2017 Book List

One of my favorite parts of this time of year are the year end booklists that various sources, such as the New York Times, publish. I scour these to create my own list of books to read over break. Of course, I always end up with far more books than I can actually read, but I find some excellent books that I would not have read otherwise. I thoroughly enjoy having access to both the Norman Public library and the OU library, not to mention Interlibrary Loan. Here are some of my favorites from this past year, not ordered by preference:


Alif the Unseen: An absolutely amazing book set in a fantasy world inspired by the Middle East that involves technology, ancient books, political upheaval, and the world of the jinn.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore: A wonderful tale of books, technology, and quirky characters that several people recommended to me and that fully lived up to expectations

Miss Burma: Historical fiction set in Burma/Myanmar during the struggle for independence. I learned a lot about the history of Burma and the ethnic conflict that has erupted recently in the violence against the Rohingyas.


Vincent and Theo: After visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam a couple of summers ago, I wanted to learn more about his life. This book takes a very personal approach, emphasizing the relation between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo, based on the letters they wrote throughout their lives.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: An extremely moving story of Sherman Alexie’s life growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation and of his complicated relationship with his mother

Daring to Drive: The story of Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi activist who became a face of the women’s driving movement in Saudi Arabia.

Bruchko: The story of a missionary in Colombia and Venezuela who emphasized that conversion to Christianity should not require Americanization or Westernization

Butterfly Mosque: The story of an American woman (the author of Alif Unseen) who converted to Islam and moved to Egypt

Seeking Allah Finding Jesus: Nabeel Qureshi’s story of conversion, including his beliefs about Christianity when Muslim

Languages, Linguistics and Other Non-Fiction:

Diglossia and Language Contact: Language Variation and Change in North Africa: An indepth look at the languages spoken in North Africa and their influence on each other. I learned so much about the particular situations described and about language contact and diglossia in general.

Vanishing Voices: A saddening and inspiring discussion of endangered language in a historical and environmental context.

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: A well-researched analysis of the gospels in their historical and cultural context. I particularly enjoyed the section on Jesus and women.

The Secret Life of Pronouns: A description of a psycholinguist’s research into what people’s use of language tells about them. I was initially skeptical but his experiments were quite convincing.

Poetry Club: Fall 2017

This year, I participated in the Arabic Flagship program’s Poetry Club again. We had a small group, so we were able to hold the club more entirely in Arabic. Unlike last semester, where I memorized a poem by Ahmed Matar, this year I teamed up with another student to write and present a poem at the talent show. We wrote a story in the form of a poem, concerning the journeys of Ibn Battouta the Bat through the spider and dragon civilizations. The spiders love beauty and lies, while the dragons love fire and truth. Eventually the bat finds a world of bats that live in the forest, where there is both light and dark among the trees.  While the vocabulary and rhyming was rather challenging, I enjoyed it very much.

هذه السنة، اشتركت في نادي الشعر في برنامج الفلاجشيب من جديد. كان المجموع صغير، فاستطعنا ان ننقاش الشعر اكثر بالعربية. على الرغم من الفصل الدراسي الماضي، عندما حفظت قصيدة من احمد مطر، في هذه السنة انا وطالبة اخرى كتبنا وقدمنا قصيدة. كتبنا قصة بشكل قصيدة عن رحلة ابن بطوطة الوطواط في حضارة العناكب وحضارة التنين. تحب العناكب الجمال والكذبة وتحب التنانين النار والحقيقة. في النهاية يجد الوطواط عالم الوطاويط حيث هناك نور وظلام في الاشجر. استمتعت بكتابتها كثيرا


Rhiannon’s Flight

Rhiannon Mabinogi had always known she was beautiful. It had turned into a running joke in her family: their spaceship lacked a figurehead, and if Rhiannon was ever too sassy, some person or other would threaten to make her their figurehead. Not that she was ever worried – with her quick wits and tongue, there was little she could not get herself out of.

