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Sonny's Blues

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  2,424 ratings  ·  86 reviews
Impassioned tales of human experience that reach the soul. James Baldwin's powerful writing expressed the anger and helplessness felt by many black people in America. Born in New York's Harlem in 1924, the controversial novelist, playwright and essayist achieved overnight success with his first book Go To It on the Mountain. He died in 1987. The three stories in this selec ...more
Paperback, Penguin 60s, 90 pages
Published January 1st 1995 by Penguin (first published January 1st 1957)
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Adrian
I guess Sonny's Blues is OK if you like that sort of thing. In this case, that sort of thing being nearly perfectly crafted fiction. That sort of thing being a story that's so universal and so timeless that it can be felt by any and everybody on the face of the earth. This sort of thing being the kind of story every writer should be aspiring to write before his or her days on this earth are through. Baldwin is simply the most amazing person I've never known, and if I don't read every single word ...more
Cherr
One of the best short stories I've ever read and definitely one of my favorites now. (Here's to) my first James Baldwin.

Sonny's Blues is about a lot of things. What appeals most to me is the message of hope. "But now I feel like a man who's been trying to climb up out of some deep, really deep and funky hole and just saw the sun up there, outside. I got to get outside."

I feel like it's imperative that this song be mentioned. The story reminds me of John Mayer's song, "In Repair". In his video, "
...more
Dag
Apr 28, 2010 Dag marked it as to-read
Because I've read this excerpt I want to read the whole book: "All I know about music is that not many people really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another ord ...more
Allie
Achingly beautiful and fantastically written. What I love most about this short story is how well this can be adapted into so many lives and how painful any kind of addiction can be and how tragic and life-changing it is to overcome it. It caught me off guard, how much I felt for Sonny, and how much I truly enjoyed it.
Cynthia Haggard
James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is about a black family in twentieth-century America, particularly about the un-named narrator and his younger brother Sonny. After time in jail for peddling heroin, Sonny returns to his brother’s home in a housing project in Harlem.

At the end of the story, Sonny, out of jail and back home with his brother, rediscovers his lifeline, the one thing that makes his life worth living, his music. But his first attempts to play piano are rocky:

And Sonny hadn’t been near
...more
David Hollingsworth
Picking the "best" short story ever written is a pointless endeavor. How would you even come up with criteria for that? There are so many characters, themes, and plots that can be told, in such different ways, and we all have our own preferences in each of these arenas. There's no way you could ever pick a best.

That said, if someone were to point a gun at my head and demand I tell them the best short story I'd ever read, I would pick this one.

The story is simple enough. A man and his younger bro
...more
Coenraad
Years ago I read two novels by James Baldwin (ANOTHER COUNTRY and GIOVANNI'S ROOM) and they impressed me greatly. This set of three short stories reignited that positive impression. In 'Sonny's blues' the difficult relationship between two brothers is described. One is a jazz musician, and Baldwin's description of the emotional impact of watching jazz being performed live is quite powerful. 'The rockpile' portrays some of the pitfalls of raising a family in the inner city. The experiences of the ...more
Walaa Kh
أول مره أقرأ من الأدب الزنجي قصه جدا جميله وبالكاد تحمل معاني رائعه .. ربما لأني أعشق البيانو وأرى به تفسير الأحزان أكثر من أي آله خرى .. سوني هذا الذي يعاني ظل يكتم معاناته طوال القصه شعرت بغصه غريبه لما ياتراه لايقول لم أصغي للمعاناة بجديه الا حين كان يعزف وقتها رأيت كل هذه المعاناة ..
Ted
If I could've written only one short story in the history of literature, or at least in the history of my personal reading experience, it would be this one, no question. An absolute masterpiece.
Eunice A
This well-written short story is my favorite. It is at once painful and beautiful. The final scene moves me every single time that I reread it. It is perfection.
Lucynell
Sonny's Blues is the main attraction in this tiny collection. It is about two brothers in Harlem, a school teacher and a heroin addicted jazz pianist, Sonny. It's 52 pages long and pretty much flawless. The pace, the language, the cool, matter-of-fact everyday prose- as if a very close person confiding, and just as serious -almost everything works to justify the story's reputation as one of the very best in modern American literature. The other two stories are excellent as well. You could also i ...more
William
Far and away my favorite short story. It works on every level.
Lizzie
You can tell when you read this that it's a heavyweight of short stories. Its flow is smooth and strong and evocative, and tight with realism that puts you in the room. The characters surprised me as they opened up into people. And I did like reading it. It has a high artistic plane, though, that didn't really excite me as it seems to usually do for other people.

