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Fire Shut Up in My Bones

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  3,429 ratings  ·  500 reviews
A gorgeous, moving memoir of how one of America's most innovative and respected journalists found his voice by coming to terms with a painful past

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow mines the compelling poetry of the out-of-time African-American Louisiana town where he grew up -- a place where slavery's legacy felt astonishingly close, reverberating in the elders'
Hardcover, 228 pages
Published September 23rd 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  3,429 ratings  ·  500 reviews

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Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
The debut memoir from longtime New York Times columnist Charles Blow, Fire Shut Up In My Bones examines the author’s coming of age in rural Louisiana. Early chapters focus on Blow’s impoverished childhood and his strong bond with his mother, whereas later ones detail his college years at Grambling State University; his ambivalence about his sexuality and his relentless ambition tie the two parts together. The language is polished, the characterization solid, the pacing measured. The memoir is ...more
Sarah Greer
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It always amazes me how, when a really great book comes on the scene, everybody in NYC seems to be reading it all at the same time. It's as if the city subway becomes its own little Book Club; everybody reading the same book in the same car. I KNOW in my heart of hearts that this is going to happen with this absolutely phenomenal, exquisite memoir. Charles Blow tells the truth, and he does it in a way that both stuns and inspires. I enthusiastically recommend this book.
Betsy Robinson
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read an Advanced Reading Copy. Exquisite writing. Electric from the start. Since this is an uncorrected proof, I'm assuming it's still being worked on and will say no more.

* * *

Many weeks later now, and I just want to add to my not-very-specific praise: I gave my galley to a neighbor, an older black man who lives a very idiosyncratic life, and it (the book) seems to have rocked his soul. This is powerful stuff and will help both people who can identify with it and those are just general
May 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Some of the most brilliant, creative writing you'll ever experience. The sort of writing you grieve when it's finished. I had never heard of Charles M. Blow before my husband brought this advance copy home, but I am committed to reading anything of his that may come my way. Even when I couldn't relate to or agree with what he was saying, I languished in the way that he said it. Stellar.
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I learned while attending his author event that Blow credits his “literary fathers,” James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Ernest Gaines (to name a few), for allowing him to see himself. He emphasized the importance of diversity in literature, and all arts, because “you come to know yourself through reflection.”

He also disclosed that the Encyclopedia of Black Folklore and Humor lives on his nightstand. He didn’t have much growing up, so he became used to reading the same stories multiple times
Rebecca Martinez
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was fortunate to get my hands on an advanced copy of Fire Shut Up In My Bones by New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow. From the very first sentences of Charles Blow’s memoir, I was captivated. So much difference between our lives and, yet, so much sameness. His story telling perfectly exemplifies the connection Maya Angelou spoke of when she said, “I am human, therefore, nothing human can be alien to me.” However, the ability to capture the depth of this connection is a gift that few ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Charles M. Blow, the renowned New York Times Op-Ed columnist, is a unique person with a singular path, but most good biographies have this: a great story of a remarkable person. What this one has that make it different and better than all the rest is, simply put, some of if not the most beautiful, lyrical and amazing writing, which takes it from being a good biography to being a great read. As my elders used to say, Charles Blow can "turn a phrase."

