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White Girls

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  3,467 ratings  ·  389 reviews
White Girls, Hilton Als’s first book since The Women fourteen years ago, finds one of The New Yorker's boldest cultural critics deftly weaving together his brilliant analyses of literature, art, and music with fearless insights on race, gender, and history. The result is an extraordinary, complex portrait of "white girls," as Als dubs them—an expansive but precise category ...more
Hardcover, 344 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by McSweeney's
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  3,467 ratings  ·  389 reviews

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Apr 05, 2015 rated it liked it
This should have been two volumes. The first essay is just so completely different than the rest of the book in every way, McSweeney's really should have made it a standalone book. In fact, I'm just going to review it on its own as if that's how it had been, because I'm going to remember it that way anyhow. After that I'll do a gloss of the rest of the book, because that's what each section deserves.

"Tristes Tropiques."
This slim little 95-page flit absolutely destroyed me. Destroyed. Me. I was s
Aug 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-2013
Probably the most insufferably pretentious book I've ever read -- and this is coming from a big Wayne Koestenbaum fan.

I love Hilton Als's writing in The New Yorker -- fascinating little queer reveries disguised as theater reviews -- and I love his public persona of a sort of curmudgeonly, erudite vamp. So I guess I'd like to meet the brilliant doctor who gave Als the full frontal lobotomy that caused him to pinch off this unreadable turd of a book. Or maybe I should blame the editor (are there e
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It feels cheap to use adjectives such as "stunning," and "remarkable" to describe White Girls when Hilton Als does so much more with language in his work. The opening essay, "Tristes Tropiques," pushes language past its tipping point and creates some new, dazzling purpose with it. Simply put, this isn't how language is supposed to work, and yet it does. Readers are first thrown into an autobiographical investigation concerning Als' relationships - from friends, lovers, family, and the like - but ...more
Feb 19, 2014 marked it as dnf
Shelves: queer, 2010s, amurika
I am just gonna have to accept that there is a certain kind of writing, a certain kind of way of making art and text, that just does not do it for me. At all. Because I don't consume media to become intimate with the creator of the media I'm consuming. I want to get into the actual media itself. I don't go, oh look at the creative person's intelligence, their emotions, their sensitivity and cleverness. I don't care. At all. I know this is at odds with the way some people, the tasteful people, pr ...more
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'd heard a lot about Als's book through the literary buzz generated from its publication in McSweeney's in autumn of last year. The Millions mentioned it as one of the year's best reads and the stacks of blurbs on the back were hyperventilating in their approbation.

I'd read one of Als's essays before in Harper's, about gender and sexuality and it was stylistically interesting as much as it was philosophically compelling. A rare find, that.

So I got it for Xmas from my no-doubt-befuddled parent
Chris Richards
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
At times, this feels so good it should be illegal. Hilton Als is one of the best interpreters of our times.
Dec 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary, genre-bending cultural criticism. Along with Packer's The Unwinding, the best non-fiction book of 2013. This is a masterpiece gorgeous,
mind-expanding prose.
Adam Schlesinger
This is the type of book that you'd probably really like if you were really into deconstructions of race/gender/sexuality/class but didn't want another "standard" deconstructions of those things. Instead of a "here's the critical theory background we all have let's look at these people" he bounces around subjects and attacks them from a bunch of different intellectual angles. So like, I get what Als is doing and why its appealing to highbrow cultural critics but it doesn't appeal to me.

Part of
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I want to write a fullblown review of this book, I think...found it utterly absorbing and provocative. Als uses the figure of the white girl (loosely defined to include, for instance, Malcolm X's "white" mother as well as fashionable young white women like those on the cover) as a way to enter into discussions of race, sexuality, gender, identity and identity politics, interpersonal relationships, literature, film, writing. The first essay, on the Als's experience of "twinning" with a loved one ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
To say that White Girls was challenging feels like somehow missing the point. The more I slowed down, took a breath, and plunged into the next sentence, the more I could feel myself sinking into the vicarious experience of something a little more sophisticated than stream of consciousness - you know, those moments where you are very aware of your physical self, in the way in which you take up space, and how the loudness of your breath seems in direct contradiction of the smallness you feel?

Apr 23, 2015 rated it liked it
reading this book was an exercise in humility for me. i had no idea what i was getting into when i picked it up before heading on vacation, other than that junot diaz and roxane gay liked it.

hilton als does something with the essay form that i can't put into words. the fluidity of perspective, of fact and fiction - i recognize that it's incredible, and sometimes i would have these breakthroughs in understanding and i'd get to enjoy it, too. but mostly it was *hard*. maybe i'll come back to it so
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Not totally worthless.
Jake Goretzki
Apr 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015

Highly original and covering a range of subjects which on their own inspire plenty of curiosity (Richard Pryor is a fascinating character; Louise Brooks another one to read up more on). As many have said, I've never read anything quite like this, blending as it does essay, memoir, polemic and fiction. It’s incredibly idiosyncratic.

