Friday, January 01, 2021

Children of Misery: 2020 Sounds & Visuals


Didn’t get around to doing the annual summer mixes until year’s end, so they’re fairly indicative of what I was listening to. Only did two this time (a road trippin’ theme never felt right for obvious reasons): bbq and cruisin' jams.

Lots of stuff from the cutting room floor was in constant rotation. Listened to a ton of Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde. Plenty of ha has from Jay Jurden Y’all, Who the Hell is Dwayne Kennedy? & Weakness is the Brand. Open Mike Eagle lived my (and I’m sure many others’) dream by interviewing Prince Paul for an entire season of podcast eps. Was also great to learn about Toshi Reagon’s love of Octavia. And I’m always a sucker for fresh Mike Davis content, so this trillbilly chat was a treat.

The best thing I saw—not just in 2020, but in a while—is a generation of youths have a collective lightbulb moment about our carceral culture. Fucked up, f’sure, but happy they have a better sense of how off-course the ship is and where they need to steer it towards.

Otherwise, I didn’t see much worth writing about. We didn’t have the pandemic experience of tucking in and learning new skills or some shit. The main things I ‘watched’ were listenable (and, quite often, tried & true) videos that I would turn on as comfort listening while doing chores. So, loads of Desus & Mero (only the occasional wormhole detour) and talking to myself あっきーさん. john powell & bell hooks came correct. Ocean Vuong is ridiculously talented—and he’s sharing a stage w/ Jacqueline Woodson. Sophia Leung ftw. Btw, I still think Problem Areas season 1 should be required viewing for anyone that comes with that Defund the Police = socialism shit. And thank the content gods for giving us druncle ‘Kiss on the ‘gram.

Screentime generally meant family time, so we had lots of アルプスの少女ハイジしまじろうのわおMolly of Denali, Dr. スランプ, 忍者ハットリくん, ドラえもん, テラスハウス, Hilda, ハイキュー!!, SLAM DUNK, Harvey Girls Forever!, はたらく細胞, からかい上手の高木さん. We exported びじゅチューン! clips (all of Inoue Ryo’s work is highly amusing) to our constant delight.

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Über Everywhere: 2020 Words

Read a ton of winners, re-read some favorites, so I’ll just mention a handful. I finally wrapped my head around Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. I’m slow. It ranks up there with Klein’s Shock Doctrine. One of the teens was learning about redlining while I was reading Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's latest Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Such clear and focused writing on housing policy -- a topic that doesn’t garner much public attention, but should. I read Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion and Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning back-to-back. Body blows, then gu(il)t punches. And Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay is the best fictional exploration of the parallels and divides between Black and Asian communities I have ever read. It came out in 2019, but reads like a prologue to summer 2020.

I’m working my way through Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. It’s a brick of a book, but she’s such a smooth writer. I’m remembering stylistic reasons why I loved Warmth of Other Suns so much. Margaret Chin’s Stuck: Why Asian Americans Don't Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder is confirming what I suspected about career barriers against East Asians. Ijeoma Oluo’s Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America bridges my buddy Dave’s high school piece on mediocrity and the path to the promised land for the overwhelming majority of us who are just… ok.

It's not all non-fiction. Just cracked open Murata's latest, Earthlings. The trouble with reading such widely popular works is it's near impossible to avoid seeing headlines. Enjoying it, nonetheless.

Thank you, Daniel and Joel, for getting me into the audiobook gang. Actually, what really got me into audio was N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became. The production was like the radio plays of yore! But Darts really broke the seal for me.

