Tuesday, January 01, 2019

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 Hurston's work went criminally unpublished until this year; it is a welcome and necessary addition to the limited body of narratives from enslaved individuals.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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