Friday, May 24, 2013

Nonfiction: Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun

The official title of today's book is Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, and it is a true account about the author's experience with a stalker. Not only did what takes place in this book actually happen, but it is also still going on to this day.

The Situation: Author and professor James Lasdun was teaching at a school he refers to as Morgan College in New York City in 2003. It was a fiction writing workshop in the graduate creative writing program, and one of his students included an Iranian woman in her thirties, whom Lasdun only refers to as Nasreen. Like any other writing workshop, the students took turns having their work critiqued by the group, and when it was Nasreen's turn, Lasdun was actually incredibly impressed with her talent and foresaw her doing well in the future. Nasreen appeared to have taken the compliments and praise with great composure, and the class continued on as normal. Lasdun and Nasreen continued to correspond in person, but more so by email, especially after Lasdun realized that meeting his former student in person was probably not a good idea.

The Problem: Apparently, meeting Nasreen in person at all and starting the email correspondence at any level was a bad idea. The emails were always fairly frequent, despite Lasdun's attempts to keep his responses as uninvolved as possible, but soon they are no longer professional and don't just reflect the teacher/student or writer/mentor relationship that Lasdun obviously believed they had. He even attempts to help her out on getting published, since he does believe that Nasreen has promise and he sees the book she is currently working on doing well if she were to finish it. But even these attempts end on a sour note as Nasreen's book isn't published, much to her frustration. And to add insult to injury, this is around the time when several books written by Iranian women are being published, leading Nasreen to accuse Lasdun of stealing her work and selling it to other writers. If this were the only thing she accused Lasdun of, the whole ordeal probably wouldn't merit it's own book. But soon, Nasreen's emails range from sexual to anti-Semitic (as Lasdun is Jewish), and she begins to email many of Lasdun's professional contacts, no matter where he works.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book that I have often seen classified as a case study on stalking. Lasdun provides the reader with subject lines and excerpts from actual emails Nasreen sent to him, as well lines from reviews she has left on sites such as about his previous books, in even further attempts to ruin his reputation. In fact, that seems to be Nasreen's sole aim. She doesn't seem to wish him real physical harm (or at least she doesn't intend to be the one to inflict it), but instead she wants to tarnish his reputation and seemingly make it where no one will let him teach at their school and no one will publish his work. In between talking about his stalker, Lasdun talks about two trips that he takes while going through this ordeal: one is a train trip to Santa Fe where he visits the ranch that D.H. Lawrence lived off and on in the years before his death. The second trip is to Israel for research for an article he has been asked to write. This trip leads to an extensive discussion on the Middle East and the ongoing conflict. Lasdun also talks extensively about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and how it relates to his current situation. Ultimately, the book is about the effect the stalking has on Lasdun in regards to how he views himself, how he relates to other people knowing someone is out there trying to ruin him at every moment, and the ever-growing fear that this torment will not end.

My Verdict: If Lasdun had just stuck with talking about the stalking and its effect on his life, this book would have been much more interesting. The sections that talk about the trip to Santa Fe and the trip to Israel gave me the feeling that Lasdun didn't have enough material on the stalking to make a full fledged book, despite the mass amount of emails he has received from Nasreen over 5+ years. I don't mind so much how much time Lasdun spends in his own head, exploring the effects these events have had on how he operates, even in just day-to-day activities, and especially when he is trying to write something. And maybe part of the problem is that the story isn't over yet. Lasdun couldn't write a conclusion because this is still going on. Even so, I suspect that there really wasn't enough material for a full book that only covered the stalking.

Favorite Moment: Any time Nasreen contacts someone Lasdun is either currently working with or has worked with in the past, and her attempt to ruin the relationship doesn't work, I feel like it is a win, even if it is a small one.

Recommended Reading: I don't read many thrillers or mysteries, so I have a hard time coming up with a recommendation that involves a stalker. So I will go out on a limb and recommend the young adult novel Send by Patty Blount. Instead of stalking, Send deals with the issue of bullying and how more modern forms of communication, such as email and Facebook, can now play an incredibly dangerous role. Given that Nasreen's favorite way to communicate with Lasdun is through email, I felt that Blount's Send was a semi-decent choice.

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