You're definitely not allowed to forget the sex.

That’s a big old list, and I think this is where the dissonance comes from. The net is cast a little too widely and a lot of little things, and a few big ones, wriggle through. The persistent cracks in tone make it hard to know exactly how straight to take it. It's the same problem as with meta-bigotry in comedy; you have to hit the spot every single time or it's just plain old bigotry. Given the pretty grim situations the two leads consistently get placed in, the ending also feels a little trite and sentimental.

It’s well worth reading, but I can easily see how many people might have serious issues with it. Which is perhaps exactly what ‘well worth reading’ should imply.


  1. "I’ve avoided pre-emptive googling for this"

    A lot of people sound much smarter online than in person. Google and Wiki are thank for this.

    Information at the tip of anyone's finger is good makes you wonder how much of what folks say online was just "learned"? Does it matter?

    For a guy like me who used to wait like a rattle snake under a stone until someone wondered into "stupid, just said too much ville" kinda does. I have had talks about Obama with a person on F.B. "friend" and at my beach party he had no answers or opinions about shit he seemingly couldn't shut up about before.

    1. Knowledge is good. Of course easy access to knowledge is a good thing.

      But, I think one of the defining features of anyone who's truly expert in anything is a realization of how tenuous their knowledge really is. The danger lies not in being smart or stupid, necessarily, but in thinking you understand more than you really do.

      I honestly think the world would be a much better place if more people were comfortable saying 'I don't know about this'.

  2.'s two.

    One. Loco's book (more the writing before) has made me think. That's why I'm halfway through a second (or is it a third?) time and being patient with finishing my thoughts as something that will end up looking less like a book review and more like part of a discussion.

    Two. This is related to one. I just read Anderson's Irony Maiden (the last link in your post) and now realize I might 'get' too much. Only, I'm not a connoisseur of the think that spawns PC culture. The piece was fun to read, the mental net snagging key words: meta-bigotry (perhaps for the meta-cogs?), confusion, pathological sincerity, [expected] intuit, and peripheral.


    Race, the idea and all the noise around it, is something I can do without. While a significant mass may view this way of thinking as attempting a conceptual lobotomy, it's one of those quazi-concepts that the PC people (as well as the flaming racists) use as a convenient crutch for ripping each other apart; it's like people really do just want to fight. Personally, as a loather of crowds, I don't need another bad habit, but I don't foresee too many folks among the masses willingly giving up their addictions anytime soon. That's why time is needed to think through what I've gotten from Loco. I'm not sure I got what others have thought about, but I am keen on relaying what his book made me think (there is something there, it's just that I'm in a bit of a jam at the moment).


    1. "it's like people really do just want to fight"

      Yep. See also religion (since you mentioned addictions as well).

      I put up a defence of PC over at Chris's place last week. I really do think that people don't need excuses to act like arseholes. So many things act as crutches, as you say. So much of the stuff we use to form ourselves into tribes is completely neutral, but it's convenient for twats to hide behind when indulging their twattery...