Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Language of Baklava

Last week I started reading The Language of Baklava, a memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber. Interspersed among stories about her Jordanian father’s obsession with bringing up “good Arab girls” as opposed to “bad boy-crazy American girls” are recipes for everything from “Barbaric Lamb Kofta” to “Mad Genius Knaeffa” to “Comforting Grilled Velveeta Sandwiches” to “Ful for Love”—she must be a Sam Shepard fan! I’m only a few chapters into the book, but it’s an absolutely delightful read.

Little did I know that Diana Abu-Jaber actually lives in Portland and teaches at Portland State University! Even better, coincidentally, she happened to be giving a reading tonight at the Kennedy School, mere blocks from my house. But it gets even better than that, if you can believe it! My friend P (who lent me the book) and I decided to first stop off for a quick dinner at Aladdin’s Café to get in the proper culinary mood with a plate of hummus and some grapeleaves—the best in Portland, not to put too fine a point on it.

Diana is just as delightful as her book. She’s genuine, self-effacing, witty, and down-to-earth. And she has a wonderfully expressive face. I loved the big frowny face she pulled as she read out the words, “bad, boy-crazy American girls” in her father’s accent. I’ll now hear that accent as I finish reading the book.

I love going to readings precisely for that reason—to hear and see an author read his or her own words, especially if there’s a healthy dose of self-irony and eyebrow raising.

I blew off yoga to go to the reading, and it was totally worth it: for the reading, for the pint of Nebraska Bitter,* and for the Q&A afterward during which Diana told a hilarious story about how her father “extended” himself to read her book and then yelled at her for portraying him as a “yellhead,” which, of course, is 100% accurate. (You had to be there, I guess, but trust me, it was a great story, especially if you have some sense of her father from reading the book.)

Ugh. I have no time to make this a more finely crafted post. I’m always more keenly aware of the gross inadequacies of my own writing when I’m coming fresh off of hearing a really good writer read, although Diana did say that the first draft of her memoir read like a 200-page mimeographed holiday letter that would bore everyone to death.

Two more days until the madness ends!

*I’m willing to bet that Portland is the only place in the United States where you can sit in the gym of a former elementary school and imbibe handcrafted microbrews, local wines, or snazzy fresh-sqeezed cocktails along with high cultcha. That’s why I live here.

Today’s NaBloPoMo blog: Somnambulist


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