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The Best of Simple

4.37 of 5 stars 4.37  ·  rating details  ·  728 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Langston Hughes's stories about Jesse B. Semple--first composed for a weekly column in the Chicago Defender and then collected in Simple Speaks His Mind, Simple Takes a Wife, and Simple Stakes a Claim--have been read and loved by hundreds of thousands of readers. In The Best of Simple, the author picked his favorites from these earlier volumes, stories that not only have p...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 28th 1990 by Hill and Wang (first published September 1983)
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Dec 03, 2008 Janine rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those with (a) soul
This is an extraordinary book. I only knew Langston Hughes from his poetry and picked this up in a book exchange in Mozambique. The pages were yellowed and falling out, the cover was broken and bent with corners missing and I fully expected to have to throw it away when I finished reading it. I could never bring myself to do it. For a year I pressed, I taped, I rubber-banded and I wrapped it in a cloth handkerchief before passing it on to someone I though just might appreciate it as much.

Rick Diehl
The Jesse B Semple stories collected here are some of Langston Hughes best. Hughes paints a vivid picture of life in the post-war Harlem of the late 1940's and early 50's. You can smell the smoke in the air of the seedy little bars,the sweaty bodies dancing to cool jazz on a summer night, and laughter in the air. Brilliant little portraits of the highs and lows of everyday life, told by a master of the language.
Sheila Rocha
Simple is as Simple does. The twentieth century urban trickster. The Everyman white folks fear the most. He knows all from the inside, bottom, behind way and out. These stories are the classics of tomorrows American literature. The embody the most honest appraisal of the world during Jim Crow.
Langston Hughes is absolutely one of the best of black writers!! And I will not be able to say enough about The Best of Simple.

This collection of short stories are derived from a series of newspaper columns. From the columns, Hughes wrote three other books, but this particular one is what he considered the best of the columns. It is an anthology and chronicles his imagined conversations with Jesse B. Semple, called Simple.

Printed in 1961, this collection truly catalogs and provides an accounting...more
Apr 11, 2007 Serenity rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
The Simple stories are pure comedy!

I wish I could have met Langston Hughes but he died before my time =(.
Rachel Terry
I had no idea Langston Hughes was so funny. These stories are from a column Hughes originally wrote for the Chicago Defender, so it's a book you can pick up and put down at leisure (which I did for about four years). Jess B. Simple is Harlem's Everyman, and we get to learn about him through his conversations with the narrator, who must be Langston Hughes himself. Here's a bit of hilarity from Jess B. Semple:

"...I bet if [a Negro scientist] was making an atom bomb, they would have his picture on...more
Today, I finished Langston Hughes The Best of Simple, which is the author's pick of his favorite Simple stories as published in the Chicago Defender. It's quite good.

I had never read any Hughes before, although his name was familiar. The basic structure of the stories is the author's conversations with a black man in Harlem named Jesse B. Semple. Simple himself is a fascinating character - full of both raging self-defeat and justified complaints at the world of the day (these stories were publis...more
Bernard Norcott-mahany
A lot of these stories about Simple read like Mike Royko's column. For Royko, it was his Polish buddy at the bar, and for Hughes, it's his friend Simple who opines about life. Some of the observations are quite funny. I was a bit bothered, at times, by Hughes' own lines as he interlocuted with Simple -- he used a lot of big words, which Simple, of course, misunderstands. It seemed a lot like Bud Abbott using big words so that Costello could mistake the word and make a joke of it. IT works someti...more
This was a required reading for a Black American lit course I took a few years ago. I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book. Even though Hughes contributed to the Harlem Renaissance, I wondered if the creators of All in the Family used Semple's character as a model for Archie Bunker. I know, that's a radical and wild stretch.
Written by the brilliant poet,playwright and novelist, Langston Hughes','The Best of Simple' contains vivid insights into the life of post World War II African-Americans. Even more stunning is how relevant those insights remain almost fifty years after they were first published.
I've had this book for years in my collection. I started reading it several years ago but never finished it. I recently started reading it again. As a writer, I feel a special affinity to Langston Hughes -- as a black man, a gay man and a short story writer.
I love Mr. Hughes... His Simple stories are laced with humor and amazing wit. The Best of Simple gives a wonderful view of Harlem in the 1950's & 1960's.

Read it!!! It's a quick read and very poignant.
What can you say about a genius. This book was great, I was introduced to the character of Jess Semple and he is as familar to me as he was to all those who read these stories in the 50's and 60's.
Funny! A wonderful glimpse into Harlem during the 20's. We hear all the time about the "Roaring 20s" and never enough about the common man.
Stacy Saunders
1950s Harlem. Two men walk into a bar.

