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Just Above My Head

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  1,591 ratings  ·  185 reviews
The stark grief of a brother mourning a brother opens this novel with a stunning, unforgettable experience.Here, in a monumental saga of love and rage, Baldwin goes back to Harlem, to the church of his groundbreaking novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, to the homosexual passion of Giovanni's Room, and to the political fire that enflames his nonfiction work.Here, too, the ...more
Paperback, 584 pages
Published June 13th 2000 by Delta (first published 1978)
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Richard Dening 'Go tell it on the mountain' would provide some interesting context, but isn't necessary by any means.

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 ·  1,591 ratings  ·  185 reviews

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Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of sound in story
The happiness of someone you love proves that life is possible. Your own horrors, whatever they may be, must simply await your return from the celebration - there can be no question of your taking them with you. And there they sit, indeed, in your room, when you return, looking baleful and neglected, and you realize that some horrors need you far more than you need them, and, mercilessly, you begin to clean house.

If Baldwin is criticized for writing fiction that reveals too much of the private
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
i read this book on the train and would often weep audibly while reading. all the commuters would stare and crane their necks to see what i was reading-- once an older lady who was sitting next to me patted my arm a bit while tears were rolling down my face.

building community on the train through such honest beauty in the form of literature--breathtaking.

this definitely goes on my favorite books ever shelf.

quite possibly one of the best books that i've ever read.

i will be going back over and
May 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
God damn. James Baldwin's novels are intense, and this is the best I've read. He writes so sharply, almost viciously, about the inner thoughts and experiences of his characters--in this case, a Black family in New York in the 1940s-60s. He is unsparing about the state of racial, sexual, and religious dynamics in the US, and it makes me wonder how much as really changed on the larger level. The book moved me to tears with its tender, tough, intimate, and devastating details of human lives. The ...more
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My absolute favorite of Baldwin, or anyone, ever. I haven't been as moved by literature since the time I read this novel. So painfully incredible and joyous to be lost in these words.
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book has a power of control and chaos. I understand humanness when reading Baldwin like no other. Yet, this is by far his best work for me. I sit and marvel at how present these characters are to me. That is a sign of brilliance, when nonfiction characters can't be played by any actor that we may no and love because these people are real. He discovered a way to insert society, culture, nationality, race, civility, hurt, pain, discovery and love into the very marrow of single person that ...more
This is the best book I've ever read.

Dec 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wonder, more and more, about what we call memory. The burden - the role - of memory is to clarify the event, to make it useful, even, to make it bearable. But memory is, also, what the imagination makes, or has made, of the event, and, the more dreadful the event, the more likely it is that the memory will distort, or efface it. It is, thus, perfectly possible - indeed, it is common - to act on the genuine results of the event, at the same time that the memory manufactures quite another one,
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: must-re-read
Dear Lawd Jesus!!!!! DamndamndamnJAMES!

It was a song, a poem, an enterprise of faith. I am too attached to this book, the mechanics of Baldwin's writing, and its content to be very objective in reviewing it.
Suffice it to say, if you have no knowledge of traditional gospel music, you will miss the grace of this text. As a music head & a girl grow'd up in the Chu'ch, this hit home....but beyond that...aaahhh!
I cannot, it is too close to me.
This is one of my favorite books ever and will
Ryan Milbrath
By 1979 James Baldwin had produced some of his finest works in literature. His semi-autobiographical novel Go tell it on the Mountain, the beautifully written and symbolic Giovanni’s Room, and his collection of essays in Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time provided a highly personal looks into race relations, homosexuality, and existential questions of identity.

Written in 1979, Just Above My Head marks Baldwin’s second to last novel. Like his seminal works, this novel deals with issues
Dec 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-favorites
This is my favorite of James Baldwin's novels, and as I think about it, it may be my favorite novel period.