Image result for spaceship
Spaceship. Link.

Except her impending marriage to that baseless cur Gwawl.

Okay, so maybe he wasn’t really a baseless cur. Probably she had just been reading too many stories of her ancestral homeland. But she did not like him, and she certainly did not love him. At every port he called at he took the best of the planet’s resources without heed to the needs of its inhabitants. All he wanted to do was monopolize the space economy. And once he had blockaded the Mabinogi home port, there was nothing her father could offer but Rhiannon herself. Maybe baseless cur wasn’t too far from the mark, she thought as she adjusted her veil.

Now the Mabinogi were a proud bunch. As her father walked her down the aisle, he whispered in her ear, “Humiliate him, Rhiannon. Humiliate him.”

This she was already prepared to do. She activated the portal-maker hidden on the dress, and left Gwawl screaming at the altar. She went first to collect her pod and cloaking device, then took off through time to the land of her dreams, the ancient homeland of the Mabinogi, where the man who had enchanted her across the pages dwelt.

She calculated her course to arrive at the mounds of mystery, which the people of Dyfed believed led to another world. It was easy for her to cloak her pod so that it resembled a horse. She kept it at a speed just faster than whatever the speed of her pursuers was, until the king himself, Pwyll of Dyfed, came riding after her. He called out to her to stop, and she slowed.

“Of course I will stop. It would have been easier on your horse if you had asked me earlier.”

Image result for rhiannon
Rhiannon. Link. 

“Where have you come from lady? And what are you here for?” His eyes shown with wonder and admiration.

“From a land far away, a land of mystery.”

“You are indeed most powerful, my lady. What brings you to my humble land?”

“You, my king. I flee one I do not love to find the one I do, that I might marry him.”

There was no doubting King Pwyll’s response as he gazed at her. Gwawl would certainly come after her, but she would be ready for him.

Bibliography: Lady Charlotte Guest’s The Mabinogionlink.

Author’s Note: In the original story, Rhiannon comes from the Otherworld through a magical mound. She rides on a horse that is always just ahead of her pursuers, until Pwyll, the king, calls out to her. She is fleeing from an unwanted suitor and is in love with Pwyll. I liked her sassiness and wanted to give more of an explanation of her background. I replaced magic with sci-fi tech.

The Shrewmouse in the Land of the Dead

This story was originally written for my Mythology and Folklore class. 

The shrewmouse, Casrarer, had known, from its very first day on Earth, that he was made by Raven to bring cheer to the world. His lot was to rummage around in the grass, looking for worms and receiving praise for its fuzzy cuteness and little pointy nose. Casrarer thought that he had a lot to look forward to. He ignored the rest of Raven’s conversation with man, thinking it would be of little relevance to him.

Image result for alaska shrew
Shrew. Web Source: Mammal’s Planet.

Unfortunately, the world soon became in need of more cheer than he could supply. The animals he lived among began to disappear at an alarming rate, and man began to fill the tundra. Casrarer scurried over to Paugnar, the bear, to ask him what was going on. “Why are my friends disappearing Paugnar?”

“The humans are killing them for meat,” said Paugnar sadly.

“Oh no!” Casrarer squeaked. “Are we in danger?” His hairless tail quivered in fear.

“Not us,” Paugnar replied. “You are too small and cute, and I am too fierce.”

“But Paugnar, what happens to our friends once they are killed?”

“There is a land of the dead, inhabited by shades. Humans and animals alike will go there. Raven told me that humans will be judged for their treatment of us.”

Casrarer was glad to hear that. He decided that he wanted to see the land of the dead. Perhaps he would meet the shades of his friends.

That night, as he was dreaming, he thought that he had awoken in a new place. He found himself in a village that seemed to have no end, even for a creature larger than a shrew. He wandered around, looking for his friends, and saw some strange sights. In one house, women were beating other people with a large stick. He overheard someone say that these were the shades of dogs, who got their revenge on humans who had beaten them on earth. He supposed that man who had grass growing through his body so that he could not move had pulled up grass while alive.

