Intern Kara just told me that a blog in the Baltimore Sun declared that this was the “Twilight Decade.”
Clearly, Stephanie Meyer has made a mark—and whether she is symptom or cause, we are deep inside a paranormal moment in pop-culture. Austen and the undead, who would have thought? Still, as Kara (who argued that the past ten years belong to Harry Potter) demonstrated, the “Twilight decade” is subject to some debate. I’m curious to see where you all weigh in. In the name of what author, idea or impulse, do you name the past nine years? And, incidentally, what do we name this decade? The “aughts” just never caught on.
My own answer—in terms of book-publishing, public policy, and in personal life— might be that these last ten years have been the decade of the Middle East.
Starting with 9/11 and the attendant wars begun in Afghanistan (not actually the Middle East, I know), in Iraq and on terror, to concern with radical Islam, to the scramble to understand “why they hate us,” through to present anxieties over a nuclear Iran, it was a discussion that was conducted across the media, one that taught us a new vocabulary of terrible and heartbreaking phrases: Al Qaeda, Clash of Civilization, extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib, improvised explosive devices…and the list goes on. The books that have emerged from and informed this discussion are too numerous to list, but they include the works of Bernard Lewis, Stephen Coll, Lawrence Wright, Dexter Filkins, Jane Mayer, Stephen Kinzer, Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong, Juan Cole, John Esposito, etc. “Middle East Studies” is category that has grown by leaps and bounds and for better and for worse.
My decade of the Middle East is, of course, a smaller story and a happier one, a brighter and more hopeful counterpoint to the grim meta-narrative of tragedy and turmoil. Granted mine was made up of words like motherhood (my son was born in Cairo), Mahfouz (plus a host of other remarkable novelists whose work I came to know), meshi (vegetables stuffed with rice and meat, and assorted other delicious staples of Egyptian cooking), and so on…. But the opportunity to live and travel in the Islamic world, to see that devout is not, in fact, a synonym for dangerous, was eye-opening. And even though I’m back in the USA as the decade closes, my sojourn in Egypt profoundly colored this period of my life.
So obviously, this is a subjective exercise, one with no single answer: I look forward to reading your nominations.