I'm a fan of Crunch, one of the beautifully wrought characters in this book, and certainly one of the most soulful character names ever. I had the great pleasure of telling that to the author at a book signing. He signed my book, "To David, a fan of Crunch, peace, JB"

I remember that moment vividly because James Baldwin radiated an intense, kind and intelligent vivacity unlike any I've
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just so happened to finish this book on the anniversary of Jimmy's death. And, in some way, it's fitting.

I really have no words to express how I feel right now. I loved it.
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: br, 2017

Baldwin examines the way to live:

With hope or without. This is an epic tragedy because Baldwin presents both hope, dreams, wishes for the future and at the same time brings us down to the ground with the truths, the truths behind the civil rights battle, (view spoiler), the truths of daily life, the truth of life and death. Tragic because the American black world is a world of
Craig Werner
Jun 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read Just Above My Head the week it came out--I'd just moved to Mississippi and was in a major transition in my life. I've read it often sense, and thought of it very often. Re-reading it thirty-five years later in very different geographical, social, political, psychological and political contexts, it remains as powerful as it was the first time. It's nice to see the large number of five star ratings on Goodreads since the critics, both at the time and now, have never given it the recognition ...more
jessi lee
Jan 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: you.
Recommended to jessi lee by: it was a gift from kate, of course
something about this book moved me so deeply. and it started in the very beginning of the book, when the main character is hit so hard by grief. i cry and cry when i read this.

i think that i love baldwin's books about the strength of family the best--ones that follow queer families and chosen families and birth families through long, complicated relationships, and historical events, and coping with tremendous trauma and loss, and loving one another to various degrees of effectiveness through
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
James Baldwin always writes in such an honest and tragically beautiful way. Baldwin should be required reading.
Scott Stelter
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely incredible. Seemed to recap a lot of themes and plots in Baldwin's earlier works, sort of a greatest hits album, but not at all in a bad way. Beautifully written. Fascinating theme of incoherence of self, internal/external, identity, community, love, purpose, family.

Baldwin's descriptions of places remind me of Joan Didion's essays, how expertly crafted they capture the feel of a place.

Had trouble sleeping after finishing this because I didn't want to stop being in this world.
Larry Benjamin
Feb 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Let me first say that I gave “Just Above My Head” 4 stars instead of 5 only because I rated it against James Baldwin’s other works, rather than against other books I’ve read, which is how I typically rate books. That said Mr. Baldwin is an amazing writer. But, “Just Above My Head,” the story of a gay gospel singer as told by his grieving older brother, felt overly long, delving into the details of the lives of secondary characters such as the child evangelist (and Hall’s first love) Julia.

Jun 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stand-alone
I finished it, finally! To keep things short: I hated this book.

I was bored from beginning till end. There were parts that I could have enjoyed, like Julia and her youth or Hall's trip to Korea, but Baldwin decided to focus on other things. Baldwin mentions some shocking things, like Julia and her father, but never really handles the aftermath of it. That felt like an easy and cheap way to shock readers. Same thing with Hall and his trip to Korea during the war. Baldwin decided that the book
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Bloated, spotty, with diminishing returns. Also a beautiful picture of brotherhood and blackness and loss and love.
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
John Coletran's A Love Supreme, is considered his defining work. A four part suite album, separated into tracks, "Acknowledgement", Resolution", "Pursuance", and "Psalm", all chocked full of love, Just like this novel.

The heroines and heroes are unabashed "race people". America doesn't like “race people”. So these cats ( it's the sixties) immediately bond tight. They’re all in love with each other. Yet still searching for something greater than themselves while secretly in their own way running
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took me three months to read this because it is long and so dense with complex and nuanced relationships. I was glad to get to spend that much time with it because I think it needs that slow pace.

