Bush reading The Stranger, part 2

Sean H., a fairly regular email correspondent, writes in to defend Camus against Tuesday’s post including what Sean calls Laila Lalami’s “rather selective synopsis of The Stranger.”

In case you missed it, Lalami said, “How appropriate [that Bush is reading a] novel about a Frenchman who kills a nameless Arab for no discernible reason, by an author who once said of the brutal French occupation of Algeria: …’I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice.'” Sean reponds:

[It’s] a dismissive and reductive simplification of one of literature’s works of true greatness (one you admit you haven’t read, which really surprised me).

That’s no better than to say, for instance, that your boy Rupert Thomson’s The Book of Revelation is just about a bunch of sicko women who anoymously torture our poor protagonist and then to worsen that display of ignorance by making a [] comparison to some ephemeral Bush administration headline scandal like the Abu Ghraib torture case. Both are complex books that deserve better than logline treatment, especially The Stranger, an established classic.

It’s true; I haven’t gotten around to The Stranger, although I expect to one of these days. My familiarity with Camus’ work is limited to The Plague, and The Myth of Sisyphus, both of which I read alongside Nausea, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and piles upon piles of Kierkegaard and Heidegger, while studying existentialism as an undergrad.

When I read Lalami’s scathing (and, I thought, hilarious) remarks about Bush’s summer reading choice, the administration’s prior, simplistic readings of Camus’ work sprang to mind. See, e.g., “Shockingly, White House speechwriter fails to grasp existentialist nuance.” And I agree with John Dickerson’s observation that, “Whatever the reasons [for Bush’s decision to read The Stranger], Camus’ story line is ripe for geopolitical literary misinterpretation.”

Finally, via Bookslut, here’s John Stewart on the subject:


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