My Brand New Book!

I can’t stop smiling.  I look at my number of readers and I cannot stop smiling.

I have just published my first book.

Granted, it’s just an ebook, and it’s published on a small independent website called LeanPub, but still…it’s a book, and it’s mine.

It is called, by the way, Global Moves: Belly Dance as an Extra/Ordinary Space to Explore Social Paradigms in Egypt and Around the World.  It is based on my PhD research, all the stuff I’ve been talking and talking and talking about here and other places for the past six years.

Here’s the abstract:

This book is a study of how dancers throughout the world use Egypt as a reference point for situating themselves within the global belly dance community and how Egypt gets romanticized and fantasized in global narratives about belly dance. I address the purpose that dance serves as an expression of joy in Egyptian culture as well as its potential to be a site for defining appropriate gendered behavior, a space for competition (friendly or unfriendly), and even a tool of resistance as cultural norms shift. I provide a comparative analysis of how dancers in the international dance community utilize dance for similar purposes, particularly those related to using dance as a site for questioning existing social paradigms, as well as the ways in which dance serves different roles for global belly dancers than it does within Egyptian society.

All types of dance provide a space outside ordinary life to challenge or to uphold predominant social paradigms. One effect of globalization is the increase in worldwide exposure of local dance forms from many regions. These not only fuse to create new forms but operate alongside one another in what can be seen as a global marketplace of dance. Different dances are then imbued with values and norms of the receiving culture. Choosing to dance in non-local styles becomes a reflection of a locally value-based choice. This book examines the way globalization via cultural, economic, and technological vehicles affects a culturally rich, values-laden social phenomenon practiced in the Middle East and by an increasing international community. The book has a particular focus on paradigms of gender that are explored in dancing and in community discussions about dance.

So yes, it’s still quite an academic book, but hopefully one that will appeal to general readers as well–the world always needs more pop-anthropology, in my opinion.

Speaking of which, it was a controversial way to go with an academic book, this self-publishing thing.  I did it for a few reasons: First, the process of print publication was slow and it was going to be at least another year before a print book could become available, and I felt that the research was too fresh to wait any longer.  Second, research is an ever-changing and growing process–my PhD conclusions were based on the best available evidence at the time and we live in a rapidly-changing world.  Leanpub allows updates to manuscripts.  If I were ever able to make a return trip to Egypt, for instance once the impact of the new elections on the dance industry there has become apparent, I could add a chapter with updated research.  Readers then get notified that the manuscript has updated, and they can download a new copy of the book with the changes.  Also, publishing myself gives me much greater control than I would ever have with a traditional publishing route; the rights remain mine.

But lots of academics will think I’ve made a poor decision going this way, instead of the traditional method.  People are (justifiably) wary of research that is not peer-reviewed.  If I were choosing an academic career, this is probably not the way to go about it (not for a first book, at least.)  But I’m not an academic at the moment, or likely to move back into that career path again.  I want my research to be accessible to as many people as possible, not just other academics.  For these reasons the traditional publishing structure isn’t so relevant for me right now.

(There is also the additional complication that the University of Exeter is going to make an unrevised version of my thesis available electronically for free at the end of June.  A traditional publisher would be skeptical about trying to publish a book based on the same research, even if substantially revised.  I think the revised version is a much more enjoyable read, and certainly worth the very low bargain price, but of course, I would say that.)

I’m optimistic about my choice: more people (certainly more dancers and community members of dance) will get to see my research now than if I’d chosen an academic publisher.  I think people will see the value in what I’m doing.  And in fact, I already know that they do: one of the great things about LeanPub is that it allows people to pay what they think the book is worth (there’s a minimum price, but they can pay whatever they want over that).  Several people have already elected to pay more than the minimum price–more than the suggested price, even!  Money isn’t everything, and in this case my motivation wasn’t sales, but distribution.  But it’s nice to know that people value my work in that way too.