Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reading Up On Islam

If you're curious at all about Islam, I strongly strongly strongly recommend Reza Aslan's No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. (I just finished it and thought, "Well heck; I've still got twenty minutes before lunch hour ends.") Before this, I've read Karen Armstrong's Muhammad: A Life of the Prophet, which is a clearly-stated summary of Muslim history as Muslims tend to see it. Valuable for precisely that reason, but also (of course) unhelpful if you're asking things like, "But what about liberal Muslims?" I also ready What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America (forgot the author), and it's a very interesting take on the whole issue written by an interfaith-focused imam who serves a mosque just 12 blocks from the World Trade Center. He's a voice of warm reasonableness---and makes a powerful case that the earliest Muslims established a tradition of democracy that America would do well to live up to. But he's so liberal that it's hard to know how mainstream any of his views are.

This is what's so great about Aslan's book. For one thing, it's beautifully written. But more to the point, he constantly shuffles between what Muslims practice and what he personally believes, and helps you understand pretty much everyone. By the time I read his history of the Prophet, I'd read two others already, and his take is probably the most comprehensive and yet efficient. He's not a Sufi, but he conveys Sufism with stunning vividness; the chapter on Shi'ism alone is worth the price of the book. But then he explains---actually explains!---the origins and reasoning of Islamism, Islamic fundamentalism, and other movements against the history of colonialism and post-colonialism, and I'm putting the book down feeling very educated indeed. (This is not to diss Karen Armstrong, whose book has been a great source of sympathy. Aslan gives her props a few times, so it's not just me.)

Reza Aslan's overall take, if you should want it, is that Islam is not an inherently violent religion (big surprise) nor an inherently intolerant one. Normally and historically. (through the middle ages and beyond, Jews and Muslims lived together in almost perfect harmony by comparison to the Jews and the Christians.) But Islam is in the middle of a Reformation and a crisis of identity, and America is the backdrop that these Muslim identities---moderate, radical, religious, secular, rationalist, etc.---are performed against. (On the very first page, he points out that the train bombings in London occurred in a predominantly middle-class Muslim neighborhood. The target wasn't America or Westerners, but moderate Muslims.) Which has sort of been my own theory all along: that terrorism now is sort of like what happened with the Wobblies at the start of the Industrial Age: violent conflicts, businessmen being lynched, bombs going off at factories ... and where are they now?

So my own hope is that peace will arrive in due time as these revolutionary movements work out their troubles. In the meantime, Aslan's book is a terrific tonic for anyone who wants to know what most Muslims---who, like most people, are pretty decent one by one---believe and hope for. I'm going to keep reading other books, but I doubt I'll find any better single-volume treatment of all the major questions.

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