1st Man: How are things?

2nd Man: Terrible. Wife won’t pay for divorce, my main-girl actin’ cold, side-girl drinks up my money, landlady wants rent, my bunions hurt, and me bein’ a Negro, white people won’t let me get ahead.

1st Man: What are you going to do?

2nd Man: Get you to buy me a glass of beer. At least there will be a head on that.

Jesse B. Semple, the affable Simple character of Hughes’ stories, would be that second man. Uneducated, but not simple-mind...more
This is a fun collection of stories. A little repetitive but lots of color and life.
Langston Hughes is a trip....and i mean that in a good way.
The character "Simple" is well developed and hilarious!
Hughes is a powerful writer. His characters are lifelike and vivid and his imagery of post-war Harlem is full of rich beauty. A favorite passage:

"Sweep, rain, over the Harlem rooftops.Sweep into the windows of folks at work, not at home to close the windows.Wet the beds in side bedrooms almost as narrow as the bed against the window. Sweep, rain! Have fun with the brownstone fronts of rooming houses full of people boxed in this room, that room, seven rings, two rings, five, nine."

The page become...more
Jess Semple, his new wife Joyce, cousin Minnie, and a woman who reminds me of Eulelie Giles (see Passing) populate this wonderful book of essays that were a part of Hughes's column in the Chicago Defender.

The Simple stories describe life in Harlem over time up to the era of MLK. I found my favorite essay near the end of the book. In it, Simple speaks of being Jim Crowed and how, if white folks love colored folks so much, they ought to prove it and live Jim Crow. Simple's unnamed friend says he...more
Nana Fredua-Agyeman
The Best of Simple (Noonday Press, 1961*; 245) by Langston Hughes is a collection of seventy very short stories serialised chronologically to tell the story of Jesse B. Semple (usually spelt Simple) - an average black Joe whose experiences and actions during the epoch of segregation could be described as representative of the larger black community, especially Harlem.

From unstable jobs to living from day to day; from saving to marry to caring for a other family members; from the torments of segr...more
Jesse B. Semple is the character this compilation of short stories is about. Semple is a "Simple" man living in 1940's Harlem, of average means and average employment living in an average room.

I really enjoyed this book for various reasons, but mainly because it's so rare that books are devoted to be who aren't extraordinary, and this Simple is likable and funny but definitely not a special kinda guy, although he has potential.

I also love that this gives the reader a true sense of what it was...more
Apr 15, 2009 Miriam is currently reading it
"Now, to tell you the truth, I don't want no damned banquet. I don't want no honoring where you eat as much as me, and enjoy yourselves more, besides making some money for your treasury. If you want to honor me, give some young boy or girl whos's coming along trying to create arts and write and compose and sing and act and paint and dance and make something out of the beauties of the Negro race- give that child some help. Buy what they're making! Support what they're doing! Put out some cash- bu...more
Growing up in 70's I spent many days in the library in what they had labeled "the black experience " section and this book was one of many.
It is so funny how this character Jesse B. Simple sees the world!
Loved the stories of Jessie B. Now as an adult I truly understand the stories and this character.
Mary Sisney
I used to teach The Best of Simple in my black literature classes because I liked the character and Hughes' humor. Hughes uses Simple to make fun of pompous, phony people and to comment on some of the socio-political issues of the day.
My rating is really 3.5 stars but I rounded up for the originality of Langston Hughes. He has an uncanny ability to create a flawed but loveable, quirkily insightful character who, through conversation with the author, offers commentary about life in the black culture in Harlem in the 60s through his own eyes and experiences. Simple grew on me over time and was often a delightful contradiction of the absurd and the profound, speaking on subjects such as race, relationships, and economics.
Simple, the Virginia-born Harlem everyman at the center of this collection, is at times obtuse but at others keenly insightful. Originally published as newspaper columns, the best of them poke fun at racial prejudice, war and other irrational human behavior. Those concerning Simple's relatives got a little tedious, but perhaps that's only because they were mostly lumped together at the end of the book.
Jesse B. Semple is just simply funny. Hughes has created a character that will remind you of your outspoken relatives getting you in the corner and telling their 'back-in-the-day' stories. If you're new too Langston Hughes start with Simple. It is a great starter and will definitely encourage you to go on to his other great works.
Yvonne Shine
Huge Langston Hughes fan who has owned several of his books for years. The Best of Simple is one of my favorites for its humor and depiction of the everyday problems in which we humans find ourselves. Buy it, read it, reference it when you need the comic relief TV sitcoms will never provide.
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Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "Harlem was in vogue."
More about Langston Hughes...
The Collected Poems Selected Poems The Ways of White Folks Not Without Laughter The Big Sea

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