I knew this was a story about a jazz musician on drugs, but really it is about brothers, from the perspective of the musician's much ol
...more
Laura Sims
“Sonny’s Blues” is a short story that revolves around two brothers. In the opening scene, the narrator, unnamed, learns that his brother Sonny has been arrested in a heroin bust and he has to go pick him up. Through out the short story, the narrator and Sonny learn why and how people cope with “the darkness” of life.

This is my first time reading James Baldwin, and boy was I pleased! I really enjoyed his writing style and descriptive elements. Towards the beginning of the story, he likens being n
...more
Kristy
There is lots of great imagery in this story:
- "My clothes were wet – I may have looked as though I’d been sitting in a steam bath, all dressed up, all afternoon"
- "He wanted Sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. He was Sonny’s witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing "
- "…like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light."
and there are so much more!

What I also found quite interesting and cunning were the instances were dialogue and action/setting c
...more
Bruce
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brandon Lucknauth
This book is really inspirational! It's inspirational because as a drug addict you got to go to really bad problems physically, mentally and could effect family members relationship. As your surround by darkness, there is always a way to find lightness. Really good book to read if you are going through a hard time and you ant to change.
Liza

This is one of my favorite short stories of all time. James Baldwin just has a gift for writing situations so that the reader really feels them. He writes without much flourish and yet his sentences convey certain basic truths so beautifully that reading them, all I can think of is "Yes. Just, Yes."


This story is my personal favorite because I too am a musician. When the narrator finally begins to understand Sonny's music, I practically cried with the joy and beauty of it. The idea of music as bo

...more
Rosalie
I enjoyed this story more than I thought I would. I thought it would be terribly boring, but I actually got wrapped up in the story. I wanted to find out what happened to Sonny the moment I started the first paragraph. This story was really good from beginning to end.
HuhWhat
This was my 2nd try at James Baldwin, the 1st was disappointing so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself thinking of this short story as one of the best I've ever read. Baldwin uses his characters as little snapshots to offer a glimpse of the variety of issues affecting Black Americans and he focuses on a single family which makes it all the more poignant. Given the length, you wouldn't expect much depth to the characters but I found the opposite to be true. The setting of the Harlem R ...more
Neah
only needed to read 5 pages, ended up reading the whole thing. A nice refreshing story which has a theme that's been rehashed so many times previously. This was distinct and doesn't focus on oppression but rather personal struggle.
Amanda
i love James Baldwin because everything i read from him makes me blink a few times to fully register how vividly i'm seeing the things i'm reading. For me he describes things with such imagery that its impossible to not feel like your there in the room with Sonny and his brother, drinking a beer. The way he describes things in this short story makes you see life in a new way- suddenly i'm watching and observing people and things in a way that i didn't before. suddenly i'm paying attention the w ...more
Greg Baerg
Some amazing imagery, including this passage which really struck me:

All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of a
...more
Laura Marquez
I first read this three years ago, and upon coming back to it a second time, have picked up much more details. Baldwin has a tight and poetic prose and I loved it all.
Alix
I don't want to rate it but I will.
PG for mild language and the mention of drug abuse and sex.

LOVED Sonny's Blues. Baldwin writes extraordinarily.
Laurie
I wrote a paper about this story a week ago, and it is still in my head when I'm trying to write other papers. Read James Baldwin - just absorb the words and then close your eyes and sort it all out, and cry if you have to. He is a fearless and yet gentle and compassionate artist with his words.
Sonny's Blues deals with the roots of addiction, the danger of stifling artistic creativity, the value of persistently loving family in spite of difficulty and differences ... so much is going on in this
...more
FrankenStan
pretty good. sentences seemed a lil rigid in parts but baldwin was a really good writer. i almost want to give this 5 stars.
Jessica Wilson
The realism of family is described with unabashed feelings of responsibility.
Stephen Theaker
In movies and tv shows about writers there always comes a point where you have to hear what the young genius has written, and it's always lame. The way James Baldwin writes is exactly how those passages should sound, perfect genius shining through in every choice of word. Maybe it's because he has such big stuff to write about - it's hard to write superbly if you don't have much to say. He articulates brilliantly feelings that are so difficult to express, and not just about race - I've never rea ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. The eldest of nine children, his stepfather was a minister. At age 14, Bal
...more
More about James Baldwin...
Go Tell It on the Mountain Giovanni's Room The Fire Next Time Notes of a Native Son Another Country

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“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.” 92 likes
“All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.” 47 likes
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