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Sag Harbor

3.35  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,691 Ratings  ·  724 Reviews
From the award-winning author of John Henry Days and The Intuitionist: a tender, hilarious, and supremely original novel about coming-of-age in the 80s.

Benji Cooper is one of the few black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. But every summer, Benji escapes to the Hamptons, to Sag Harbor, where a small community of African American professionals have built a worl
Paperback, 329 pages
Published June 15th 2010 by Anchor (first published 2009)
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Mar 14, 2009 christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Colson Whitehead is one shit-describin' motherfucker.
Glenn Sumi
Aug 18, 2015 Glenn Sumi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the perfect book to read in late summer, as well as a nice introduction to the writing of Colson Whitehead. It’s more like a 4.5 star book, but I’m rounding up because the writing is so good and the author captures this era so effectively. I’m definitely going to read more by him.

It’s the summer of 1985 and 15-year-old Benji is, as usual, at his family’s place on the eponymous Sag Harbor, a small village in the Hamptons populated during the season by upper-middle class, professional Afr
Sep 22, 2012 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's been a couple years since I read this, but this book still brings back memories every time I see it, and I felt it was time to come back and give it a proper review.

Since I was 3 years old, my family has owned a cottage on Lake Erie, in a resort community near Cedar Point. We stay there every summer for at least one full week, plus a dozen weekends, and are always joined by a bounty of friends and family. It has always been a place I will treasure, and holds many fond memories. Of all the b
Colson Whitehead is a wonderful writer. Although I wasn't a Sag Harbor summer kid myself, the author and I are about the same age so much of his reminiscing about his experiences as a 15 year old stirred similar memories I possess. Sag Harbor is a work of fiction, not a memoir, but it reads as much like the latter than as a novel, and no doubt it was largely inspired by the author's youthful days. Not a whole lot happens in Sag Harbor, basically a group of teenagers kill the abundance of time th ...more
Jan 31, 2009 kira rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm glad I read this book in the dead of winter - it is so evocative of the atmosphere of a little beach town and of a kid's experience of coming of age during the long, restless and wondrous days of summer. Though the novel focuses primarily on Benji's coming of age in an upper middle class African American community, so many of his experiences and the themes in the book cross race lines, and Whitehead makes Benji's experiences feel almost universal. This novel presents the complex and delicate ...more
Dec 31, 2012 Snotchocheez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I'd be the first acknowledge that Colson Whitehead's style is a tough sell for most readers. He's got a detatched, wordy aloofness, and a meandering stream-of-conscious quality that might alienate some, bore others. I contend, though, he's certainly worth reading if you're like me and appreciate authors in love with the English language. He completely wowed me with 2011's Zombie-story-for-people-that-don't-like-zombie-stories: Zone One. Mr. Whitehead's meandering iciness contributed wonderfully
Madeline Knight-Dixon
This book is… unexpected. When I began it, I thought it was a traditional coming of age story; there would be a challenge, a test of some sort, that the main character would have to get through in order to have grown into a new person by the end of the summer. But that’s not what this book is. It is simply a novel that recounts the summer of a teenage boy. It’s warm, sweet, at times a little sad but mostly as carefree as summer nights are.

Of course it is about Sag Harbor, the Hamptons for upper-
Elizabeth Owosina
Oct 04, 2010 Elizabeth Owosina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't get into it. Text just kept going on and on and on. Ugh! Put it down after 40 pages.
Karen Miller

For all those who thought – like me – that the Hamptons was simply the summer playground for the rich and beautiful, Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead may come as a surprise. It seems that upper-middle class African-Americans have owned summer homes there since the 1940s.

And in 1985 15-year-old Benji summered there for his 15th year. Only for the first time he’s pretty much on his own since his parents have decided that he and his younger brother are old enough to hold down the home front, while
Oct 18, 2010 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Grown-ups
Recommended to Alan by: Roberta; previous work
Dag... I really liked this hyperrealistic hybrid between autobiography and fiction (from its internal consistency and from the author's Acknowledgements, it seems likely that much of the background and many of the events were drawn from his own growing up). It begins at the intersection of two alien worlds—alien to me, anyway. The first: growing up black in America. The second: growing up wealthy—or affluent, well-to-do, at worst upper middle-class... definitions differ, but families who live in ...more
Jul 29, 2009 christa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Colson Whitehead's coming-of-age novel "Sag Harbor" defies the conventional definition of novel in that it doesn't have one of those pesky plots weighing it down. This is something a reader should understand before reading to avoid all sorts of failed Aha! moments: Nope. This isn't going to be about an 80s child, fatally wounded in a BB gun fight. Nope. This isn't going to be about coveting thy friend's summer girlfriend.