This book contains some of the most beautiful and moving descriptions of music ive ever read. They are made beautiful by being deeply contextualized in relationships, so that when the paragraphs break into snippets of songs it feels as if the music is a way of having a conversation otherwise
May 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: mgr
This is my first James Baldwin read, however, I will need to read some of his books before this one. One of the initial books that he became famous for, because from reading this novel I can see that he is a very artistic writer. I just cannot see giving the story more than 3 stars. I like that he developed most of the characters very well and brought me into their world, however, I felt I was brought in quite a bit, but was left hanging at points. I did not like that Hall was the narrator ...more
Joe Rasmussen
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Just an absolutely remarkable book. Took me about 3 months to finish, but one of the most rewarding books I've ever picked up. Some of the most beautiful, agonizing, and heartbreaking writing I've ever read.
Cindy Leighton
Life-changing. James Baldwin at his most eloquent, his most heartbreaking, his most loving. I was trying to pull out a few quotes to give you a taste of his beauty and elegance - but it is impossible to rip any short piece from its context; and my quotes became longer and longer until I could not reasonably decide where to stop.

Baldwin is definitely one of the most eloquent writers I have ever read on any topic. I am not a man, not gay, not Black, not raised in the Black church, yet his writing
Joe Kraus
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is one of the three or four greatest short stories I know. I’ve read it at least a dozen times, often to prepare for teaching it, and I have teared up almost every time. It takes a perspective “we” can almost know – a middle-aged African-American high school teacher who’s served in the army – and has him serve as “our” guide to the great artistry and deep hurt of his jazz-inspired brother. The story somehow collapses the whole of the brothers’ lives – there’s a line ...more
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A good friend from graduate school gave me this book and said it would astonish me. She was right. This is an astonishing novel, and I think I've taken so long to to review it (six months) because even an attempt to sum up my feelings or analyze the text is incredibly intimidating. So I'll focus on the aspects of the novel that I admired most, that I remember vividly even so long after putting it down.

Just Above My Head is a book about race and gender. It's also a coming-of-age novel; a portrait
There is an incredible empathy running through this book. It manifests most plainly in the time the narrator spends inside the heads and hearts of the other characters. There's such interesting POV movement throughout the book, where long sections read like omniscient narration then some first-person language will remind us that it is Hall writing the story, even if he is writing about events he didn't witness and thoughts in other heads. There are no two-dimensional characters, and they sure ...more
Oct 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-again
Update: I have just finished listening to the audiobook and this book is as good as I remember. Such beautiful language, characters, and story. It’s one of those books where, when I come to the end, I want to start all over again at the beginning, because I don’t want it to end.

I have read this book so many times--it is one of my all-time favorites. I can't even begin to estimate the profound impact it has had on me.
Feb 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt
This is my favorite book by James Baldwin. Hands. Down. Baldwin had this ability to write beautifully tragic scenes and still make you laugh. That was this ENTIRE book.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. He was the eldest of nine children; his stepfather was a
“I prefer sinners and madmen, who can learn, who can change, who can teach-or people like myself, if I may say so, who are not afraid to eat a lobster alone as they take on their shoulders the monumental weight of thirty years” 50 likes
“If one wishes to be instructed--not that anyone does--concerning the treacherous role that memory plays in a human life, consider how relentlessly the water of memory refuses to break, how it impedes that journey into the air of time. Time: the whisper beneath that word is death. With this unanswerable weight hanging heavier and heavier over one's head, the vision becomes cloudy, nothing is what it seems...
How then, can I trust my memory concerning that particular Sunday afternoon?...Beneath the face of anyone you ever loved for true--anyone you love, you will always love, love is not at the mercy of time and it does not recognize death, they are strangers to each other--beneath the face of the beloved, however ancient, ruined, and scarred, is the face of the baby your love once was, and will always be, for you. Love serves, then, if memory doesn't, and passion, apart from its tense relation to agony, labors beneath the shadow of death. Passion is terrifying, it can rock you, change you, bring your head under, as when a wind rises from the bottom of the sea, and you're out there in the craft of your mortality, alone.”
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