Soon after, Casrarer did wake up. He was back in the land of the living, feeling relieved that there was a solution to Earth’s problems after death. In the meantime, he would just do his best to bring cheer in the midst of the suffering. He scurried happily away.

Bibliography: Katharine Berry Judson’s Myths and Legends of Alaskalink.

Author’s Note: I combined two stories to create this one. In the creation story, Raven creates the shrewmouse to bring cheer to the earth and the bear so that not all of his creation will be killed by humans. In the land of the dead story, a girl who dies explores the land of the shades. She sees the sights and judgements that Casrarer (which means shrew in Yupik Eskimo and is pronounced Chahs-rah-rayr) sees in his dream. In another story about the land of the dead, someone visits it in a dream, which is how I got the idea for Casrarer to visit it in his dream.

The Ustu’tli at the Museum

This story was written for my Mythology and Folklore blog

The Fernbank Museum’s new exhibit was drawing huge crowds, to the delight of their marketing manager. Who could resist the giant, nearly complete skeleton of a dinosaur that resembled nothing more closely than an enormous snake with legs?  Particuarly one that had been discovered in their same state, up in the mountains of North Georgia. Hunter, a 10 year old boy who lived nearby, certainly could not. He loved anything to do with skeletons and dinosaurs, and had been begging his mother for months to visit the exhibit.

Unfortunately, the same day that Hunter was planning to go to the museum, there was a solar eclipse. His mother told him to stay inside, as looking at the sun could blind him. The museum was not even going to be open to the public that day, so there was no point in going.

Hunter was heartbroken. His dream was so close, yet so far. He decided to sneak out of his house and keep his eyes fixed on the ground. He knew the way quite well, and the roads were eerily empty.

As he walked across Atlanta, he heard a very strange sound. It sounded like a deep, far-off ribbit. He cautiously looked around, but saw nothing. The day was growing darker and darker, until there was no light. He looked up and stood frozen in shock. The sun was not covered by the moon, but by a giant frog.

Image result for frog swallowing the sun
Frog swallowing the sun. Web Source: Fox23.

Hunter decided that presumably the museum would know how to deal with a giant, sun-swallowing frog, so he ran as fast as he could without tripping over branches and pine-cones. He arrived breathless, and slipped inside an open door. The museum exhibits were dark, and no security guards blocked him from the dinosaurs.

Somewhere in the museum, a small animal bleated.

The next thing Hunter knew, a thick, scaly body was moving past him. He ducked out of the way of a leg as it arched over him. Despite his terror, he suddenly realized what an amazing opportunity this was. An ancient, supposedly extinct animal had come to life before his eyes.

By this time, the museum employees had become aware of the chaos in the exhibit hall. “It’s an Ustu’tli!” screamed someone from the anthropology department. “It hates fire!” Another employee was frantically calling the police and the fire department.

Hunter ran around, chasing the ustu’tli. He knocked over a candle that had been lit in one of the offices, and fire began spreading around the building. The ustu’tli roared in pain as its scales began crackling in the heat. By the time the police got there, they were able to corner and shoot it.

Suddenly, the sky grew bright again. All the noise from the chasing and shooting of the ustu’tli had scared the frog away from the sun. Hunter slipped back home quite satisfied with his experience of the eclipse and the ustu’tli.


Author’s note: I based this story on two different Cherokee stories. One says that eclipses are caused by a frog that swallows the sun, which is chased off when scared by guns and drums. The other involves the ustu’tli, a large snake with legs which bleated like a young fawn to scare off hunters. One hunter dared to enter its territory and defeated it with fire. The mountain it lived on in the story is actually found in North Georgia, so I decided to set it at the Fernbank museum which is found in Atlanta.

Bibliography: James Mooney’s Myths of the CherokeeLink.

