Thursday, December 28, 2006

PhD Student's Vacation

(Click to enlarge.)

This is so true. This is a PhD student talking to his supervisor before going on vacation. You always think you're going to get work done when you go home, and you even set aside work specifically for the plane. But something happens the minute you board, and all your study plans get left behind on the tarmac. I brought two books with me to Kuwait. One really thick one, and one relatively thin one but it's in Arabic (so will probably take me longer to read). I borrowed both from my supervisor before I traveled (without any specific deadline to return them), and I thought they would be good to read while in Kuwait. Second week into my trip, and they are both sitting on my desk untouched. I better get cracking.

On the subject of books, I was pretty impressed with the Middle East collection at Virgin. You would never expect Virgin Megastore to carry some of the books they have, and it made me wonder who is doing their ordering. I was impressed to see a copy of Ilan Pappe's brand new book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, and also an important book called Saudi Arabia in the Balance: Political Economy, Society, Foreign Affairs, which I bought. I've never bought a book from Virgin that wasn't design oriented, let alone one that I would have otherwise bought from Foyles or Waterstone's in London. It made me happy. I hope they keep it up.


  • Hahahaha I know how that is! I brought four books back with me and managed to get through a whole one, but have been on page 110 of John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Affluent Society" for the past week! It's just so hard to read when you don't really have to! While I did do some reading on the plane, I soon opted for wine and movies (The Devil Wears Prada sucks; The Illusionist is AWESOME).

    I should check out the Virgin collection. By the way, if you have time you should try to get to the al-3ujairi bookstore in Hawalli (right across the street from Al-Nugra center). They have a pretty good collection of Arabic books on Kuwaiti history. Also, you should go to any That es-Salasil (there two in the airport and one in Salmiya that I know of); very good books there too! For English books, check out the bookstore in al-Muthanna's basement. Anyways, more on that when we meet on Tuesday. Have fun at the chalet! The weather is no good, but the sound of the waves is pleasing nonetheless!

    By Anonymous Boss, at 12/28/2006 9:17 pm  

  • I'm impressed that you managed to get through a whole book here so far. I did better last year. Last Christmas I wrote two essays over Christmas break, and did very well on both! This year I'm useless. All I've done is gain a couple of kilos! You've made me feel guilty. Tomorrow I start on one of my books. Oh wait, tomorrow I'm going to chalet. Screw it - fresh start after New Years.

    I took out my laptop on the plane to work on some notes, and then as soon as the trolley came out I gave up. I watched Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen. Both good, but the former was fantastic. Great soundtrack - mostly done by DeVotchKa (different from The Devotchkas), so you can't really go wrong. OK, this is a major tangent.

    I heard al-3ujairi had a good Arabic collection. I frequent That es-Salasil regularly but they haven't been getting much new stuff lately (and usually I can get the same titles plus all the good stuff that's banned here from Edgware Road in London!). The Kuwait Bookstore in Muthana is still the best. Hey, if you don't already own it, get a copy of Anne al-Bassam's "Footsteps in the Sand". It's a great layman's guide to Kuwait and Gulf history. For us (i.e. non-laymen!), it serves as a great quick-reference guide to check on things like names, dates, etc. I know Anne well and she really put a lot of effort into the book (nearly 6 years!) and it is very thoroughly researched. Glance through the Acknowledgements and see if anything stands out.

    Are you still at chalet? If so I'm impressed that you have internet access! We're heading out tomorrow. I hope it's nice and freezing out there. We have a fireplace and my trunk is piled high with firewood. S'mores are in order!

    As for Tuesday, I say the Red Fort should be on the agenda!

