Reading L.lita in Tehran

This week, I read Reading L.lita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi.  It was an interesting read, although I’m not sure I can say that I liked it.  Much of the book is a discussion of the books her group of students read, and not having read most of them recently (and never having read any James), I felt quite at a loss.  And I still can’t remember who was who among Nafisi’s students.  But the description of her life as a westernized female intellectual in revolutionary Iran is absolutely fascinating.

Overall, it was a more pleasant life than I would have imagined.  External behavior, such as dress, was closely monitored, with penalties for such lapses as letting a bit of hair peak out from a veil.  But Nafisi never seems to have felt at risk for what she thought, said, or wrote.  While she talks about some of her students who were arrested, even killed, she never seems to have felt threatened herself.  It’s unclear whether this was due to bravado, wealth, connections, or just luck. 

Nafisi argues that reading and discussing these western novels was an act of resistance, not just because they were disapproved of by the authorities, but because the essence of a novelist’s work is to imagine the world through someone else’s perspective.  She suggests that the greatest sin of the fundamentalists in Iran was — like Nabakov’s Humbert — to deny others’ humanity by denying their points of view.  I’m not entirely convinced.  But I do believe that reading and thinking about literature were essential to Nafisi’s self-identity, and that she couldn’t have foregone them without doing fundamental damage to herself.

Last week, Elise asked me how I have time to read so much.  I’ve realized that reading is an important element of who I am, too.  So I make the time, at the price of less sleep and a messier house than I’d like.  It helps that I read fast and watch very little tv. 

(Updated 12/8: in looking at the google searches leading to my blog, I’ve decided to replace the Os in the word "L.lita" with dots to try to get rid of the folks looking for pix.)

One Response to “Reading L.lita in Tehran”

  1. Elise Says:

    We used to watch very little TV and then we made the leap from 6 channels with an antenna to satellite TV and now we often get sucked into watching stupid stuff. I used to read a lot more than I do now, ostensibly because I should be doing homework, but if I’m watching TV, then I’m not doing homework, so I could just as easily be reading, and that would certainly be more productive!
    When I was pregnancy we had a subscription to the Wall Street Journal and actually read it most days. I loved it. That would certainly be a better way to spend my time than by watching TV! Hopefully your post has inspired me. I guess we’ll find out. 🙂

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