The most important book I've read in a while and likely among the most important books I will ever read. Coates' raw examination of race in America isThe most important book I've read in a while and likely among the most important books I will ever read. Coates' raw examination of race in America is not only required reading, as Toni Morrison rightly claims, but also a call to consciousness. I couldn't put it down!
My favorite part was perhaps Coates' atheism. It's not a perspective I've seen frequently in Af-Am civil rights writing, and while I acknowledge and understand the importance of spirituality in black life and in the civil rights movement, I found it's absence here very refreshing. For Coates the struggle is firmly grounded in a belief that what we might consider the soul is inextricably bound up with the body, and that a world that denies black people sovereignty over their own bodies is one that must be confronted and changed precisely because individuals only have one life. There is no grace in suffering. There is no reward in the afterlife. Each person who has suffered and died (and who continue to suffer and die) under racism have been robbed of an essential freedom and it cannot be recouped in the hereafter. Aside from agreeing with him on spiritual matters, I like how Coates' perspective requires a meditation on the individual. It's easy to think of the disenfranchised as a mass, but doing so stripes away a fundamental human dignity from each person and facilitates a nihilistic tendency to shrug one's shoulders and claim "what can I do?"
It was also powerful that way he addresses the book to his teenage son. Again, it brings in the human element. He's not just writing about this broad injustice, he's talking to his black son who must confront a world where Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and others are murdered with brutal regularity. This is your only life, you can hear Coates insisting, you must struggle but you must also find a way to enjoy it.
Peppered in throughout is an excellent critique of what Coates calls the "Dream" of a (largely white) America as typified in suburban life, the media, and culture-at-large. The "Dream" is vast, but it's many forms are all predicated on a myth that our country (or any country) arrived at prominence by virtue of its purity and moral superiority. The "Dream" is a direct result of an ongoing injustice and Coates does an excellent job charting its iterations across the ages.
There's so much more in this brief book than what I've highlighted above. In short, this book is heartbreaking. Read it....more
What a fun read! I received a free copy of Rita Mae Brown's seminal masterpiece as part of a gift bag at this year's Lambda Literary Awards (I was theWhat a fun read! I received a free copy of Rita Mae Brown's seminal masterpiece as part of a gift bag at this year's Lambda Literary Awards (I was there because my book was nominated!). I've been meaning to read Rubyfruit for years, but had never gotten around to it, but, boy, am I glad this was literally placed in my hands! I tore through it in about two days.
I place this book in the same category as Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series. Like Maupin's work, Rubyfruit is funny and lighthearted while remaining an important cultural and historical touchstone. The book's not perfect, though. Like many early LGBT texts it indulges a queer utopia where, seemingly, everybody is gay. I also found some of the scenes troubling from a contemporary political perspective. For instance, there are a couple of instances where some of the women force themselves on ostensibly heterosexual women, convinced that all they need to realize that they're lesbian is some woman-on-woman action. How many times have we heard that excuse from straight men? Still, I make allowances for books like this that broke through and made bold first strides for LGBT literature. I'd definitely recommend it to a friend....more
I enjoyed these two novellas, but I'm glad Murakami has grown as a writer since then. What later will be an interesting take on male waywardness hereI enjoyed these two novellas, but I'm glad Murakami has grown as a writer since then. What later will be an interesting take on male waywardness here reads a bit bro-y and a lot misogynistic. I was more engaged with the "Pinball" half, but I think that's largely due to the fact that I've read it before (in a different translation). I recommend this for Murakami completists and those interested in seeing the scaffolding for his better works, but don't start with these if you've never read him before; you'll be disappointed. ...more
I picked this up with very little knowledge about its contents—only a vague concept about it being the story of a man caught between cultures. Good thI picked this up with very little knowledge about its contents—only a vague concept about it being the story of a man caught between cultures. Good thing, too, because I tend to shy away from war books and there's a fair amount of that in here. Still, I'm glad I did pick it up. Whether writing directly about the war or not, Nguyen's eloquent prose expertly captures the immigrant/exile experience, the double consciousness of belonging nowhere and the futile attempt to fit into categories that don't accommodate multitudinous identities. At its heart the book is about friendship, camaraderie, and bounds among men (a common enough theme in war books), but the point is balanced against cultural, economic, and political concerns. There are lessons to be learned here regarding our current adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere, particularly in his depictions of jingoistic policies. I liked the way Nguyen resisted neat categorizations of good and bad, though, allowing a full measure of sincerity to blossom throughout. Everybody's got skin in the game here, and the right side is more a matter of perspective than anything else.
A final point: I loved the part about how the history of the Vietnam War was the first history to be written by the loser. ...more
I read this as the civil disobedience protests in Baltimore were unfolding, which was a rather apt time. A large chunk of the essays in Solnit's "encyI read this as the civil disobedience protests in Baltimore were unfolding, which was a rather apt time. A large chunk of the essays in Solnit's "encyclopedia" examine the myth of looting. In the process she exposes the media and cultural fixation on property over people, arguing that in most cases (and it's important to note that her case studies are natural disasters, the Haitian earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) during catastrophes civil society emerges to fill in the vacuum left by the environmental disruption. Most people, she notes, are "looting" to feed or care for their families and communities. She goes on to say that while things like TV's do also get taken, it's a small price to pay, and that attempting to protect property requires redirecting resources away from more critical needs. In her examples, these needs largely amount to rescuing people affected by natural disasters, but one can easily apply it to something like Baltimore. The difference there might be that focusing on "looting" diverts public attention from the much more critical issue of systemic racism.
The book is about more than "looting." Solnit is never short of reliably left-wing critiques running the gamut of environmental hazards to public shaming of rapacious capitalists. If there is a strong unifying element through the book it's an exploration of the power of civil society. She's working towards a rallying cry. Unfortunately, some of the more hopeful moments (Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring) maybe didn't go on to the be the utopian ideal Solnit is clearly hoping for.
Often when I read systemic critiques it feels like there's nothing to do with my anger after the fact. Everything can start to feel hopeless, but Solnit does an admirable job of balancing the fatalism and rage with moments of hope. I give her kudos for that!...more