Whitehead admits this himself in his video pitch: "There's no dead body,"
Jul 19, 2009 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When you pick up most writers, you know know exactly what you're going to get -- Tolstoy reads like Tolstoy, "Faulknerian" is an adjective for a reason, Rushdie's novels all share similarities (other than the fact that the most recent ones all suck), and De Lillo has such a strong style that he now borders on self-parody.

Which is what makes Colson Whitehead perhaps the most impressive author writing today. Not only are every one of his books equally fantastic, but each novel bears almost no styl
Jul 11, 2010 Esil rated it really liked it
I was going to give this book 3 stars because there are parts I liked and parts that were only ok, so it seemed to average out to 3 stars. But in the last 10 pages there is a reflection on growing up that was so well done that it pulled me to 4 stars. Overall, this is good read about being a teenager, trying to find your place in the world and understanding how things work. This theme was made more compelling by the narrator's specific circumstances, i.e. as a middle class African American spend ...more
Mistinguette Smith
This is the book for people who want to say they read Colson Whitehead but don't want to read anything difficult or experimental. This book is
recalls in excruciating adolescent detail, the summertime lives of a group of high school aged African American middle class boys. And I do mean rendered in excruciating detail. Sag Harbor is getting great press, probably because there are still folks who are surprised to learn that there are middle class black people who summer in the Hamptons, too. The
Jane Trucksis
Sep 22, 2015 Jane Trucksis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first head of Colson Whitehead when he was interviewed on "Fresh Air" to promote "The Noble Hustle." He opened with "I have a good poker face, because I'm half dead inside." That got my attention, and after listening to the interview, I was so intrigued by his unique perspective on things, I read "The Noble Hustle," and loved it. It was funny, and I couldn't get enough of Whitehead's musings on life in the Republic of Anhedonia. I decided to read another one of his books, and I've found "Sag H ...more
Ron Charles
Nov 28, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No one writes with more acrobatic imagination and good humor about the complexities of race in America than Colson Whitehead. In "The Intuitionist" and "John Henry Days," he evoked the nation's racial history as deftly as he created bizarre alternatives. And in his 2003 paean to his home town, "The Colossus of New York," he captured the choreography of a vibrant, multicultural city. Now he surprises us again with a charming autobiographical novel that comes honey-glazed with nostalgia. Detailing ...more
May 21, 2009 Gerund rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At one point in American author Colson Whitehead's fourth novel, the 15-year-old protagonist Benji succinctly sums up the strangeness of his social circle: "According to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses."

The year is 1985, more than two decades before the Obamas would step into the White House as America's First Family. Then, as now, spending summer vacations in your family's beach house on Long Island was something strongly associated with WASPs (White A
Aug 20, 2009 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buy
I am not as big a fan of speculative/alternate reality stuff as some of my nearest and dearest though I did quite like the Intuitionist. However a straight piece of fiction by Whitehead seemed just the ticket.

And at first I was way down with this book. Loved the early-80s hip-hop nostalgia, beach town, gangs of boy friends, middle-class talented-tenth black folks, etc.

And then it got to be too much. Too memoiry, too detailed. It was sort of like hanging out with that group of boys who constantl
Aug 03, 2009 Jodi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-read
Dear @colsonwhitehead,

I’m sorry for doubting you. I was going to write this apology/review in a series of 140 character paragraphs (ala tweet) but that’s too much of a pain in the ass and would do your beautiful book, Sag Harbor, a great disservice. It deserves better.

I’m sorry for wondering about the story-ness of your story. I was getting scared. From the beginning you set up a certain kind of story, the summer Benji and Reggie went to Sag Harbor and were the kids in the empty house, out for t
Sep 08, 2015 D.A. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This compelling, hilarious coming of age tale is filled with satisfying chunks of pop culture and zinging repartee. There's a great break-down of the innovations of Afrika Bambaataa, a complete guide to cussing using a handy matrix of combinations ("pleather Members Only-wearin'" as an adjective, for example) and a marvelous paean to frozen dinners. 15 year old Benji's world is filled with do's and don't's, from how to dress to how to talk, and this summer is a particularly important and memorab ...more
Courtney H.
3.5 is a more accurate grade. First things first: Whitehead has a remarkable and impressive ability to morph his voice with every book he writes. Many authors, including great authors, are recognizable in each novel. But while some of Whitehead's prose traces through all his books, at least the three I've read largely vary in style, tone, voice, character, time period; each seems like a reinvention of Whitehead as a novelist. Adichie does this too--even better, I think--but after her, it becomes ...more
Robin Nicholas
This is the story of a 1985 upper-middle class, private school goin', bauhaus listenin', d&d playin', black kid who spends his summers in Sag Harbor in the house his family has had for three generations. This author does an AMAZING job of setting the scene. His use of the language/slang, music/lyrics, styles, and feeling of the times puts you IN 1985. Whitehead's ability to set the scene and create an atmosphere is one of the best I have read. BUT.....nothing happens! I was completely there. ...more
Jan 18, 2012 Kerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I related to this book – even though my family never “summered” anywhere, and I’m not black, and I’m not a male. I related because, like narrator Benji and his friends, I know the word “dag.” If this expression is not in your vocabulary, hear it not as the clipped sound as if it rhymed with “bag”; it’s more like saying “dang” with a stuffy nose, and with a slight lilt to the a, drawing it out with a vocal inflection down.

