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Known and Strange Things: Essays

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,000 ratings  ·  258 reviews
A blazingly intelligent first collection of essays from the award-winning author of Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief.

With these pieces on politics, photography, travel, history and literature - many of which have become viral sensations, shared and debated around the globe - Teju Cole solidifies his place as one of today's most powerful and original voices. On page
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published August 18th 2016 by Faber & Faber (first published August 9th 2016)
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This book of essays by Teju Cole aren’t always essays: they might be scraps of thought, well-digested and to an immediate point. They are fiercely intelligent, opinionated, meaningful in a way that allow us to get to the heart of how another thinks. And does he think! Let’s be frank: many of us don’t do enough thinking, and Cole shows us the way it can be done in a way that educates, informs, and excites us.

The work in this volume are nonfiction pieces published in a wide variety of outlets and
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I find it difficult to rate and review a book of essays; just like short stories, some I connected with, some I skimmed. This was my first book from the Malaprops Homeward Bound subscription, and I was pleased to get it in the mail because I would have read it eventually anyway. I've read all books by this author. My favorite is still the novel Open City, I think because it gave him the opportunity to pull some of his smaller ideas together into a longer narrative. I feel like some of these essa ...more
Diane S ☔
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1st essay. Cole goes to the same town in Switzerland that Baldwin visited. Musing on race and what it means to be black.

More to follow.
This collects 55 short pieces under three headings: literature, visual arts, and travel. Part I, “Reading Things,” holds most appeal for fans of his novels. Alongside straightforward book reviews are essays in which he engages with his literary heroes. A 400-page book of disparate essays is a hard ask; even photography aficionados may struggle through the long middle section. All the same, patience is rewarded by Part III, “Being There,” in which Cole deftly blends memoir and travelogue. Again a ...more
Teju Cole is a novelist, photographer, and essayist. He is an American citizen, born here but raised in Nigeria. He is the author of several of my most favorite books: Open City and Every Day is for the Thief. I was fortunate enough to see him at an exhibition of his photographs here in NYC last summer and to listen to him speak about the pictures and his process.

Known and Strange Things: Essays is a collection of essays on a variety of topics. One section is devoted to photography, a subject a
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: atonement
I am a novelist, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn't have a point.

This past Saturday my wife and I viewed the Parts Unknown episode devoted to Lagos. This viewing was obviously burdened with grief. What did my mourning betray? I spent much of the weekend lodged in such contemplation but alas Saturday I watched Anthony Bourdain traipsing the frenetic streets of the Nigerian capital.

He made allusions to the improvisational nature
Again rather a mixed bag for me. Teju Cole caught my attention last year with his fabulous Open City, an original walk through New York, to which his Nigerian roots in particular added an extra dimension. This book is something completely different: a series of previously published essays, a colorful collection of indeed "known and strange things". I was - of course - most charmed by his reflections on writers such as James Baldwin and W.G. Sebald. Cole shows quite a bit of erudition, and what i ...more
An impressive collection of elegantly written essays!
I have read a couple of fiction books by Teju Cole and was interesting in reading his essay collection to see if his nonfiction writing would shed light on his fiction writing. Not only did I gain a new appreciation for his fiction writing but was treated to a thoughtful contemplative journey of timely and informative issues.
While this enthralling collection covers a diverse range of subjects it is the sincere honesty in the writing that had m
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
3 to 5 stars (depending on the essay). After reading Cole's novel Open City a few years ago, I decided I didn't like it. But the novel wouldn't let me go, staying with me for days and weeks and even now, years later. So I revised my opinion. Any book that makes me think, that guides me towards viewing life differently, is invaluable. That's what Cole does in this collection of essays.

