Karavan: Mikronovellernas universum

I guess magazines are the only thing I read anymore?

My third and final subscription (though Med andra ord looks interesting, and we won’t count Asymptote since I don’t send them any money) is Karavan, a literary magazine that focuses on literature in translation, primarily from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The theme for this issue was “micronoveller,” or microfiction. That makes this the first issue I’ve read where all the literature featured was self contained, i.e. no extracts from novels.

What did I learn? In brief, that microfiction is a rich tradition in Iraq, a popular new form of content on apps and websites in China, and that Ana María Shua is Argentina’s reigning microfiction queen. In addition to the (very short) stories and poems translated from Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish, this issue featured interviews with Pilar Quintana and Monique Ilboudo, a précis on Jeferson Tonório by Balsam Karam (whose novel Singulariteten I recently finished) and an essay by Mariana Enríquez on journalism and Argentinian cuisine. Out of the new releases reviewed, this is my note to myself that Samar Yazbek‘s Where the Wind Calls Home (Swe: Där vinden vilar) sounded the most interesting.

Karam and a Palestinian poet from Gaza featured, Somaya el Sousi, were both featured at Stockholms litteraturmässan this past weekend. I was unable to attend el Sousi’s reading, though I did pick up her volume En flöjt av mörker. Karam’s panel discussion on libraries was much later in the day, however, and fit nicely into my schedule. She was very funny and very light, not at all what I would have expected from her writing here in Karavan or in Singulariteten, but those are separate thoughts.

Vänligen Bygg Ingen Berg

Remember Instapoetry?

My arch tone assumes that Instapoetry is dead, and I hope it is. No one seems to have written a thinkpiece about it since 2019—maybe I’m lucky.

My one-sentence review of Lina Arvidsson’s Vänligen bygg inga berg: Swedish Instapoetry about working as a supermarket cashier.

Cover of Vänligen bygg inga berg
Image courtesy Konsai Förlag

I read an interview with Arvidsson alongside one of the poems from the collection in a magazine who knows how many years ago now and thought, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” I never made any concerted effort to track it down, but the title stuck enough in my head that I recognized it in the library’s shelf of featured books. In other words, I was going into the collection more or less favorably inclined.

But what works as an individual poem quickly becomes monotonous in an entire collection. Part of the blame is maybe on me; maybe I should have read slower and tried to savor more. Maybe that would have stopped all of the untitled, open-verse, e. e. cummings-esque lowercase poems from bleeding into each other. At the same time, not giving any titles to your poems is also a choice, and not a useful one when someone wants to highlight a particular favorite. But I’ll do my best anyway, since it would be nice to end on a positive note.

Så kommer den natten när jag drömmer om dig.

Och det är inget hemskt du sitter vid
toaletterna
till höger om stämpelklockan
ryggen emot men jag ser direkt på håret att det
är du
Fanny
du hade alltid en perfekt page
När du vänder dig om ser jag: du håller på med
något en flaska
är det hallonsoda? rosa
ja
drinker vi ska ju dricka drinkar

Snacka lite
tjata lite

det är en förfest eller kanske är det det här
som är festen

man får väl inte dricka alkohol här? du ler
med hela ansiktet säger
det skiter jag faktiskt i

och när jag kramar dig är det verkligen du

jag hade aldrig fattat tidgare
men man behöver ju inte ben
eller fötter
närman är död

eller nacke
eller rygg
du har rätt

det gör man ju inte.

Flera gånger ska jag komma att drömma om dig
och det är aldrig hemskt
du ler alltid ja man skiner ju upp

snacka lite bara
komma på besök

The Best Books of 2021, According to GoodReads

I could have sworn that I did one of these posts for 2019 and 2020, but apparently not? I usually enjoy looking at the “My Year in Books” feature on GoodReads, but they seem to have revamped it and made it uglier so I won’t even bother including it here.

During the fiery hellscape that was 2021, I read 59 books. The most popular book I read was The Art of War and the least popular was a re-read of a Swedish civics textbook that I can assure you is very rough going.  The five-star books of the year were:

I’m excluding from the list books in an extremely selective niche that are of huge personal importance to me and are not a “public” or “objectively” 5-star book the way that these are. (Would everyone benefit from reading The Human Condition? Yes. Would everyone benefit from reading a collection of ghost stories from my hometown? Probably not, no.) I’ve included links to blog posts for books that I wrote about during the year and will provide brief nutshell reviews of the remaining six books here.

Literature

The Deep

This was an Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club pick. I didn’t care for my first tango with Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts, but The Deep was as polished and needle sharp as Unkindness should have been. Genre fiction doesn’t have to use fantastical conventions as a way to externalize complex psychological elements of our lives to justify its existence as a genre qua genre, but it certainly is uniquely equipped for doing so.

Agrippa (A Book of the Dead)

This one’s a bit of an easy title to knock out. It’s not really purely text, or available in any kind of dead tree form—my encounter with it was in a 15? 25? minute YouTube clip, captured footage of the original program being run in an emulator. At the end of the year (or the beginning of the next one), I don’t know that I can remember any concrete lines or images from Gibson’s poetry (I do recall the rather fuzzy, janky sound effect of a single gunshot), but I remember the overall effect and I appreciate the novel approach with form and media. It all felt inherently tied to the content rather than just a cheap gimmick.

A Memory Called Empire

Another Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club pick, this time a more traditional galactic empire intrigues and high-tech tale. I think this one would pair really well with Ancillary Justice as two examinations of empire: one from relatively deep within the beating heart of empire and one from the outside.

Philosophy and Current Issues

Människans villkor

Who am I to review a Hannah Arendt book? Who is anyone to review a Hannah Arendt book? All I can say is: as the years go by, I get angrier and angrier over the fact that we never covered any of her work in my philosophy undergrad career.

Project Censored’s State of the Free Press

This collection is a nice round-up of important but overlooked journalism, sourced from university journalism programs and advised, filtered and vetted by a board of professional journalists. I consider this collection an essential part of my yearly reading.

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?

Another collection, this time of essays on policing and police violence. Sitting here doing my annual write up, I can remember that it was a compelling read full of new information but none of that new information specifically. This is not criticism of the collection, but rather a reflection of the fact that 1) I read it on Kindle, which doesn’t seem to ever stick in my memory, 2) much of it was (probably) grimmer information that I realized so I think my brain is kind of choosing to forget, and 3) 2021 was, as mentioned, a fiery hellscape, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I was experiencing some kind of stress-induced brain fog.