    By Blogger Kleio, at 12/29/2006 12:30 am  

  • A few of us went to Virgin...and things have changed. There are a lot of missing items. It seems as though there is a new crackdown by the Ministry of Information. Several items are banned.. :-(

    By Blogger Caffeinated, at 1/02/2007 9:35 am  

  • Caffeinated: Tons of items will always be banned. But what I was more impressed about was Virgin's choice of titles. Of course in comparison with other bookstores worldwide, their collection is extremely sparse. But in comparison with what Virgin used to be like, and with other Virgin Megastores around the world, it's a bit surprising. Most Virgin stores specialize in music, art, design, and pop culture books - usually best sellers and coffee-table books. They rarely carry many titles in politics, literature, critical theory, and cultural studies. Which is why I was surprised to see books like Edward Said's The End of the Peace Process, The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation and Identity edited by Richard Tapper, Tim Niblock's Saudi Arabia: Power, Legitimacy and Survival, Muslims and the News Media edited by Elizabeth Poole, and Simon Freeman's Baghdad FC: Iraq's Football Story all on the same table. And I don't think many Virgin Megastores around the world carry Marx's Das Kapital, as well as the range of philosophy and critical theory must-haves like Plato, Kant, Foucault, Derrida, etc. There were also a few books that I'm sure slipped right past the censors.

    The reason I specifically mentioned Ilan Pappe in my post though was because it showed that whoever is doing the book ordering for Virgin has a brain. They didn't just ignore him simply because of where he is from and where he teaches. They understand exactly who and what Pappe is and therefore ordered his books. So sure, Virgin will always have thousands of missing items - it is not a "real" bookstore after all, but I do have to give them some credit for taking a few steps in a positive direction.

    But no matter how much they continue to improve their reading section, nobody can deny the fact that Kuwait is in dire need of a really good, proper bookstore.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 1/02/2007 4:58 pm  

  • I agree with you about Virgin in 2 respects:

    1. There are titles that surprise me... It is like the censors do not read/understand some titles and that works out well for some of us :)

    2. Nowhere in the world is Virgin a proper bookstore.

    However, ours seems to be turning into a rental space. Their DVD collection is pathetic, as is their CD one. They have rented out space to anyone, which has basically turned it into a car dealership, mobile phone company, and electronics store. The layout is a disaster, too. Oh well... I guess it is not really their fault with the Ministry breathing down their necks.

    We do need a quality bookstore. But who is willing to deal with the agro of the Ministry's ludicrous meddling?! I tell you, few things irritate me as much as when people think they should dictate what is/is not appropriate reading/viewing material for me. It makes me feel like a child. I especially resent it since those doing the censoring do not share my beliefs/values and are often uneducated to boot!!!

    Do your reading NOW! I expect to be entertained in London next week ;)

    By Blogger Raine, at 1/05/2007 10:10 pm  

  • Yeah, I agree with you about the car dealership thing. I really don't like that about Virgin one bit. Also, most Virgins around the world sell electronics, but the one here is ridiculously expensive. Their CD and DVD selection is pathetic because I'm sure they cater to the local market. Their CD section actually used to be pretty good back when they first opened. But from what I've heard those sections weren't doing very well because everyone downloads music and orders DVD's online. So they've actually been reducing those sections drastically and that is part of the reason they are beefing up their book section.

    In general, Virgin is my least favourite music/DVD store. In London, if I'm gonna go for a "superstore" type of place, I'll go to Fopp first and HMV second. I will only go to Virgin if I'm in a hurry because there's one right down the street from my flat.

    The Virgin in Kuwait seems to be caught in a permanent identity crisis. But again, I think that's because it tries to cater to the local market needs/demands, and I think they've been struggling to figure out just what those needs are. And I think part of the reason for that is because the local consumer market is such a clusterfuck.

    But going back to their book selection - I think whoever is doing their ordering certianly has a brain, and is at least trying. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done (especially in the way they organize their books in the shop - now talk about a clusterfuck!). And because of the nature of what a "Virgin Megastore" actually is, they simply will never be able to really fill the intellectual gap that Kuwait so desperately needs. But, to me, it's nice to see at least four or five good titles where once there was zero.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 1/06/2007 12:58 am  

  • Oh, and about my reading. I've been doing some more these past few days and am getting back on schedule. Don't worry, you'll be thoroughly entertained in London next week! I'm so excited!!

    By Blogger Kleio, at 1/06/2007 1:00 am  

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