Anyway, here are the highlights from this year’s reads, in no particular order:

Murata Sayaka Convenience Store Woman
Zitkala-sa American Indian Stories
Jordan Ifueko Raybearer
Brandon Shimoda The Grave on the Wall & The Desert
Wanda Coleman World Falls Apart
Kevin Young Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News and Brown
Young Jean Lee Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven and Other Plays
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Dictee
Lama Rod Owens Love & Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger
Charles Yu Interior Chinatown
Daniel Lavery Something That May Shock and Discredit You
James H. Cone The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Samantha Irby Wow, No Thank You
Kali Fajardo-Anstine Sabrina & Corina: Stories
H. Scott Momaday House Made of Dawn
Roy Christopher Dead Precedents: How Hip-Hop Defines the Future

N.K. Jemisin The City We Became
Elizabeth Acevedo Clap When You Land
Rachel DeWoskin Someday We Will Fly

And the comix I remember:

Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru Superman Smashes the Klan
Alex Sanchez You Brought Me the Ocean
Minh Lê & Andie Tong Green Lantern: Legacy
Mike Curato Flamer
Robin Ha Almost American Girl
Damian Duffy & John Jennings adaptation of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower
田中 芳樹 & 荒川 弘 アルスラーン戦記
荒川 弘 銀の匙

The kid is on a reading tear. Still a lot of familiars: Raina, Dav, 鳥山先生, Adventure Time, Jen Wang, ヨツバと!. But the evolution is fun to watch.

Finally came around to comic strips, so doing the rounds on the classics: Peanuts, Boondocks, Calvin & Hobbes.

Plus some more grown comix: When Stars Are Scattered, All’s Faire in Middle School, Dragon Hoops, Stepping Stones, Amulet, Legend of Korra, Primer, 甘々と稲妻, ブラック・ジャックNew Kid/Class Act, Twins, Goldie Vance.

Expanded some existing tastes: ちびまる子ちゃんBaby-Sitters Little Sister, Hunter x Hunter, ナルト, Steven Universe, Jonesy, Bee & Puppycat.

Chapter books are solidly in the mix: Princess in BlackMeet Yasmin!Jasmine ToguchiZoey & Sassafrass, Dyamonde DanielJulian’s World.

Thankfully, still plenty of picture books: Margarita Engle’s All the Way to Havana; Julia Alvarez’s A Gift of Gracias; Duncan Tonatiuh; Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

Some non-fiction of the fun factoid variety: A Manga Lover’s Tokyo Travel Guide, Guinness Book, biographies, science experiments, how-to manuals.

Bedtime = comfy time, so the staples remain: 間瀬 なおかた (でんしゃでいこう / でんしゃでかえろう), クレーンクレーン, そらまめくん, 日本昔話.

And the partner did it big with Educated, New Jim Crow, and On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.

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Share: 2020


...because no one is free when others are oppressed
so, we hit the stage and then we fly back to our nest 
growing old

~'dre 3K

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Rise: 2018

Madhouse of Misplaced Effort: 2018 Words

Credit: Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection

Non-fiction remains my jam. Pretty sure I read Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor’s How We Get Free last year, but seeing how that list went to pot, I’ll start this year’s list with it. Mostly give it credit for shining a light on the Combahee River Collective, pluralism of thought, and having conversations with dope people. James Forman, Jr.’s Locking Up Our Own is like a deep dive after reading The New Jim Crow. And pretty infuriating when you realize that some spoiled rich kid thinks he has all the answers to solve mass incarceration.. and has convinced his dumb, racist father-in-law of this, too. Nico Walker’s Cherry is fiction, but feels like the drug-addled fever dream of our current American nightmare.

Two works can be found in LAPL's Art, Music, and Recreation room. Noriko Manabe's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Protest Music After Fukushima is fascinating, but also requires a lot of context I don't have. I'll have to do some other research before returning to this gem. The other is Julia Beverly's Sweet Jones: Pimp C's Trill Life Story. I don't have a good reason for missing this besides being caught slippin'. It is thoroughly researched, overwhelming in detail, and absolutely essential. The book is enough of a bible that it carried me past the midpoint of the year before I picked up an even heavier tome, Adrock and Mike D's Beastie Boys Book. I'm still working my way through this brick, but it is likely more because of the emotion. In both books, you know how it ends. So, the combined weight is a bit much for an year (and even a few days). To ease my mind, I'm taking my time.

