Book and Compass

writing, reading, posing the occasional bad question

Temporary hiatus/cop-out due to excessive GRE studying — updates will return after 16 May.


When I understood space

I understood poetry.

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The Outdoorsy Reader’s Guide to Santa Barbara

I had the idea for this post a week or two ago, when I happened to be sitting outside in the objectively lovely Santa Barbara, CA. I like reading, but I also really like existing next to nature while I’m doing solitary activities, so I decided to put in a little legwork and add to my already decent list of nice outdoor places to enjoy a book in Santa Barbara. Someone has probably done this before, but I honestly just got too excited about the idea to pass it up.

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Book Review — Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street)

I have had a long relationship with this particular book. It’s not a short volume, with three originally separate novels back-to-back in the same volume, totaling about 1313 pages. My only comment, for people daunted by this number, is that the endeavor is entirely worth it.

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Book Review – Shaarawi, Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist

So I’ve been interested in Huda Shaarawi since I first came across a small reading section about her life and work in our Arabic textbook in college (Al Kitaab fi ta’allum al-arabiyya vols. 1 & 2 in the second edition, and Alif Baa for the alphabet, for those of you who are nosy). But the story of how she and another Egyptian woman dramatically unveiled when disembarking from a train in Cairo station upon returning from a conference in Rome really struck me for some reason.

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I know a girl

who is quiet

and beautiful.

She has a smile like an old lightbulb

burning low and uncertain

before firing into fearless brilliance.

Her eyes are wild and dark

and she makes me feel so many things

I have not felt before or since.

But I think that sometimes

inside her vibrant smile

and below the fathoms in her eyes

are wants she will not say.

I hope that one day she will find

the strength to call out for them.

And I hope on that day,

I will be there to give them to her.

Notes:Every few weeks or so we get tacky poetry posts, which are extremely fun to write. – B&C

Bar Study/Isolation

I sat silent, wondering what my life might be like if I were someone else entirely.

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why I want to write

It’s hard to write honest things. The blunt sentiments can only be really delivered by comedians, because coming from anyone else they sound like bad cliches and are not to be taken seriously.

They should be, but delivering “wisdom” with an air of authority is a guarantee that it’s not going to be listened to. Unless it’s from your mother, then you should always follow it.

The rest of us can only come at truth sideways, the way an actor sidles through the curtain between one scene and the next. We make the truth into an elegant riddle for the clever to pick at, titter about, and interpret. Better yet, we are expected to do so. No one expects a truth to be written outright, because no one thinks it possible. Truth is something that is arrived at — a personal experience only for those who are intelligent enough to see it.

We know things to be true when we experience them for ourselves. Not in the tangible way, but one is truly convinced of something when they themselves have arrived at that idea. Someone else could say all they like about the matter, even down to occult precision, but end to end advice is only taken (or not taken) based on a perceived truth of the matter.

The tangibility of truth varies between people, like most other attributes of life. Some abnormally intelligent beings can think so far ahead and in such broad scope that the truth of a situation or future circumstance can be entirely abstract but still as real and possible as their own teeth. Others want more physical proof, or cannot project forward and outward to the same extent. They tumble into their truths in the most physical way, which is often the case in film dramas or exciting novels. That is what makes their journey interesting — that they heed no warnings and bluster onward.

You are expected to approach with sincerity, but not forthright. To bask in the presence of a god but not to profane its person with your eyes or your words. Give praise in your rendition of moonlight on the ocean. Create a hymn in the form of a wandering sailor’s unrequited love. It is not for us to say “this is so.” Though it may be. That isn’t the point. Attack truth sideways, through metaphor and hyperbole.

That’s why I want to write. Coincidentally, that’s also why at one point I wanted to act (but that’s a story for another day). Because false things, while being at least a little true, can create for people a small new reality that alters the way they think and feel. Fiction begets reality, and loath are we to forget it.

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If you find the cool and steady light of morning
as a harbinger of dread things:

Consider the sky that burns with color after the sun has fallen below the earth,
and the peace of a star-lit night.

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Book Review – Hubert & Kerascoet, Beauty

As if I didn’t have enough nice things to say about Miss Don’t Touch Me, I at the same time came by a copy of Hubert & Kerascoet’s Beauty.

Quick summary: A plain girl makes a wish of a fairy to be beautiful, with unforeseen and dire consequences for her and everyone around her (essentially, there’s so much more but I’ll get to that).I have a couple moments during this review when I dont-quite-spoil but do discuss events or themes in the book that you wouldn’t know at outset. Be warned!

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