BeHere/1942 by Masaki Fujihata is a book describing an exhibit put on by the Japanese artist Masaki Fujihata, which documents and explores the Japanese American Internment Camps. The book seems to be paired with an art exhibit featuring 3D renderings of famous photographs taken as Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes. In one instance in the book, Fujihata zooms in on the eyes of famous photographs to show how the observer (the photographer) is reflected in the eyes of the observed (the Japanese American). The book is broken up into three parts, first describing Fujihata’s project and process, second discussing the history of the internment camps, and third focusing on Fujihata himself. The book, and Fujihata’s vision, is to think about how the observer/photographer/government wanted to represent and positively spin the incarcerations. There were some striking, and deeply emotional photographs and it was interesting to learn about the exhibit even though I wasn’t able to see it.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
The Best American Poetry 2022 is a selection of poetry guest edited by Matthew Zapruder with poems from Ada Límon, Ocean Vuong, Louise Glück, and Diane Seuss, among others. Most, if not all the poems, featured meditations on the affect of the pandemic, the loneliness/isolation it brought, and how daily life was interpreted. There were poems, such as ‘Goblin’ by Matthew Dickman, which showed how thin the line between care and abuse is and what that power meant to the speaker. And in this way, Dickman, upon saying, “There are so many ways/to eat the young.” recognizes and fears how his actions can change his child’s view of him. Or take Robin Myers’s poem, ‘Diego de Montemayor’, which finds Myers at a weird crossroads, knowing their ancestor oversaw a massacre, and still recognizing that ancestor as a part of their family. And, of course, how can I not forget Ocean Vuong’s, ‘Reason for Staying’, with the immaculate line, “Because my uncle never killed himself—but simply died, on purpose.” There were certainly high points, but after reading the bios, the writers did seem homogonous in their backgrounds, from which I would’ve liked to see more diversity.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill is a book focusing on the injustices Black Americans face with regards to police, the incarceration system, and Capitalism. It focuses on the lives of a few particular people, namely Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin. It also looks at whole communities, such as Flint, Michigan and Pruitt-Igoe. The whole thesis of the book, which I agree with, is that there are systems set in place to disenfranchise black and brown people. This can be seen, Hill explains, in the privatization of prisons, the neglect of government programs for the poor, the militarization of the police, and the prioritization of capitalistic profits over the welfare of the people. It is heartbreaking and frustrating to find that whether through willful ignorance, classism, or racism, Black families and communities take the brunt of the consequences. And in one instance, it was surprising to read that, “…the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture, and the US Railroad Retirement Board have their own SWAT teams…” There are so many injustices and wrongdoings by individuals and the government that Hill highlights, it’s disheartening to think how many other injustices have gone on without being documented.
Final Rating: 4/5
How to Ruin Everything by George Watsky is a collection of essays chronicling the adventures, mishaps, and travels of a musician on the edge of success. There are moments in India, Canada, and San Francisco, which all highlight the precarious and sometimes grubby nature of Watsky’s situations. It was interesting to read how Watsky was able to get by before he made it big in music, and how he kept on persisting.
Though, the essays felt like they followed a more conventional way of storytelling, which felt somewhat hollow. Yes, it was interesting to read about the weird travels and stoner moments, but it didn’t feel like it went beyond those moments to synthesize or draw anything more. Maybe the essays didn’t need to be anything more than they were, and after all, it erred on the side of jokes and humor. Overall, it was interesting to see the trajectory and situations Watsky got into and how he was able to overcome them.
Final Rating: 3/5
Keep Going by Austin Kleon is a little book about how to stay creative with some tips and tricks that have worked for the author. It’s a fun little book, though most of its advice seems generally non-specific and not as useful after the initial glance. Though, its general message of keep going is at least worth noting. I also enjoyed some of the comics as well.
Final Rating: 2.5/5
The Best American Short Stories 2011 is a collection of short stories selected by Geraldine Brooks. The stories range from a scifi story about a love drug to a whole town hibernating every winter. There are some stories that stick out boldly such as ‘The Sleep’ by Caitlin Horrocks, ‘Out of Body’ by Jennifer Egan, ‘Phantoms’ by Steven Millhause, and ‘Dog Bites’ by Ricardo Nuila. Though, I was underwhelmed by the more well-known authors in this collection such as Joyce Carol Oates and George Saunders. Oates’s story focuses on a daughter who can’t identify her mother’s body, and while an interesting premise, I didn’t enjoy the voice. It wasn’t as vibrant or as specific as other authors. And George Saunders’s story about the love drug opened too quickly and the drug names/scenes fell too easily within scifi tropes for it to land or for me to take it seriously. Though, I think ‘Out of Body’ was a gem in the way it dealt with suicide, friendships, college, and relationships. It was also interesting to see that within the Contributor notes, many of the stories came directly from personal experience.
Final Rating: 3/5
Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor is a novel consisting of stories, some interlinked and some roughly sewn together, which mainly follows Lionel in his encounters with a sexually adventurous couple. Lionel is a proctor who is stalling in his career in mathematics, and so finds himself at a university party where he is out of his depths. There, he meets Charles, a dancer, who pursues him, and they hook up that night. Throughout the stories, Lionel becomes slightly enchanted and slightly put off by the couple’s dynamic, which draws up raw emotions from his childhood.
My favorite part of the book, which was not related to the main plot line, was the story, ‘Filthy Animals’, in which two friends, Nolan and Milton, go to a party for Milton’s birthday. The whole time, Milton questions whether he should tell Nolan his parents are sending him to Idaho in a few months. Though, when they encounter Abe, a notorious jerk, at the party, they get in a mess when Nolan smashes Abe’s head in with a rock. The novel and stories are brilliantly written, with a strong eye for contentious relationships. Its language was accommodating and, at the end of it, I wanted to know more about Lionel and his past.
Final Rating: 4/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.