The Babu’s circle of friends suffers from hypergraphia. Most of them, being cats, are more epileptic patient in their processes than Flaubert, however. And this passage from an article in The Chronicle Review explains why most of his friends, cats and humans included, make bad house-guests: they’re manic-depressive. Of course.

“Hypergraphia doesn’t guarantee writing skill; its products can range from the simple (for instance, an epileptic patient whose copious journal was endless repetition of the thought “Thank GOD, no seizures” in variously colored ink) to the sublime (the novels of Dostoevsky or Flaubert, also temporal-lobe epileptics). But a compulsive need to write may indirectly make good writing more likely by increasing the time the writer spends practicing. This may be one factor in the very high incidence of manic-depressive writers.”

What happens when a vibrant reading culture is rendered bankrupt? “According to the Holy Koran, the first message delivered to the Prophet Muhammad was a command: Read. But walk the empty aisles of Cairo’s old book bazaar, or visit the weary guardians of the Arabic literary tradition, and the conclusion is unanimous: For titles other than the Koran, that command is largely ignored today.” A bestseller in the Arab world is defined as a book that sells 5,000 copies, according to this article. It also mentions the bizarre case of the recent ban on Egyptian poet Ahmed Al-Shahawi’s book Commandments for Loving Women, which uses verses from the Koran in conjunction with what his censors are pleased to term “explicit language”. Shahawi has said he will defy the ban.

Apropos Monday’s ‘Literature is Dead’ item, we have a minor correction. According to Gordon Burns, it’s only contemporary US literature that’s dead, or at least bloated, on steroids, self-obsessed. “Why does the American voice, ‘the American image of voice’, as Harold Bloom calls it in The Western Canon , the voice that the history of the last half-century has been told in, all of a sudden sound so pale, so stale and grating?” Sadly, he loses me when he announces a wistful nostalgia for, of all the animals in the zoo, the English kitchen-sink novel.

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