Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. He was the author of 40 novels, 350 short stories, and five plays. When I was in Palestine in 2003, I would read his Cairo Trilogy at night. Much later, when we were reading Arab Writers in Translation during and after the Arab Spring, we read his short novel, Karnak Café.
An interesting introduction to Mahfouz can be found in Mohamed Salmawy’s collection, Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001 (American University in Cairo Press, 2004). I recently completed a class during which we discussed the relationships among reading, remembering, and writing. One old-fashioned practice is keeping a commonplace book of significant excepts from one’s reading. The following passages from Salmawy and Mahfouz’s exchanges now make their way into my commonplace book, to serve as reminder, inspiration, and goad.
I have read voraciously throughout my life. Every time I was interested in a subject – and my interests were always diverse – I would read everything I could lay my hands on, however remotely related. I would go to the National Library to read the classics, and regularly frequented the bookstores that sold works in modern literature. I read novels, of course, but also history, philosophy, politics, science…. Human curiosity is limitless, but one life is nowhere near enough to satisfy it. 12
“Writing” – expressing my ideas and thoughts – is, for me, the moment when the ink begins to flow through the pen and onto the paper. I know of no other way. 20 Read the rest of this entry »