A slightly smaller turnout did nothing to dampen the discussion of the Brown Baggers’ latest book, House of Stone by Anthony Shadid. A two-time Pulitzer winner, Shadid reported for the Washington Post and later, the New York Times. Tragically, Shadid died in Syria in 2012 just as this book was being published. Some group members knew of his death before starting the book, while others didn’t realize until they read the afteword or glanced at the back cover’s author blurb.
Much of our discussion focused on Shadid’s life and work — appropriate for a memoir — and how that gave the book its unique character. Though American born and raised in suburban Oklahoma City, Shadid did not have such a strong separation from his ancestral culture that many second and third generation immigrants sometimes experience. He was surrounded by family with a transported (albeit understandably adapted), shared culture — so with possibly stronger ties to tradition. Shadid also spent 10+ years off and on overseas as a reporter, so not exactly just a tourist.
This also led to an interesting discussion regarding our own place and experiences in the world. We acknowledged also that living in the U.S. — both a privileged and relatively young country — means we are sometimes blind to what is happening elsewhere. Even if we know objectively what political or social changes are occurring, we have a difficult time processing how this impacts daily life or how conflicts through the decades and centuries can carry on in the background of civilian life. Other lively topics of debate were a perceived discrepancy between the work and effort he put into the house vs. his neglected first marriage as well as a review of the book that questioned his objectivity when it came to the intersection of Arab Christianity and Israel.
Group members also tended to prefer either the present-day sections or the historical family background, but it was a fairly even split! Much like Shadid, group members all brought their unique perspectives to reading this engaging memoir.
Join the Brown Baggers next month to discuss American Pastoral by Philip Roth.
Further reading and information:
For pictures of Shadid and the construction of his home, check out this USA Today photo gallery.
NPR’s Morning Edition also discussed the book. Listen here.
JMRL also owns a copy of Night Draws Near by Shadid.
Shadid’s obituary in the New York Times gives a good overview of his reporting career.