The discussions turned more scholarly recently when an article in al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Arabic international daily, complained about Penguin paperback books 70th anniversary publication of excerpts from Gustave Flaubert's letters from Egypt. The article's author, Susan Bashir, complained about the provocative new title, "The Desert and the Dancing Girls" and the cover's "half naked girls." Abu Aardvark echoed Bashir: "Is this what Penguin thinks the Arab world really is...empty deserts and exotic dancing girls?" Meanwhile, as the genre's 51 million readers pump gas this summer, will they be dreaming of oil sheikhs in exotic kingdoms or eternal supplies of fuel in the arms of a gas station owner?
Some otherwise serious bloggers have spent the summer fascinated by a niche in romance literature with its own fan website: Sheikhs and Desert Love. Eerie, a contributor to 'Aqoul, a blog mostly about news from the Middle East, noting a significant increase in the number of romance novels featuring handsome desert nomads, provided a helpful graph documenting their rise. Yin Shui Si Yuan dismissed these romance novels as "incredibly ill-informed, orientalist, romantic fantasies involving oil sheikhs." Political Animal's Kevin Drum and Abu Aardvark's Marc Lynch have found the subject an amusing distraction from the August doldrums.