The first section, Reading Things, is a selection of reviews on literature and poetry. The 2nd section, Seeing T
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I feel so smart reading his essays. The reader gets coles education and world view pretty much rammed down the throat but it IS fun and educational.
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just get to know this writer a few days ago. It seems to me that he is very popular among university students. This book deals with a range of essays. So no matter what is your taste, you will find something interesting in this book. I particularly liked his essays on James Baldwin, Naipaul, but the one that I really enjoyed reading is titled 'Bad Laws.' In this essay, he writes about what happens to (or being done to) Palestinian people in the name of Law. Even though my understanding of that ...more
Shirleen R
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nov 15 2017

nov 9 2017
i am determined to finish this book by Dec. 31, 2017!! i abandoned it in 2016. the essays in the final third appeal to me much more strongly. or maybe i needes a rest from art and literary reviews one after another

thus far these politically edged essays hook me in, they are more streamlined. like Cole's night in NYC at 125th and ACP Blvd 7th Ave on Nov 4 2008 night Obama won the presidency. or reasons he sees Obama as a more representative of late 20 c immi
Might be kind of in love with Teju Cole now. A beautifully engaging and readable collection of essays, spanning so many subjects (and so many that I am so delighted by: W.G. Sebald, Anne Carson, Virginia Woolf, just to name a few). His style and logic worked on me in a powerful way. I feel kind of like a fangirl?? Like I might drive an unreasonable distance just to hear him speak for an hour??
Roger DeBlanck
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
With concern, compassion, and vast insight and intelligence, Teju Cole's essays engage a wide range of subjects. The book's first section shines a bright lens on the work of literary giants such Baldwin, Transtromer, Walcott, Naipaul, and Sebald. Cole nicely blends his own experiences into his literary examinations. In section two, his passion (bordering on obsession) is the art of photography. It is a joy to read how he discusses famous photos with the keen eye of a poet. By the book’s third se ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Teju Cole is master of his crafts. His extensive knowledge, deep understanding, and detailed explanation of them are startling. In this collection of essays, Cole discusses topics ranging from literature to photography to art, music, travel, the Black Lives Matter movement, world politics, social media, Boko Haram, mob lynchings, and so much more.

Reading this book felt like fine dining, or like a journey around the world. The places he takes you may be breathtaking or unexpectedly ramshackle, b
Dec 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
A hit and miss kind of collection. Teju Cole writes beautifully and bracingly about Baldwin, Obama, Naipaul and immigration, but less so about photography and visual arts. The essays on these two subjects seem to function more as summaries, collating the history of photography into a succession of 3 page condensations. I dragged through this section of the book, even though I work closely with photographers and photography as a curator and am obsessed with the nuanced spaces that photographs tak ...more
Nuzhat Shaikh
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-favorites
"Rich-Read" provoking prose, heavy on arts, fiercely opinionated, comprises a large section on photography, American prejudice, racial struggles and global wars. Each mention of Pakistan warmed my heart, particularly Faiz's poetry in Nayyara Noor's voice - Cole knows how to invoke literary feels...
Steven Felicelli
I'm a fan, but the insights on photography are often pedestrian and there are too many of them and he comes off as elitist (often in the takedown of elitism) and a little self-impressed at times. His other work is critical, but not the work of a critic. This feels like a critic's book.
Michael Livingston
A big collection of Cole's essays, spanning criticism, politics, photography and everything else that takes his fancy. This would be better read in dribs and drabs I think - I binged it all down because it's due back at the library, but a bit more space between some of the essays would have given me more time to process them. As it was, some of the essays on art especially kind of ran into each other. He's a wonderful writer though - clear and engaging but super smart. The essay on the disappoin ...more
musa b-n
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this on the ride home from the airport, so even though I didn't slide this one in 2019, I still finished it before the 'holiday' was over, which was my overall goal!