“Dag” is usually followed by “that’s cold” (as in, you got served, that’s
Sep 20, 2010 Stefani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer-vignette
This book captivated me completely, forcing involuntary and often embarrassingly loud bursts of laughter out of me in inappropriate places across the NY tri-state area, my shame mitigated by the anticipation of yet another entertaining passage. The novel follows Whitehead as he fondly remembers blissfully long summers-surprisingly bereft of parental supervision-at his family's beach house in Long Island, drinking Coke, eating Swanson TV dinners, and swigging Bartles & Jaymes, relics of the n ...more
May 06, 2009 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-books
The writing in this fictionalized memoir of one teen's summer in the black bourgeois enclave of Sag Harbor is superb. Spot on observations of race, class and family relations are expertly woven through the time-honored experiences of summer jobs, first kisses and beach barbecues. My favorite sections detailed the narrator's experience working at the local ice cream shop, an ill-fated bb gun war between friends, and a tension-filled family dinner that almost erupted into violence due to the tempe ...more
Aug 19, 2013 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up Sag Harbor expecting a higher-brow version of The Wood (which I consider woefully underappreciated). And Sag Harbor is sort of like that, only it’s much, much, much more literary than I expected.
Sag Harbor is less a coming-of-age story and more a slow-moving series of snapshots that take place over the course of one summer. While I liked a story that focused on a teenager and did not involve soap-opera hysterics, this one was almost too far in the other direction. It’s one of those l
Jul 15, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why do I think this is more autobiographical than novelistic? Whitehead's book is the perfect summer read. My boyhood memories of summer at the beach are of a Padre Island that probably no longer exists with vast stretches of deserted beaches populated only with sand dollars, Scotch bonnets, moon snails, and other prizes tossed up by the Gulf of Mexico. Coyotes roamed the dunes behind the beach, with the only people in evidence being the occasional solitary angler casting in the surf or the arti ...more
Mocha Girl
Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead's last novel, is a delightful romp down memory lane; specifically, his adolescent summers at Sag Harbor, NY -- a beachfront retreat from the city where his brother and he broke out of their "Cosby Kid" existence for a few carefree months. On the surface, it is a reflection of the coming-of-age awkwardness and dilemmas that come with a boy's life: dating/girls, clothing, fitting in, parties (particularly getting into them), and establishing his own identity amid the p ...more
Jun 06, 2009 Rick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Sag Harbor is Whitehead’s fourth novel and not his best, though it does have its moments and displays his elegant prose style throughout. A coming of age tale, Sag Harbor is set in 1980s when the book’s narrator, Benjie Cooper and his family spend their summers in this Long Island beach community, escaping Manhattan’s sultry, oppressive weather. Azurest is part of an African-American enclave in Sag Harbor, middle class but apart still. Whitehead’s protagonist is just an ordinary teen growing up ...more
Jan 03, 2010 Kat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my week for books with adolescent narrators. Of the three (The Magicians, Swimming and this one), this one is by far the best. I tried reading Apex Hides the Hurt by this author and found it v. gimmicky, but I am glad I read this book. It presents the realities of middle class black life in the 1980s v. vividly (in that is v. reminiscent of Stephen Carter books), and is a great portait of a boy on the verge of adolescence. The protagonist is the only black child in a prestigeous private ...more
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Colson Whitehead was born in 1969, and was raised in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard College, he started working at the Village Voice, where he wrote reviews of television, books, and music.

His first novel, The Intuitionist, concerned intrigue in the Department of Elevator Inspectors, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and a winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Awa
More about Colson Whitehead...

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“As time went on, we learned to arm ourselves in our different ways. Some of us with real guns, some of us with more ephemeral weapons, an idea or improbable plan or some sort of formulation about how best to move through the world. An idea that will let us be. Protect us and keep us safe. But a weapon nonetheless.” 18 likes
“The only time "early bloomer" has ever been applied to me is vis-a-vis my premature apprehension of the deep dread-of-existence thing. In all other cases, I plod and tromp along. My knuckles? Well dragged.” 6 likes
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