Tsunggita’s Revenge

Reposted from my blog for my Mythology and Folklore class. 

Long before Tsunggita met Don Juan, she knew that she was a part of her father’s plan to defeat the king of Laguna and his three haughty sons. How could she not be, with her fantastic ability to shift into any form she chose? One day, her father called her up into his favorite tree for a strategy talk.

“Tsunggita, my dear, the king of Laguna has sent his three sons off to take their fortunes, and one of them is headed our way. I have a plan, but it involves you marrying one of his sons. I fear they will treat you badly, and the need is not yet dire enough that we could not find another plan.”

Image result for long tailed macaque
Monkey. Web Source: MacleanGray.

But Tsunggita, being rather idealistic and having heard many stories from the birds of fabulous princes in far off lands, thought that the ones near by should be even nicer, just as her own kingdom was nicer than the ones in the stories. “Of course I will marry him, and that way if he is nicer than his father there will be no need to defeat Laguna.”

The first step in the plan was for Tsunggita to turn into an old man and entice Don Juan to her father’s palace with promises of good fortune if he offered bread to the monkeys at the gate. This was the first test, to ensure that he would not turn immediately violent at the sight of monkeys. Then her father set up the marriage, and Tsunggita went back with him to join his other brothers, Don Pedro and Don Diego, and their beautiful human wives. Tsunggita was rather disappointed from the beginning, as Don Juan seemed quite ashamed of her and appeared to wish that he had a wife like his brothers’. At first, the king seemed to be taking her appearance in stride, but then the tests began.

Embroider a coat. Embroider a cap. Draw a picture. All things that required one of the humans’ best gifts: an opposable thumb. Not to mention, it would have been useful to have grown up where coats and caps were worn. Tsunggita had already considered shapeshifting into a human to win her husband’s heart, but her stubborness kept her clinging to her monkey identity. Now her life was on the line: if she could not complete these tasks to the king’s satisfaction, she would be put to death.

Help came from an unexpected source. Her husband was immensely eager that she should win, not for the sake of her life, but so that he would be awarded the throne. He brought her all the finest cloths, threads, and paints. He even brought maids to perform the tasks for her, but she turned them away. “I will do it myself,” she said. Show them that a monkey can do anything they can.

Except she could not avoid the need for thumbs that would hold a needle or a brush. So at night she turned her hands into human hands and completed the tasks. She won them all, and her husband was crowned king.

But his joy at attaining the throne did not diminish Don Juan’s hatred of Tsunggita, and during the very ball that celebrated his victory he threw her brutally against the wall. In terror, she turned herself into a beautiful human woman. Don Juan was delighted: at last he had a wife who he could show off as a prize.

Her father heard the story and was absolutely furious. Against the wishes of his advisors, he refused to follow the original plan, to wait for Tsunggita’s son to take the throne and rule as a monkey king. He marched up to the palace in the capital of Laguna and accused Don Juan of using black magic to turn his daughter into a human. Since he came without an army, he was easily captured by Don Juan, who planned to kill him. But the people of Laguna were touched by the story of the father coming to rescue his daughter single-handedly from a cruel husband, so they marched to the palace and demanded his release. Don Juan was as lazy a king as he was fortune-seeker, so to avoid further problems he released the king. Tsunggita turned back into her original form and won over the hearts of her people. After Don Juan’s death, she became queen and joined the human and monkey kingdoms.

Bibliography: Dean S. Fansler’s Filipino Popular Tales, link.

Author’s Note: In the original story, Tsunggita (Chonguita) is not a shapeshifter, and there is no mention of how she became a human. Also, no plan to take over the human kingdom is mentioned, and the story ends after she becomes a human. I wanted her to retain her monkey-ness, as well as to explain why she married Don Juan and how she became a human. I changed her name from Chonguita to Tsunggita to reflect more of the original Tagalog. Tsunggo means monkey, and the -ita suffix is a common borrowing from Spanish.