Literary Links: Protesting Trump, Revisiting Rumi, and “Being Nice”


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. And since our audience (and we) love books in particular, we thought we would share a weekly roundup of some our favorite bookish writing from around the web. This week: there’s information on events that writers are planning to resist the ideals of Trumpism, a piece by Emily Gould about gendered personality expectations in publishing, an essay on the erasure of Islam from Rumi’s work, as it’s perceived in the West, and more.

Writers are planning to resist the Trump administration with a series of actions around the country in January. The flagship event in New York is sponsored by PEN America and features a star-studded lineup for a rally and petition delivery to the Trump transition team:

Award-winning authors Andrew Solomon, Masha Gessen, Laurie Anderson, Rosanne Cash, Jeff Eugenides, Amy Goodman, Jacqueline Woodson, Monica Youn, A.M. Homes, Moustapha Bayoumi, Alexander Chee, Michael Cunningham, and others will read from a curated set of diverse writings and seminal texts that embody the ideals of democracy and free expression including excerpts from the Constitution, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons, George Orwell’s 1984, the Federalist Papers, and other prose and poetry selections. Broadway Kids Against Bullying will perform the new single ‘I Have a Voice.’

There are more events happening nationwide.

Turning from the political to “the personal is political,” Emily Gould, writing at Buzzfeed, looks at the culture of female “niceness” in publishing — calling this behavioral norm “phony” and gendered.

So we bake cookies for our readings. We express love on social media for books we find to be only okayish. And once in a while, in person, we vent to each other about how we really feel, but instead of feeling relieved by these sessions I end up feeling disturbed. Not only am I a phony, so is everyone I know! And of course, these back-channel chats end up on the public record sometimes, undermining years of assiduous anodyneness. After all, the business of publishing is not about being nice, it’s about seeming nice, and no one is really that nice.

Hard not to see how relatable this particular sentence from Gould is: “While my literary heroes have always been the kind of women who don’t or can’t pander, I’ve never been able to muster that kind of courage or tunnel vision.”

And yet there are exceptions. Rachel Cusk has always been one of literature’s least pandering women — certainly she seems from afar one to be those formidable types Gould describes — and the admiration around her work is only growing. She spoke to the New York Times about her reading diet. She quietly savages male literary fixations in one of her answers, about her favorite literary heroes and villains.

I think “Jane Eyre” is probably the foundational heroine of ungirlish girls whose belief in happy endings insanely persists. Villains are somewhat thicker on the ground, though at a certain point male 20th-century writers took the novel off on a long — and what may now seem to be mistaken — pursuit of the ‘flawed hero.’ Rather than justify fallible humanity, we currently need our definitions of evil close to hand. Flannery O’Connor had the right idea.

For the LA Review of Books, R.O. Kwon interviews Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail author Kelly Luce on her first novel, Pull Me Under, about a girl in Japan who, in sixth grade, kills her bully, and grows up grappling with that violent outburst. The interviewer asks Luce — whose first book ventured into the uncanny — why she decided to veer from magical realism, to which Luce first rejects the term for her work, then says:

I also think it’s really hard to carry a magical-realist conceit through a whole novel, at least for me. There was so much that was surreal about Rio’s story, there was no need for anything else. It would’ve been gauche and undermined the whole thing. It never crossed my mind. So much of what drives my writing is the magic of the everyday, which I think is present in spades both in Hana Sasaki and in this novel.

Finally, the New Yorker published a piece by Rozina Ali about the usage of Rumi for aphoristic, generalized New Age inspiration in the West, and the erasure of Islam from his work therein:

Rumi is often described as the best-selling poet in the United States. He is typically referred to as a mystic, a saint, a Sufi, an enlightened man. Curiously, however, although he was a lifelong scholar of the Koran and Islam, he is less frequently described as a Muslim… Little trace of the religion exists in the translations that sell so well in the United States. “The Rumi that people love is very beautiful in English, and the price you pay is to cut the culture and religion,” Jawid Mojaddedi, a scholar of early Sufism at Rutgers, told me recently.