'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

The books I've read

Best novel of the year: The Interrogative Mood

Best novel of the year:

I forget what I’ve read and that feels like letting friends die. Now that I consume words mostly via Kindle, it’s easier to keep track, but still, there is the odd physical object that crosses my eyeballs.

In 2010, the list will be exhaustive. For 2009, I’m remembering as best as I can.

Books are alphabetical by author and feature capsule reviews for each — as much for reader’s edification as for mine. (Memory aid and all that.)


-Chang, Leslie T. – Factory Girls

-D’Agata, John – About a Mountain

de Bellaigue, Christopher – Rebel Lands

-Hessler, Peter – Country Driving (Hand-delivered wisdom from a rapidly changing modern China.)

-King, Stephen – Under the Dome (Addictively shrill novel goes down in one gulp, gives nightmares.)

-Stegner, Wallace – Discovery

-Taylor, Kate, ed. – Going Hungry (Chilling collection of true and enlightening eating disorder tales.)

-Tower, Wells – Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – (Short stories so engrosing, they should be novels.)

-Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (What is America, on the page.)


-el-Aswany, Alaa – The Yacoubian Building (Pitch-perfect novel renders the heartbreaking conundrum of modern Egypt.)

-Auster, Paul – Invisible (Not his best, but memorably gross and engrossing.)

-Bolano, Roberto – 2666 (A masterpiece, among the five best novels I’ve ever read.)

-Bowles, Paul – Sheltering Sky (A bitter and disturbing desert classic. Essential reading.)

-Greene, Graham – The Quiet American (The tragic problem of being a westerner in S.E. Asia. I reread this at least once a year.)

-al-Hamad, Turki – Shumaisi (So-so translation of a cloying novel still packs ethnographic punch.)

-King, Michael – The Penguin History of New Zealand (Painful/hopeful, apologetic/ambitious record of world’s strangest nation.)

-Lawrence, Linda – Bold Spirit (Bad book, interesting subject: 1896 woman walks from Wa to NY.)

-Mantel, Hilary – Eight Months on Gazzah Street (In progress… more when I finish.)

-Matthiessen, Peter – Snow Leopard (A zen artifact read accidentally builds to a forceful climax.)

-Meyer, Philipp – American Rust (A lightning read feels amateurish upon reflection.)

-Munif, Abdulrahman – Cities of Salt, The Trench, Variations on Night and Day (Byzantine trilogy of novels is as spiraling as the story of modern Saudi Arabia it tells.)

-O’Neill, Joseph – Netherland (I’m surprising no one when I call this truly post-9-11 Britisher’s tale among the form’s best.)

-Pamuk, Orhan – Museum of Innocence (A mesmerizing saga of love in Istanbul that grows more wise in hindsight.)

-Powell, Padgett – The Interrogative Mood (A dormant PoMo lion returns with the year’s best novel.)

-Rich, Nathaniel – The Mayor’s Tongue (Well-bred wunderkind narrowly makes good of showy silliness.)

-Roberts, Russell – Down the Jersey Shore (Laughably fawning but studded with juicy facts.)

-Seabrook, W.B. – Adventures in Arabia (Almost too-good-to-be-true found novel in which NYC couple abandons W Village coffeehouse to trek Arabia. 1928.)

-Stewart, Rory – Places in Between (Despite annoying faux-modesty, walking book dazzles with rugged intelligence.)

-Theroux, Paul – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (Lazyish legend licks well-fed lips, content his notes better than your final draft.)

-Whitehead, Colson – Sag Harbor (A comic word magician at top of game tackles race in the ’80s East Hampton.)

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Filed under: Books, Entertainment, Riyadh, Writing, , ,

Five reasons New Orleans is the best city on earth

LONDON - OCTOBER 26: Drew Brees of the New Orl...

Rather than live in the 'burbs, like many athletes, Saints quarterback Drew Brees lives in a beloved downtown New Orleans neighborhood. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

A few years ago, I walked from New York City to New Orleans. Having arrived, bullied and broken, I came to know a city I never wanted to leave. For various reasons, however, I now live in the Middle East, as far from Louisiana in real and imaginary term as is conceivably possible. Which is perhaps why I was so moved by this fantastic article from ESPN magazine. (Credit to the incomparable Dean Ellis, who was really my first guide to city and also for pointing me to this piece.)

Stories from New Orleans tend toward insufferably cuteness and fawning cliche — just as they often give incomplete and misleading information — but this one gets it. Read the whole thing.

