Spring of Alamuddin wrong end of telescope Now published in paperback from Grove Atlantic, so we asked him about writer’s block, best re-read books, and procrastinators.
How do you deal with writer ban?
I don’t, and I don’t want to anymore. Not unless I have an outside deadline, which I rarely do these days. I’m old now, a little tired (maybe even tired). I keep thinking about who said I should write every day, or that I should produce a number of books. Writer’s block seems to me such a masculine concept. You have to write, you have to produce, you have to work hard or else. Get an enema, please.
If I cannot write, it is usually because I have nothing to say, whether it is for a day or six months. Since I started writing, I’ve had many dehydrations, some of which have lasted more than a year. I was in great pain when I wasn’t writing. I don’t anymore, at least not often. Sometimes, I go back to saying “Oh my God, I don’t write. I’m such a failure,” but then I remind myself I’m a failure anyway. When I have something to say, I write. Otherwise, I don’t.
It took me so long to realize that not writing is writing what is day and night, and forgetting is remembering. They go together, intertwined.
The thing is, I write, I produce, and I work really hard. And sometimes I don’t. I try not to feel guilty about either of them.
Who would you like to read your book? (Your boss, your childhood bully, etc.)
Damn childhood bullies!
What I wish most to read my novel is a close friend who has not been able to read books since her husband committed suicide. She can’t focus. She was always an avid reader. It has stopped. I love her so much, and I feel that if she is able to read my last novel, that means she is on her way to feeling herself again.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
I have many answers to this question depending on what we mean by “book”. The first literary novel I fell in love with was amazing by Naipaul House of Mr. Biswas At sixteen. But the first novel was by Harold Robbins carpet At thirteen (best novel about masturbating while pretending to read ‘a great story, really’ ever!).
But my first love was earlier, when I was four, maybe five. I was with my father in the airport waiting room before boarding the plane from Kuwait City to Beirut. At the booth, I saw the first clothes-wrapped set of Superman comics in Arabic. I was an avid reader of comics, probably looking at them more than reading them. I remember that the seller told me the price was three dinars full. I ran up to my dad and he asked if he could buy the volume for me. Suggest that this was a lot of money. I asked him how much money he got. I remember him being very surprised. I asked him if he was earning 1,000 dinars a month, the biggest number I could imagine. I remember him telling me he did it as he started to smile. And I hit him with my grace. I asked him if he had won 1,000 dinars, could he not make me only three dinars. He broke out laughing, handed me three dinars, and I received my treasure that I had cherished for years until one day during the civil war, some militia broke into our house in Lebanon and we are far away. I hope another child would have loved her as much as I did.
Which book(s) do you re-read?
I am a reader who loves to read as much or as much as reading. I’ve re-read almost every book I’ve loved. The first time, I read for the pleasure of discovering something new. The second time around, to see what I missed (the more I liked the book, the more likely I was to get a little lost because I was affected by the story). The third time when I re-read to try to understand how the book unites. Sometimes, if I haven’t read a book in ten years, I will reread it because I would have forgotten everything about it!
Let’s make a list of books you’ve read more than three times. I’m making a long list, in no particular order, in hopes of enticing some of you to pick up some of my favorite books.
Vladimir Nabokov, pale fire
Vladimir Nabokov, lolita
Antonio Muñoz Molina, Sephrad
Olga Tokarczuk, flights
Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
Fernando PessoaAnd the worry book
Alexander Shimon, Lazarus Project
Patrick White Twyborn’s case
Marguerite Duras lovers
Marguerite Ursenaar, Hadrian’s diary
W.J. Sebald, immigrants
Leo Tolstoy, I’m Karenina
Claudio Magris, mini worlds
Zoe Wycombe David’s story
Emery Curtis, ignorance
Javier Marias, Tomorrow in battle think of me
Salman Rushdie midnight kids
VS Naipaul, House of Mr. Biswas
VS Naipaul, bend in the river
James Joyce Dublin
J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the barbarians
Zbigniew Herbert, Mr. Cogito
I’m sure I forgot some, and then others, like Toni Morrison lovable or Faulkner sound and angerI’m not quite sure how many times I’ve read – at least twice, maybe more, but I know I haven’t in a long time.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you do instead? What’s your favorite way to procrastinate when you’re supposed to write?
I’d be a lazy tramp, obviously. I’m just a lazy person who happens to write. I was born to a lazy bum. I have prepared my life on lazy bum as much as I can. Slow batting is my superpower. I can spend hours surfing the internet for no apparent reason. I watch Arsenal matches religiously and spend at least one hour a day reading football news. Hell I can watch football matches from Malaysian league, Iraqi league, whatever match it is on TV or online. I can binge watch bad TV shows without remembering anything of it. I can spend a day reading the best books or the worst books, but don’t make me shake my ass. The only thing that would get me moving was having to grab a quart of ice cream (I’ve been known to ride my bike to the store if I run out of ice cream).
I get to the point of being lazy before I agree to go on a date or have sex, I first decide if this guy is worth jumping in the shower for. I have a rating system that deserves a shower. Tom Hardy, for example, is 5/5, which means if Tom wants to have sex with me, I’ll quickly hop in the shower. (Yo-hoo, Tom, if you’re reading this, hit me up.)
wrong end of telescope Written by Rabih Alamuddin, available in paperback from Grove Press