I Don't Hate It | Yahdon Israel's #LiterarySwag


Hey there. Today is the day: the announcement of the #LiterarySwag giveaway winner. Are you so excited? You should be. The competition was great—a dozen entries in all—and everyone had such interesting stories about bookmarks. (I can say that here, in a newsletter about books. Right?) Amy sent in a pic of her bookmark holder, which is just a tad more organized than even I can aspire to be. Hayley introduced me to this bookrest lamp, officially at the top of my wish list. Some of you use money to mark your place in books (I hope I find one of your books at the used bookstore) and not a few of you don't mind using the dust jacket. Beth does this "one little weird OCD thing" of dividing the number of pages into fourths and thirds on her bookmark. Caroline offered the knitter's protip that scarves make more awkward bookmarks than hats. Receipts, ticket stubs, and postcards were also popular. Neil has a set of bookmarks featuring Julia Ormond due to a movie tie-in book cover (Smilla's Sense of Snow) from the nineties and can see her face popping up from his bookshelves.

The winner of the #LiterarySwag giveaway and soon-to-be proud owner of a new Literaryswag Enamel Pin is...Jill Anderson! Congratulations, Jill! E-mail me your preferred mailing address and then be on the lookout for a package from Yahdon. I hope you love it as much as I do. I am wearing mine today.

(Note: I used an online tool—a random result generator—to select the winner.)

And now for today's guest post by the king of Literaryswag himself, Yahdon Israel:


There's nothing more reaffirming for someone finding their way than a friend who's willing to help. For a little over a year, Allison's been that friend for me. So when she suggested that we collaborate on a Literaryswag Enamel Pin giveaway/guest it was never a matter of why; only when.

As you all can see, when is now so allow me to reintroduce myself: my name is Yahdon Israel. I'm a 26-year-old writer from Brooklyn, New York, who recently graduated in May from the New School with an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction.

That's not why I'm here. Every since I was a child I was made to believe that it's impossible to make reading, writing, or anything vaguely associated with literature cool. Fortunately for me—and anyone else who believes in the transformative experiences reading can facilitate—I've always been hard-headed. And because there's nothing I enjoy more than proving people wrong, I've dedicated my life to making literature cool.

This is the purpose of Literaryswag. By intersecting fashion and literature, my hope is that literature becomes more accessible to the people who have been made to believe what I did when I was a child: that literature wasn't an open window but a closed door.

For that reason, I'm always looking for and suggesting narratives to people that subvert their expectations of what a book is capable of. Jade Chang's forthcoming novel, The Wangs vs. the World, is one of those books. The novel follows Charles Wang, a Chinese businessman whose cosmetic company crumbles. Partly because of the 2008 recession but also because Charles Wang's moral investment into the American Dream was good for business—until it wasn't: "Makeup was American, and Charles understood makeup. It was artifice, and it was honesty. It was science and it was psychology and it was fashion; but more than that, it was about feeling wealthy. Not money—wealth. The endless possibility of it and the cozy sureness of it...And for a time, a long and lucrative time, the good people of America had agreed."

Anyone paying attention can see that the things we buy in order to enhance our lives have a price that goes beyond the money we pay for them. Reading Chang's prose, you see a commitment to finding language that reckons with the real cost of American decadence. Sometimes a book is as good as the conversations it encourages us to have with ourselves, but what's dope about Chang's novel is the conversations it makes you want to have with other people, which I'm all for because books should be a communal experience.

Another book I have to suggest in the spirit of the swag is Margo Jefferson's 2006 essay collection, On Michael Jackson. Of the many people who write about celebrity culture, Jefferson is one of the few who gives it the respect it deserves. By this I mean approaching the subject with the same intellectual seriousness you would with a Chekov novel. If you are one of those people who feel pop culture isn't worth the word count, allow me to bless you with Jefferson's opening paragraph:

"Every mind is a clutter of memories, images, inventions and age-old repetitions. It can be a ghetto, too, if a ghetto is a sealed-off, confined place. Of a sanctuary, where one is free to dream and think whatever one wants. For most of us it's both—and a lot more complicated. A ghetto can be a place of vitality; a sanctuary can become a prison. Michael Jackson escaped the ghetto of Gary, Indiana, and built the sanctuary of Neverland. It's become a circuslike prison, emblematic of the mind of Michael Jackson."

You're welcome.

The last thing I'd suggest before I cut out is Donald Glover's FX dramedy Atlanta. The show really illustrates what's possible when people of color are not tasked with the burden of representation. What you'll see, if you ever decide to watch it, is a specificity to region and culture that can be alienating only if you're expecting the show to prove to you why the characters are human. With Atlanta, there's no need to prove what's already known.

That's about it for now. This was dope. Hopefully I see some of you at the next book club or a reading. Congratulations to Jill Anderson for winning her Literaryswag Enamel Pin. Keep it lit!

And thank you Allison for being the friend many of us dream of having but rarely deserve.

Yahdon

———

Whew, Yahdon! I am honored! Thank you for guesting here at I Don't Hate It and for helping make our first giveaway possible. Readers, if you did not win (i.e., if you are not Jill) or did not enter but want to get in on the Literaryswag action, the first set of pins is available here. Yahdon updates the map as the pins go out (this native Texan finds it pretty embarrassing that Texas has yet to represent, ahem). The Literaryswag lifestyle also encompasses a book club (onsite in NYC) and occasional other events, including a summer photo competition on IG, so check out the website and get involved.
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