But if you’re in a hurry, here are five reasons there’s no place better:

1. People do things together

When the Saints played the Patriots on Monday Night earlier this month, 84 percent of TVs in town tuned in. Cops say there’s only been one murder during a game this year and calls to 911 emergency services virtually stop during scheduled play. Also, the whole town loves the great daily paper, which has a higher percentage of hometown readers than any other newspaper in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: New Orleans, , , , ,

My favorite American painter

<i>Frenching</i> (2007)

Frenching (2007)

Jeremy Willis’s paintings are a meditation on longing. And much of his work — a collection of oil-on-canvas paintings you can see at his New York studio, by appointment — actually depicts figures who reach out, who provoke the viewer. As a result, his subjects feel as if they long to be more than the sum of their parts — quite actually more than the body they inhabit. And like each of us, the figures Willis paints seem to be locked in a dim but growing awareness that having such hope is as foolish and endless an endeavor as it must and always will be.

<i>I Love You</i> (2008)

I Love You (2008)

But where is human history without longing? And where are any of us without someone to tell us what we want? Popular culture often imagines the best we can be, just as it creates new and limiting borders to the notion of what is civilized, to what is and should be desired. Willis’s paintings lull viewers into thinking that such idealization — in film, TV, magazines, and others — might even be something like a hopeful projection. But the paintings ultimately seem to flip that idea, arguing instead that such projections rarely stray from acts of vanity and/or cruelty. Nowhere is the tension between these two poles (adoration, hatred) seen more astonishingly and horrifyingly than in Willis’s depictions (of depictions) of sexualized men and women — sex being what humans are programmed to desire most, and what we connive most bizarrely  both to get and to prevent. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Santa, Glenn Beck, and David Brooks? They're all dicks

Original Bad Santa flipping the bird

Santa? He

An elite instructor of military cadets here in Riyadh forwarded me a question. Is Wikipedia a reasonable source for college students?

No, the teacher reasoned, but perhaps Dickipedia is.

Behold a selection of the website’s very important knowledge:

1. Santa Claus (also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and Santa) is a historical, legendary and mythical figure and a dick.

2. Glenn Beck (born February 10, 1964) is a right-wing American talk show host and a dick.

3. David Brooks (b. August 11, 1961) is a columnist for The New York Times, a commentator on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and a dick.

Among other notable dicks are Tom Brady, Muqtada al-Sadr, and The Pilgrims.

More entertainment? Don’t miss Photos of TV, by Mike Sacks.


Maybe you’ve seen one or both, but they represent two ends of the internet spectrum: Cruel and hilarious versus subtle and moving. Both are valuable, I suppose. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Christmas, Entertainment, Photos, , , , , ,

Who's up to old tricks in Copenhagen? The Saudis

Mohammad Al-Sabban has led Saudi's climate change team for years.

Mohammad Al-Sabban has led Saudi's climate change team for years. (Courtesy of IndyACT/Brianna)

For years, Saudi climate change teams had one move: They denied the science. Then, as world leaders began to accept the fact that people cause climate change, the Saudi strategy shifted. If the world is going to move away from oil AND require that we reduce our emissions, they reasoned, then top countries should pay us to go green.

It was an astounding gambit — the idea that one of the wealthiest countries in the world should get billions of dollars to reduce carbon emissions. But it was just that: a gambit.

The Saudi climate team — led for years by Mohammad Al-Sabban — has only one real strategy: do anything to stymie reform. Like U.S. senators who demand that 1,000-page bills be read aloud, the Saudi strategy has been one of obstruction, delay, and obfuscation.

And the so-called “climategate” release of emails, suggesting that some scientists suppressed research that humans don’t cause climate change, certainly hasn’t helped. Now the Saudis can mostly ditch the pay-up routine and are back to the old deny-the-science game. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Climate Change, Saudi Arabia, , , ,

Life in Tokyo is annoying and unfair

Night view from Westin Tokyo

This is true: Tokyo. (Image by Joi via Flickr)

This is the opening paragraph of a gorgeously bizarre story in today’s New York Times:

Life in Tokyo, as everywhere else in the world, is annoying and unfair. The good men are all married. Co-workers clip their fingernails at their desks. Laundry comes back from the cleaners still dirty. Society is too competitive. It is impossible to get enough sleep.

via Complaint Choirs Make Whining an Art Form – NYTimes.com.

Any idea what the rest of the story is about? It might not matter.

Reading the news doesn’t always have to be about gleaning facts and information. Sometimes it’s just the pleasing serendipity of paragraphs like this.

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Filed under: Journalism, Media, New York Times, Writing, ,

David Rees is unstoppable

David Rees is unstoppable.

Rees: Still getting his war -- with what? -- on.

