My Fictional Bookshelf

A shelf of paperbacks on sale at the 2018 NY Art Book fair at MoMA PS1 (photo by the author)

After I saw this shelf of vintage pulp paperbacks at this year’s Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair, I imagined my own fantasy bookshelf full of volumes that reflected the reality of our own times.

Blood Quantum — The story of a multigenerational Dakota family that struggles to preserve their ties to a South Dakota American Indian reservation. The last of the elders die and the younger members of the family have trouble proving that they qualify to register under the US government’s blood quantum laws.

Living with General Lee — A coming of age story of Dayo Oni, a teenage Nigerian immigrant to the Atlanta suburbs. After his family moves into a house across the street from a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, he slowly understands what the man represents. Then one day he discovers an incredible fact about his neighbor that makes him question if history is really in the past.

Shattered Urn — The life of a young artist’s assistant in Shanghai who has to negotiate with local city officials on the behalf of an internationally known artist he works for. The art studio is threatened with demolition after the central government decides to turn part of the city into a freeport.

Gentrified Slice of Anarchy — An artist colony that began as a squat in the 1980s faces eviction after a well-known landlord uses anti-AirBnb laws to evict 60% of the tenants who had illegally rented out their units. Some of the tenants turn to a local anarchist group for support and daily protests make life on the block increasingly difficult.

Migrating Towards Home — A young wealthy aid worker from Lebanon finds herself lost without identification near the Sahara after visiting friends in a remote city where one of them was originally from. She joins a group of Malians trying to find a way to Europe but she ends up in prison after being swept up in a protest in Cairo. She languishes in jail for months, until she starts to wonder if she will ever see a judge or be free again.

Art-right — A collection of short stories about a gallery that opens on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to a great deal of media fanfare. An artist who lives on the block starts to realize that the space is attracting a right-wing clientele, but not before the gallery mounts increasingly “edgy” exhibitions that attract more and more media attention. Then one day some graffiti appears on their front door and everyone wonders if anything will be the same again.

McGitmo — A sweet love story between a US military officer and a McDonalds employee at the fastfood chain’s Guantanamo location. The unlikely pair fall in love on the sands of the island of Cuba, while slowly realizing that there’s a secret they want to tell one another and it might change everything.

Abu Barbie — A legal thriller that follows the investigation of the Baghdad police department into the murder of a local YouTube star named Samaya Mazad, who died in a car bomb in Mosul. Detective Moussa stumbles upon a sleeper cell that might have bigger and more deadly plans that only he can stop.

Missing Tapes — A college student goes looking for answers after her mother dies in a blaze that destroyed the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janiero. She discovers that the woman who spent decades safeguarding hundreds of historic recordings of indigenous languages left another record that no one was expecting.

Heavy Traffic — A refugee from Kashgar named Mamud Khan starts selling drugs to foreign tourists in Tashkent. He falls in love with one Danish client who lingers for months in the city, far after she was originally slated to leave. One day he starts to suspect that her love for his heroin rather than him is what’s keeping her there and he doesn’t know what to do.

Southern Revolutionaries — Radical environmentalists start a renegade colony in Antarctica with a goal of liberating the continent as the world’s first enviro-ocracy. Will the eco-warriors be able to establish the utopia they seek, or will they be crushed by world powers that prefer the status quo?

Mr. Dic’s Pics — Sophie Begay is an Iranian photographer from Isfahan who works for a rich Hong Kong real estate family. Her job is to follow one starchitect after another, while staging the promotional images that will ultimate help promote the project to the super wealthy. All the while, she is also quietly documenting a world of excess and exploitation that is part of the multi-billion dollar building business.

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