One detour starts with Guwop (and Neil Martinez-Belkin)'s Autobiography of Gucci Mane, a heavy but scattered addition in the vein of Scarface's Diary of a Madman, and ends with Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo." Hurston's work went criminally unpublished until this year; it is a welcome and necessary addition to the limited body of narratives from enslaved individuals. The afterword is especially useful for its exploration of Hurston's mindset while researching this project, as well as the work's place in the context of other scholarship.

Not sure why I don’t read more poetry. Eve Ewing’s Electric Arches is an experience best had IRL; get the damn book. Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is as ridiculous as its title suggests… but so much better. Mitsuye Yamada’s Camp Notes and Other Writings deserves far more attention; grab a copy, and hold tight. I should also mention Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, considering Acevedo’s credentials as a slam champ, but her prose and storytelling is the winner here. A beautiful story that richly deserves its honor. Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing has all the rhythm and beat of music and poetry. It's a wondrous trick to realize at the end that it was in fact the power of her words.

Speaking of the National Book Awards, Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend is engrossing. So much emotion and meta-thought packed into a slim novel.

Feminist short stories with a dark comic bite should always be in my reading list. This year’s entries: Mallory Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror and Patricia Highsmith’s Little Tales of Misogyny. Joan Aiken’s kid lit series, Wolves of Willoughby Chase, are so breezy, they deserve similar acclaim. The first volume of the series, featuring the unbeatable Bonnie and her grounded/neurotic cousin Sylvia, is the winner.

Always playing catch-up. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a load of fun, in spite of it being a fucked up story. I periodically return to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, so it took me a while to finally tuck into Black Skin, White Skin. Wish I had done so earlier. Apparently I am not the only one who heeded Duncan Jones' call to start a Bowie book club; I only received my (library) copy of Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor last week. Guess I'll tell you next year what I think. And I’m still working my way through Complete Works of Pat Parker and Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters.

I’m happy to be a teen librarian today, because fuck if I had to read the YA lit of yesteryear. Today’s diversity of writers, thoughts, stories, feelings better reflects what I experienced as a teen. While mainstream sci-fi and fantasy enjoy using the Middle East and North Africa as a shooting location and nothing more, Somaiyah Daud uses Moroccan poetry and history to inform her sci-fi fantasy, Mirage. Similarly, Nnedi Okarafor bridges the Nigerian-American experience with her Akata Witch series. Gabby Rivera's Juliet Takes a Breath takes a possibly silly conceit, like one lesbian Boricua’s summer in Portlandia, but instead writes an honest account of privilege, white maternalism, and one young woman’s journey to growth. Rachel Hartman’s Tess of the Road returns to the world of Seraphina, but vastly improves it by casting a critical, feminist eye on that world’s bullshit. The protagonist is fierce, hell-raising, and flawed-as-hell, which makes her journey so relatable. And Mary H. K. Choi’s Emergency Contact accurately captures the nuances of modern flirting that you forget she’s writing a YA novel. The genre only seems to be getting better.

Lots more manga in the house these days. Mostly for the kid, so we read Yotsuba&! and Delicious in Dungeon. Dr. Slump is perhaps the all-time winner. I can’t wait to pass on A Silent Voice; it’s one of the best stories about teen life I have ever read.

Kid Books
LEGO building books
Andrea Beaty Ada Twist, Scientist
Kui Ryoko ダンジョン飯
Azuma Kiyohiko よつばと! 
Natasha Allegri, Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake
Pendleton Ward Adventure Time, Volume 1
Toriyama Akira Dr. スランプ
Reina Telgemeier Ghosts, Smile, Sisters
Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF
Gabby Rivera America: The Life and Times of America Chavez
Davide Cali A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School

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