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A civil war has been raging within Syria since 2011, gradually taking on a more international scope as it has overlapped with other regional conflicts and drawn attention from global powers. Reading about it can be a wrenching experience, with numerous stories of death and displacement, along with atrocities, extremism, and the legacy of authoritarianism all present.
What follows is a look at a number of books that explore aspects of the war in Syria from a host of perspectives. Some come from people who witnessed harrowing events firsthand; others provide a more distanced look at the conflict and its implications. If you’re looking to better understand what’s happening in Syria, from the war itself to its causes to its regional and global effects, these books can help.
Brothers of the Gun
Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple
Marwan Hisham has plenty of firsthand experience of the conflict in Syria, beginning with his participation in protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and continuing through his work as a journalist. For this richly detailed account of a nation at war, Hisham’s prose is accentuated by the striking, visceral artwork of Molly Crabapple.
The Way of the Strangers
Graeme Wood has written extensively about the Middle East and global politics for The Atlantic, among other publications. In his book The Way of the Strangers, he focuses on a narrative that dovetails painfully with the story of the ongoing war in Syria, exploring what has caused people across the region to become associated with the Islamic State’s oppressive regime. Wood’s narrative provides insights into the region’s politics and conflicts.
No Turning Back
Rania Abouzeid has written extensively about Syria for a host of publications over the years; in her book No Turning Back, she focuses on the human cost of the conflict. In his review of the book for the New York Times, Christopher Dickey noted that the book contained “a tremendous sense of intimacy with the victims and the violence that surrounds them.”
Few conflicts, global or regional, arise completely spontaneously, and the Syrian War is no exception. In his book Syria Burning, Charles Glass–who’s been writing about the Middle East for decades — delves into the causes of the current war and explores the implications that it might have on the region in the years to come.
The Home That Was Our Country
In her book The Home That Was Our Country, Alia Malek writes about an apartment belonging to her grandmother, which she traveled to Damascus to reclaim when the Arab Spring began. She offers a portrait of the diverse communities in the city around this space, tracing the societal changes in Syria over the years and decades.
For readers looking at the larger canvas of Syrian history, John McHugo’s comprehensive look at Syria over the course of the last hundred years will be tremendously helpful. In exploring this history, McHugo delves into how colonialism shaped the nation, Syria’s involvement in global wars, and a series of other events leading up to its present conflict.
Death Is Hard Work
Not all explorations of a war’s effect on a nation come through memoirs of sprawling histories. In Death Is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa uses fiction to show how war has affected Syria, blending absurdism and tragedy along the way. In the tale of estranged siblings attempting to bury their father’s body as a war rages around them, Khalifa offers a different window on the war, but one no less memorable.
Jonathan Littell’s Syrian Notebooks provides a firsthand account of the Homs Uprising in 2012, one of the key events in Syria’s civil war. The book that resulted is one that traces the escalation of a conflict, demonstrating how it evolved from a civil conflict to something much more expansive.
The Battle for Home
Syrian architect Marwa al-Sabouni offers a unique perspective on both the recent history of Syria and of the implications of the war taking place there. Her exploration of the architecture of Syria ventures into the numerous cultures that have thrived there, while also looking at how architecture might play a part in healing some of the wounds within Syrian society.
The Rise of Islamic State
Patrick Cockburn writes regularly about the Middle East for the Independent, and has written extensively about the region’s geopolitics. In The Rise of Islamic State, Cockburn explores the origins and implications of the extremist group that has played a significant role in the conflict. For readers looking to learn more about how this organization has affected Syria and its neighbors, Cockburn’s book offers a harrowing look.
Among the Ruins
Christian Sahner’s book offers a historical glimpse at Syria, written just as the nation’s civil war was beginning. Sahner offers a historian’s perspective on events, and brings in a sweeping view of the events in the nation’s past that have had a significant influence on the conflict going on there now.
When we remember renowned authors like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, or Henry James, we think of the remarkable works of literature they left behind – the author’s personal life and quarrels are usually left out of the picture.
But there’s a lot to be said about the relationships these great authors had, especially with one another. There were many heated exchanges between these literary geniuses, along with displays of childish behavior that are actually quite amusing.
Watch the video below to learn about the top five greatest author feuds, and why the conflicts unfolded in the first place – you’ll be happy you did.
In life, conflict is inevitable. This is especially true when it comes to authors, whose work often serves as an extension of themselves. Here’s our list of the top five greatest author feuds in recent history.
Number five, Henry James versus HG Wells. These two great artists started in good standing. Henry James, older and more established, initially praised HG wells as “the most interesting literary man of his generation.” As time went on, however, James became annoyed with Wells’ journalistic writing style, saying, “so much talent with so little art.”
