On November 20th, Boise State University put on one of their Distinguished Lecture series events. A free event, open to the public, at which interested members of the community could come and hear a speaker. On this particular night, the speaker was Sir Salman Rushdie.
I had been looking forward to this event since I first read about it in September. It seemed to me that I should have read something by him, but I hadn’t. So, I took a break from my current project of reading the entirety of The Wheel of Time to read both The Satanic Verses and Joseph Anton. Lacking sufficient homework from my class this semester, I assigned myself those books.
I had heard of The Satanic Verses. I was only seven when the book was published, but I had heard about it from friends in high school more interested in politics than I, and I’ve more recently read a science fiction novel that explicitly references it (Zendegi by Greg Egan). And yet, in hearing about it, I had never caught on to how fantastical it was.
There is this idea that I have of serious literature, the kind that would win a nomination for the Booker prize. I felt that it had to be serious and realistic. Brimful of poetic imagery and perfectly placed metaphor. Perhaps I have been reading the wrong literature.
The Satanic Verses was a fascinating read. I found myself incredulous at what Rushdie was “getting away with” in regards to using the fantastic as a part of his story. Whether the fantastic was supposed to be a part of a man’s madness or not, it still began with what had to be a miracle of two men surviving an airplane explosion at altitude.
I didn’t see what made it an insult to any religion, but that could very well be simply because I was reading it as fiction. Since, you know, it is fiction.
I read Joseph Anton next, and found myself fascinated again, but for a different reason. This was a memoir. It is meant to be truthful; true to the memory of one man. I was aghast at the negative reactions of the British press. I wondered how I would have done in similar circumstances. Here was a man who stood by his words when those words brought him the threat of death. Not a hero, or a superman, but a writer.
In both books, I found sections that I found particularly moving or well-worded. Some paragraphs I read to my husband, usually those that included vivid description, which is something he wants to see more of in my writing. Others I savored to myself, especially the parts in The Satanic Verses that were about Alleluia Cone and Mount Everest. I’m still trying to come to terms with what I think is an important lesson from Joseph Anton, that seeking to be loved is not the right path.
I brought my husband to the lecture with me. And I brought anticipation and excitement. I didn’t know what to expect from a Boise crowd. Would the Morrison Center be echoingly empty or filled with a smattering of students seeking extra credit and a few others who might come to see such a writer speak?