Gotta be honest, the first half of the book was hard to get through. I appreciated Cole's appreciation for beauty, and I was glad of what I read, but after a long period of reading the book I just was never seeming to look forward to the next bite. His words, messages, and storytelling were all good - but very complete in
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For some reason I shelved this halfway through around two years ago, only to now stumble upon it again on my bookshelf to finish it. It’s lovely. In Jon Fosse’s book The Other Name (which I also just finished), the narrator, a painter, says that painting allows one to “see something you’ve seen before in a new way, see something as if for the first time...see it afresh and understand it, and that’s the same thing in a way.” This is what Cole does for us in this book: in writing about photography ...more
Conor Ahern
Teju Cole had a really great article in the NYT shortly after the election. I had seen his name floating around and thought he would make for a good read.

The dude is educated, urbane, cosmopolitan, and seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of “high culture.” These people are often impressive, highly polished, and conform their personalities to certain absolutes through sheer force of unrelenting will. But they can come across as tedious; I found this collection to be quite tedious.

There were s
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Divided in four parts - Reading Things, Seeing Things, Being There, and Epilogue - Known and Strange Things groups together over fifty essays by Teju Cole. In clear, precise prose, he writes about literature. About photography and art, African and Western. About politics and history and our global context. About justice and race identity. On all subjects Cole's ideas are fresh and the links and connections, the interplay that he uncovers between different fields and topics are intriguing, intell ...more
Jun 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, arc
This book was a bit difficult for me to rate. As is often the case with essay collection not every essay clicked with me but some were really outstanding.

Especially the first part dragged for me. Here Teju Cole writes about a bit about fiction and mostly about poetry. And I like poetry - but this is one area where me not being a native speaker really is a problem. I enjoy German poetry an awful lot but for some reason English poetry doesn't quite work for me. I can understand intellectually tha
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-america, essays
This book is divided into three sections: essays about literature; about photography; and about politics and travel. Teju Cole is a rarity, an artist intellectual, in the best sense - his breadth reminds me of Edmund Wilson's work in the 1930s. Cole's essays on literature are solid. Those on politics and travel are powerful, providing keen insight from a perspective that is underrepresented in American letters: a writer of color with an internationalist identity and a deep affiliation with the W ...more
Jason Diamond
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've had this sitting near my desk for months and kept telling myself I'd get to it, that I'd probably read a number of the essays when they were originally published in various magazines. It just sat there and sat there until, finally, a rereading of Cole's "Open City" led me to pick it up. If I was going to read his novel a second (or third) time, then I needed to finally get to his book of essays. And yes, I'd read a few before, but reading them all together in one volume really helped me app ...more
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read almost every chance I get, and this includes lunch time. Getting out of the office, rolling a drive-thru, and reading gets me through my day. I enjoyed reading Cole's essays over lunch for several weeks.

The essays discuss literature he has read, travel, commentary on subjects like illegal immigration and violence and a section of essays on photography. All his offerings are excellent reading. Cole is a gifted writer who sees the world from the perspective of a man raised in Africa but bo
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A strong book of essays on diverse topics mostly tangentially connected to art. I struggled through the first part but it picked up in the second section, which was all about photography. Cole really hits his stride in the third section about travel and place. He has a great eye for the telling details that transform an otherwise unremarkable anecdote or interaction into a powerful insight into human nature.

If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews!
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What can I say. Teju Cole is killing it.
Luc De Coster
Teju Cole defines his identity as "transatlantic": its geographical location is somewhere in the square cornered by Lagos (Nigeria), London, New York and Sao Paulo. During a long cab drive with a friend they talk about religion, Miles Davis, Sarajevo & Lagos, New York and Chicago, Sebald, writing, Hitchens and Dawkins. He is a writer and an art critic, a traveller and photographer. In this collection of essays, he writes about literature, photography and travels. His knowledge and interests are ...more
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I was born to Nigerian parents and grew up in Lagos. My mother taught French. My father was a business executive who exported chocolate. The first book I read (I was six) was an abridgment of Tom Sawyer. At fifteen I published cartoons regularly in Prime People, Nigeria’s version of Vanity Fair. Two years later I moved to the United States.

Since then, I’ve spent most of my time studying art histor

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