In 1915, Wells published a satire Boon, in which he parodied James’ writing and depicted a paragraph of his as “a hippopotamus trying to pick up a pea in the corner.” Wells proclaimed that his writings served a purpose, and wasn’t just fluff. James clapped back that writing should be nothing more than an artistic process. Did you get all that? Me, neither. But you can read the full correspondence published in Henry James, A Life in Letters.
Number four, William Faulkner versus Ernest Hemingway in the battle over flowery language. At a lecturer at the University of Mississippi, William Faulkner accused Hemingway of being a coward, saying, “He has no courage. He has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.”
Then, Hemingway retorted with, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the $10 words? I know them, all right. But there are older, and simpler, and better words, and those are the ones I use.” The two never met face to face, and neither backed down from their opinions.
Number three, Ernest Hemingway versus Gertrude Stein. Gertrude Stein and Hemingway started out friends in Paris, reliant upon each other for critique and support. But when Hemingway was offended by Stein’s coined term, the lost generation, they quickly became frenemies. A rift developed, and Hemingway left Paris.
Stein published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which he painted quite the nasty portrait of Hemingway. In response, Hemingway wrote in his A Moveable Feast that Stein’s work contained “repetitions that a more conscientious and less lazy writer would have put in the wastebasket.” Sick burn, Ernie. The two never mended their friendship before death.
We can’t believe it either, Owen.
Number two, Norman Mailer versus Gore Vidal. A renowned instigator, Norman Mailer was known for physical altercations with many of his contemporaries, including Gore Vidal. After Vidal gave a bad review of Mailer’s The Prisoner of Sex, they were set to appear together on The Dick Cavett Show. Seconds before going on stage, Mailer assaulted Vidal with a head butt.
Shortly thereafter at a party, Mailer punched Vidal, knocking him to the ground. At this moment, Vidal is famously quoted as saying, “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer.” The two reconciled well before Mailer’s death in 2007. Yay, there is good in this world.
Number one, Mary McCarthy versus Lillian Hellman. Earning the top spot, this feud is one that brought a major lawsuit, illness, bankruptcy, and a Broadway play. In 1979, Dick Cavett asked his guest Mary McCarthy about the authors she felt were overrated. McCarthy called out Lillian Hellman, saying she was a bad writer and a dishonest writer. McCarthy went on. “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
The next morning, Lillian Hellman filed a lawsuit against McCarthy, Mr. Cavett, and PBS. The lawsuit alone destroyed Mary McCarthy’s finances, and diminished her health. But it never settled, as Hellmann died in 1984. McCarthy announced that she hadn’t wanted her to die, but rather to live so that she could see her lose.
In 2002, the late writer Nora Ephron wrote a musical entitled Imaginary Friends, in which it’s alluded that McCarthy planned the whole stunt on Cavett’s show, but this has never been proven.
Wow. That was enlightening, and maybe a little sad. But when you put yourself out there in any capacity, you’re bound to have haters. So let’s go make a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, celebrate what these authors contributed to society, and remember the words they wrote as examples of passionate lives lived.
The Oldest Public Library: The Bibliotheque de Paris (Library of Paris), combined with the National Library of France, is the oldest continually running public library. It dates back to 1368 (which makes this year its 650th anniversary!) when it was housed at the Louvre. It has moved multiple times over the past several hundred year, into ever newer and larger accommodations.
The Largest Library: The Library of Congress in Washington D.C., with more than 158 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves, is the largest library in the world. The library’s collection includes more than 36 million books and other print materials, 3.5 million recordings, 13.7 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 6.7 million pieces of sheet music and 69 million manuscripts.
The Highest Library: According to Guinness World Records, the highest library in the world is on the 60th floor (757′ 6″ above street level) of the JW Marriott Hotel at Tomorrow Square in Shanghai, China. Membership is available to the public and the 103 shelves in the library contain an ever-expanding collection of Chinese and English books. To walk to the library from the hotel lobby would mean climbing around 1,435 steps.
The First Librarian: The first librarian, or at least the first one we know about for sure (please forgive the uncertainty, he lived 2,300 years ago), was Zenodotus of Ephesus. He was a Greek grammarian, pupil of Philitas of Cos, literary critic, and Homeric scholar. All of that must have impressed someone because he was made the first official librarian of the Library of Alexandria towards the end of King Ptolemy I’s reign, somewhere around 280 BC.
We’re Everywhere: Think of something ubiquitous, a store or restaurant that you can pretty much count on encountering everywhere you go but the most remote and out of the way places. What’d you come up with? Walgreens? Starbucks? McDonalds? No matter what you thought of, there are probably more public libraries in the U.S. There are a total of 17,566 public library locations, including branches, across the country. And you are welcome at all of them.
For educational purposes and is a suitably respectful manner, of course.