After 9/11, when we were all flailing and searching for direction, I drank too much. We all did. We hand-rolled cigarettes, listened obsessively to NPR, and got really familiar with all the -Stans.

In the midst of all the epic Sy Hersh stories and On Point broadcasts from Boston, there began circulating these insane cartoons. Illustrated only with clip art, the strips were searingly critical, explosively funny — digs at us, at you, and at them. No cow was sacred.

The name of the new phenomenon was as strange as the content was sophisticated: My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable. We were entranced. Then suddenly it was Get Your War On. We still sought it out, even trying to make contact with the writer. Then just as quick, the work was appearing on the editor’s letter page in Rolling Stone.

We moved on. But the writer kept working. I lost track.

Now — and for some time — he’s lived on True/Slant, where his fiery production continues. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: 9/11, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Entertainment, Journalism, Writing, , , , , , , , , ,

NYT bosses should cover whatever they like — except puppies

Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, at ...

Bill Keller: presidents, not puppies. (Image via Wikipedia

When New York Times bossman Bill Killer’s byline appeared on articles datelined Tehran last spring, media watchers were confused. Was this hubris, a desperate and dangerous move for an embattled editor, or something more sinister? Or on the other hand, was it a laudable moment when the general takes the rifle from his private and hops over the hill to show his men how to fight?

Keller is a highly decorated reporter, of course, having filed definitive dispatches from among other places, Russia, which is where he earned his 1989 Pulitzer. But he also worked in South Africa, which is why we have this:

As president Mr. Mandela could be surprisingly approachable — he once allowed me, the New York Times correspondent in South Africa at the time, to shadow him during a day of his presidency, something I can scarcely imagine an American president allowing. But since stepping down in 1999, and especially since his memory began to fail him, he has become more reclusive, protected by a staff that worries he might embarrass himself. But he obliged Mr. Freeman.

via Film – Morgan Freeman as Mandela in ‘Invictus’ – Rugby as Statecraft – NYTimes.com.

It’s part of a lengthy film review Keller filed this week of Invictus, in which Morgan Freeman plays South African leader Nelson Mandela. I’ll leave the matter of his critical chops to the true film aficionados, but as a regular and eager reader of the paper, I feel justified in saying this: Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Journalism, Media, New York Times, Russia, Writing, , , ,

Checkpoint Qatif: Shoulder-to-shoulder with Saudi's Shiite minority

As many as 900 volunteers helped prepare for this year's festival in Qatif. (Image courtesy of Sanabes.com)

As many as 900 volunteers helped prepare for this year's festival in Qatif. (Image courtesy of Sanabes.com)

My blood went cold at the sight of the checkpoint to enter Qatif, the coastal municipality that is home to almost all of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority. Qatif — my wife quickly explained, seeing my discomfort as we approached the two officers in brown uniform — erupted in violent protests in 1980, just a year after Shiites launched a revolution in Iran and, closer to home, Islamists opposed to the Saudi royal family seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Today the region is home to both the world’s largest known reserve of oil and its largest crude production facility, which opened in 2004. Its Shiite residents, however, share in little of the resultant wealth: Qatif city has just one distant hospital, poor schools, and no skyscrapers. Violence flared again as recently as last spring, when residents rioted after Shiites and Sunnis clashed in Medina. The Saudi government issued a swift and harsh crackdown, arresting dozens of protesters and erecting new checkpoints. And journalists, diplomats and aid workers are typically discouraged from visiting. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Hajj, Islam, Middle East, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shiites, World, , , , ,

What you don't know about Saudi's Yemen war

Saudi security forces on parade

Saudi military might. (Image by Al Jazeera English via Flickr)

Look: You probably don’t understand Saudi Arabia. I barely do, and I live here. And that war with rebels in Yemen?

1. It’s not a proxy war with Iran. (Yet.)

2. It’s not evidence that Hezbollah is schooling rebels in Yemen. (Not intentionally, at least.)

3. It’s not an effort to root out “Al Qaeda.” (Riyadh is not D.C.)

Saudi Arabia is a wonderfully bizarre and surprising place. People drink Starbucks here, kids use iPhones, and the information minister has Facebook friends. Geopolitically, the big guys trade words with Tom Friedman and the military has expensive planes and big bombs. And when Saudi goes to war, just like when anyone does, there are refugees.

But the camps that house Saudi refugees, as my wife Kelly McEvers reports this morning on Morning Edition, aren’t what you’d expect.

Check out her NPR story. It turns out a Saudi refugee camp has air-conditioned tents, three hot squares, a freshly laid parking lot for residents’ SUVs, and pens for their goats.

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Filed under: Kelly McEvers, NPR, Saudi Arabia, War, World, Yemen, , , , , ,