Sadly, for the most part, it's so abstruse and non sequitur as to be unreadable. Sentence upon sentence of opaque, clause-heavy wooliness. I wanted to pummel the man
Kareem Reid
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
his intersections are fresh, relevant, nuanced and challenging. als writes with such assuredness and respect, with the pure intention of human understanding and creates strong emotional links between taboo cultural pairings (most often white women and black men) - an exploration of how the oppressed and marginalized across privileges and cultures can illuminate or expand our perception of a broader (and more terrifying) contemporary cultural landscape. junot diaz called it "the read of the year" ...more
Mar 11, 2015 added it
The first essay "Tristes Tropiques"--an ode to complex, romantic friendship--was so gorgeous and arresting; it's one of the best things I've read all year. The remaining essays were uneven for me, though I found the ones on Flannery O'Connor, Eminem, Louise Brooks, and Richard Pryor particularly compelling. ...more
Mar 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read all year. This book changed my brain. It is a challenging read, in the best possible way. It got me thinking about race and culture and my place in the world and how I'm perceived in a way that no other work has been able to capture. An absolute must-read: and please talk to me about it when you do read it! ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wonderfully written, provocative, thoughtful literary memoir/essay collection. Als writes about issues primarily through the lens of individual characters such as Richard Pryor (an especially strong look at the performer both as an individual and at his political commentary). I loved the essay about Louise Brooks, the silent screen actress who starred in Pandora's Box. Als captured her spirit (at least the popular conception of her as demonstrated through her performances, public persona, and me ...more
Feb 08, 2021 added it
I'll come back to this I'd just like to experience happiness atm ...more
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
This essay collection is a piece-by-piece, often focused on celebrities, dense treatise on identity. Als deals with famous figures (Eminem, Michael Jackson, Malcolm X, Truman Capote, and most in-depthly, Richard Pryor) through the lens of gender, sexuality and race - most often using each lens to draw a further microscopic view on the other. His views are often contrary to popular opinion, or introduce new ways of looking at figures that have already been intensely scrutinized, and his voice exi ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A diamond - sparkling, cold, cutting glass, piercing your heart with its beauty and intelligence. Wear it on your finger to clear the way before you.
If, like me, this book landed on your lap and you wanted to read it, I recommend listening to this first. ...more
Sherrie Hui
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Virtuosic and wholly unique, many of these essays are impressionistic studies of identity, not meant to be neatly unpacked. Als' works feels like a poetic personal meditation as much as cultural criticism. ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book seemed like senseless rambling to me. As with other first person narratives I've read lately, the author demands that the reader care about the characters of his story without bothering to write characters they could care about. ...more
Jul 03, 2014 added it
This book made me have a lot of thoughts and feelings! I'm not even sure what all of them are! ...more
I do wish that more reviews, whether on here or elsewhere, would really dissect what Hilton Als meant by white girl here. The designation is purposefully vague and conceptual, but that is part of the great fun of the book. Als treats these pages as acres of wide open land to conceptualize whatever the heck he wants, leading to awesome revelations about concepts of whiteness and femininity, idolized or ignominious. There are a few duds, or a few carefully woven threads left untethered by the end ...more
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
when it's good it's amazing, when it's confusing, it's baffling ...more
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fun read. At times it was a bit abstract and I had trouble following the thread, but overall it was very enjoyable. Als starts the collection by talking about his friend who he calls Sir or Lady, and who is a kindred soul who shares Als' belief that black maleness in America is, in part, a little bit Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby He doesn't really explain the claim, but while reading the collection you feel that it somehow does seem right. Overall, White Girls is heavy ...more
Jeff Golick
Felt like a book Als needed to write, if also not the book I was hoping he'd write. Great on popular culture icons such as Louise Brooks and Richard Pryor, but off-puttingly insular and coded when dealing with more personal and (presumably) autobiographical material.

And here I'll turn it over to Roxane Gay, whose review quote was the one I turned to when other folks asked me about the book: "These essays defy categorization. They are unwieldy, and meandering and as self-indulgent as they are int
Mar 23, 2018 added it
“East Baltimore was swelling up in the middle and oozing slime on the sides; it was fat with the drug traffic that had been dumped there because God knows why. When Gary was a child, the white children only came to his neighborhood if their mother told them to collect Mavis, her runny-nosed kid, and her bag of cleaning supplies. Now the white kids had red-rimmed eyes and runny noses themselves, looking to die a little, too. Rock and roll, fashion, drugs—white people will follow your colored ass ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014-reads
I didn't really care for most of the essays in this collection that will presumably be on all the best-of-the-year lists, including the reputedly "worth-the-price-of-admission" first essay and excluding the Flannery O'Connor piece because she is so original that I never tire of reading about her even when I'm not learning anything I hadn't read before. The penultimate piece - what was that? I am not cool enough to pretend to get it - I hated. ...more
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Hilton Als is an American writer and theater critic who writes for The New Yorker magazine. Previously, he had been a staff writer for The Village Voice and editor-at-large at Vibe magazine.

His 1996 book The Women focuses on his mother, who raised him in Brooklyn, Dorothy Dean, and Owen Dodson, who was a mentor and lover of Als. In the book, Als explores his identification of the confluence of his

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“For black people, being around white people is sometimes like taking care of babies you don't like, babies who throw up on you again and again, but whom you cannot punish, because they're babies.” 9 likes
“Regardless of where many of us believe we land - in that field encumbered by not too much baggage or entirely too much - we all come from the same place, which is a road rutted by experience so banal, nearly remarkable, that memory tricks us into remembrance of it again and again, as if experience alone were not enough. What are we to do with such a life, one in which we are not left alone to events - love, shopping, and so forth - but to the holocaust of feeling that memory, misremembered or not, imposes on us?” 6 likes
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