I have read hundreds of books in my life - and
I just cannot get interested in this memoir. It's so damn boring. Great title, but I suggest he release the fire from his bones and pour it into his writing. Once in a while he has a good line: "And he had the smile of a scoundrel--the kind of smile that disarmed men and undressed women" (7, describing his ne'er do well father) but mostly the book so far (up to page 35 when I gave up) is comprised of not-very-exciting descriptions of his rough, poverty-stricken life in rural Louisiana. Despite ...more
Mocha Girl
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Memoirs and autobiographies are without a doubt a difficult undertaking for anyone to tackle - to revisit one's childhood, recall periods of highs and lows (and all that's in between), and share secrets (that not even his mother knew) takes guts and confidence. Fire Shut Up In My Bones is written by a man who is finally comfortable with himself and opts to share his journey from the violent backwoods of Louisiana (where folks worked hard and loved harder) to the coveted New York Times Newsroom. ...more
Joshunda Sanders
Mar 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a truly wonderful read. It contains all the lovely hallmarks of memoir: It is evocative, moving and sometimes funny. The way Blow captures his coming of age as a black man who is sexually fluid, or "technically Bisexual" is admirable and courageous in part because he writes about his difference with such elegance. In addition to being groundbreaking without being self-congratulatory, Fire Shut Up In My Bones is also deft and poetic.
Jack Terry
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
In trying to figure out what it was about this book that didn't captivate me, I finally realized that at no point did I actually get a sense of the fire that is supposedly shut up in his bones. He ends the book by talking about the passion that he is going to live his life with, but the majority of the book he talks about how he has no connection to any emotion. If there is fire shut up in his bones, isn't that when it would have been formed? Make no mistake he certainly had a turbulent ...more
Germaine Cherry
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Charles M. Blow.
The courage of Mr. Charles M. Blow to articulate his childhood abuse of his family member is astounding and has earned my utmost respect. Charles’ memoir has erased my first impression of him being an ‘Egotistic Moron ~ Writer of a News Column.’ This book: ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ is well written, precise, truth felt and hard on the heart strings. I found myself crying for the child in Charles as he had no recourse to fight this abusive family member
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Also read an advance copy. A great read. Beautifully written. His life has been an extraordinary journey so far.
Melissa Stacy
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones" is an insightful, absorbing memoir. The author, Charles M. Blow, is a black man who grew up poor in Louisiana. He went to college in Louisiana and has been a columnist at "The New York Times" since 2008. He has appeared on TV, but I have yet to watch one of his TV clips online. If you're a regular viewer of CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc., you may have seen him already.

The first part of this book recounts his early childhood. His prose is beautiful, engaging, and easy to
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"I would harness the truths that had been trapped in me like a fire shut up in my bones." This is the second to last sentence in this book, and it sums up what Charles Blow has attempted to do here." "Harness the truths" is not always an easy task, especially when you reveal some unflattering truths about yourself. The writing is proficient and there are quite a few memorable lines in this memoir. In describing his mother shooting at his fleeing father, not really wanting to hit her target, "A ...more
Sarah Weathersby
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times columnist who tells his coming-of-age memoir of growing up in rural Louisiana. It was a hardscrabble existence living with an assortment of relatives in various houses, including The House with no Steps (capitalized that way). He had brothers, cousins, uncles coming and going in his life, a mother who tried to hold it all together, and a philandering father who was mostly absent from his life. Charles as the youngest of the brothers, often questioned how he ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014-reads
I did not find the the writing exquisite and "lyrical" - yes, perhaps a few sentences were but too many were just overwrought and purple, striving for beauty. Also, as memoir it was structurally very linear and repetitive. I wish he'd included more perspectives from his life today - the immersion in his family world as a 5-year old (for example) with its perfectly memorized dialogue and overly wise interpretations of the child's mind just showed me he was interpreting his situation from an ...more
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Blow's prose meanders a bit, and takes more time than needed to get to the point, especially near the end, but he is a very talented writer. I loved how he was able to build his world through words and invite the reader into the lives of his diverse family and small town. Though much of it was heartbreaking, his words were soft and storytelling skills very moving. Glad he shared his stumbles and triumphs along the way to becoming successful columnist.
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is Charles Blow's coming of age story. In lyrical prose, he relates the confusion and harm that sexual abuse does to a young child's psyche. Despite the poverty and bleakness of his early years, Charles has a love of learning and when he is encouraged by a teacher, his studying and ambition help him to make it to college and he ultimately lands a coveted internship (made just for him!) at The New York Times.
Jeff Scott
Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hurtling down the highway with a gun on the passenger seat, Charles Blow is intent on murder and self-destruction. Blow seeks revenge on the person who upended his life and made him question his identity. It is this moment that leads to an epiphany. This memoir is an unpacking of that moment.

There is sometimes a need to unearth our own story. A need to probe our depths to make sense of our own past, even though we aren’t sure where it leads or what it means. Charles Blow’s memoir Fire Shut up
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
4.5 stars

“There is nothing like the presence of a gun, and an earnest intent to use it, to draw the totality of a life into sharp relief. That was a lesson I would learn early and often. But even more important was the idea that, at any moment, we all had the awesome and underutilized power to simply let go of our past and step beyond it.”

