Friday, February 10, 2023

Book Review: The Best American Magazine Writing 2022

 As an Indian reading a collection of American magazine articles of last year, I was prepared to be annoyed and underwhelmed. The image that USA and all its institutions project on this side of the globe is that of a non-existant superiority complex- on geopolitics, technology and global economics. The movies, novels, political maneuvers and even a recent memoir of a retired diplomat coming out of USA stamped this implied projection. Like one Indian TV anchor put it- four Americans sitting in a room, smoking cigars and solving global issues. 

To be honest, a few articles in this collection of the best American magazine writing of 2022 reeked of this guardian attitude towards the world outside US. But most of the writings are neutral and balanced, some of them are enriching and opens up new perspective to an outside reader. The content is extremely varied, sometimes disturbingly so. You read about a deeply personal and moving account about the relationship between a writer and a cancer patient and immediately you are hurled into space in the next one. I had to pause between some articles to come out of the mental state that the previous article put me in. 

My personal favorite writing is the one by Ann Patchett. It started like a celebrity name dropping game and suddenly transformed into a very deep and touching character study. The one about James Webb telescope made me feel proud of our achievements as humans. Our horizons are widening in a scale that we never believed was possible before. But then the piece about the abuse of guardianship industry tossed some of the excitement and pride out of the window and served as a bitter pill. Another strong writing was the illuminating first hand account of the power transfer in Afghanistan when US vacated. 

But on the downside, there were essays that failed to elicit a response in me and served as vanity pieces. The opening essay about dancing at the time of pandemic was underwhelming when compared to the rest of the collection. Another one about the need of social reforms above biochemical prevention of diseases was outright stupidity. Take the case of how India, a land of extreme social variation, fought the war against the pandemic and lived to tell the tale. It was more on the strength of biochemical preventions that India did it. The one about an ornithologist's struggle to find peace with his adoration of a racist bird watcher devolved quickly into farce. The last piece curiously was a fictional account- with very low literary aspirations- of a boy finding himself attracted to his male friend in rural India. I am not sure about its significance of its inclusion in this book. 

A luxury that the reading of this collection now, in 2023, gives to its readers is that of hind sight. Though not much time has passed, not even a year, some of the drama that is developed in these writings have climaxed. I checked the result of the boxing match for which prominent social media influencer Jake Paul was preparing and found it on YouTube. James Webb has started gathering images from far reaches of time and our scientists are rewriting the history of the universe. Taliban has tightened its clasp on Afghanistan and is ruling the country with iron grip. Contrary to the suppositions, their rule is pretty uneventful though within predicted lines. 

After completing this collection of 19 essays, I like it for its balanced selection of writings, love it for the extreme diversity of the topics and recommend it for the wealth of emotional and intellectual experiences that it offers. 

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