This was a fascinating memoir to me, not only because of the author's personal history, but because of his familial history too. He discusses his family
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Fascinating story or stories but not well written or focused. I liked how he reproduced certain bits of dialogue to show how his relatives spoke...but it almost becomes ridicule...and when did he stop talking that way? I found the stories of Blow's youth interesting but his editor should have trimmed the rambling tales that had no point to his story or were used for yet another turgid metaphor. The poverty, abuse, racism and ignorance under which he lived are shocking in that they happened in ...more
Spider the Doof Warrior
Nov 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is harrowing and a must read to understand various black issues. It goes well with Black Boy. It's like a modern version of that. Very painful and sad in parts and the writing is beautiful.
C.E. G
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autobios
4.5 stars. Memoirs of this caliber are the reason I love the genre. Charles Blow writes exquisitely about growing up in small town Louisiana, struggling with sexuality after being sexually abused by a cousin, and undergoing harrowing hazing in pledging to a fraternity.

But it's passages like this one, about his grandmother's partner's eyes, that really made me love it:

It was those eyes that struck you - brown, maple-syrup sweet, a hint of gray around the edges, sunrise yellow where the whites
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Over the last year or so of reading the opinion section of the New York Times, I’ve often come across the writing of Charles Blow. At first I was unfamiliar with him but the more I read him and his impassioned writings on injustice and bigotry, I became intrigued about who he was and where this fire sprung from. This book goes a long way toward an explanation.
Born into a small, impoverished town in Louisiana filled with colorful characters, a strong mom and often emotionally absent father (the
Apr 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles Blow reads like a conversation between two friends. Charles’ writing ability has the reader easily imagine his life. Growing up in Gibsland, Louisiana, he shares memories – important memories - that shape him. Some of these memories are painful; a male cousin who makes a sexual advance. Some of these memories are powerful; an unwavering commitment to land a NYT time interview. And some are memories that help us understand his family; a tale about his Mom ...more
Mary Blye Kramer
Nov 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Blow started this book with a quick intro about a childhood molestation followed by an encounter with his molester in which he, Blow, is on his way to shoot him. But the book really isn’t about that story at all and I found it offputting that he felt he needed to reel us in with one story, only to veer off to something much more general. RE: this book isn’t about sexual molestation or recovery - which is a good thing. Also you know if he’s writing this book and has worked for The NY Times, he ...more
Oct 28, 2014 rated it did not like it
Please read my comment in the discussion section below., and my one star review on Amazon.

The "Chester" "incident" is rife with incongruities and backpedaling in my opinion. Now Blow is stressing the NON "physicality" of the "incident," and its "psychic" nature. He's unsure of Chester's age, and admits he, Chester, was a "boy" and "child" at the time. More in my Amazon review.

The uncle "incident" is even more ludicrous. This is a man whose bedroom Blow visited often, in whose bed he often slept,
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
A beautifully written memoir by NYTimes columnist Charles Blow focusing on themes of race (and racism), sexuality (and homophobia), family and forming an identity. Blow's prose when describing his Louisiana upbringing evokes a Southern atmosphere. Moreover, his writing on slavery and its impact on his family, along with his experiences of racism, are both timely and impactful. His writing on becoming comfortable with his bisexuality, and on what his bisexuality means to him, is some of the best ...more
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most naked and transparent memoirs I've ever read, and I've read lots. The writing is absolutely brilliant. The capturing of Louisiana black informal dialect is outstanding. The anecdotes are often heart-wrenching. The description of the grinding poverty that the author grew up with in small-town Louisiana was worse than I had imagined. The scenes of fraternity hazing at Grambling reminded me of the gratuitous cruelty of the electrified carpet scene in Ralph Ellison's ...more
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New York Times columnist and television commentator. Former graphics director of the Times and art director of National Geographic magazine. Graduate of Grambling State University. Father of three amazing children. Resident of Brooklyn.
“I don't know how to describe the sound of a world crashing. Maybe there is no sound, just a great emptiness, an enveloping sorrow, a creeping nothingness that coils itself around you like a stiff wire.” 23 likes
“I would harness the truths that had been trapped in me like a fire shut up in my bones. I would give my life over to my passions, my writing, and my children, and they would breathe life back into me.” 9 likes
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