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The White Boy Shuffle

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,123 Ratings  ·  223 Reviews
Paul Beatty's hilarious and scathing debut novel is about Gunnar Kaufman, an awkward, black surfer bum who is moved by his mother from Santa Monica to urban West Los Angeles. There, he begins to undergo a startling transformation from neighborhood outcast to basketball superstar, and eventually to reluctant messiah of a "divided, downtrodden people."
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 4th 2001 by Picador (first published 1996)
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The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
143rd out of 591 books — 743 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nomy
Mar 31, 2008 Nomy rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nomy by: dusty, beth stinson
this book is crazy. i just put it down so his voice is still strong in my head, i can hear exactly what he would say about my review, in fact he basically already said it in his book... whiteys praying for their black poet-god to absolve them of their sins, crying "i understand! i finally understand!" paul beatty is hilarious. and smart. and deep and loving even if he only wants you to catch glimpses of his whole heart when he's just about to sprint away and leave you in the dust. but it's there ...more
Dooug
Jan 04, 2014 Dooug rated it it was amazing
Poignant. Roller-coaster of lyrical language, words that kept me going to the dictionary and references from Greek mythology to modern civil rights history amid the hyperbolic tale of the protagonist's disjointed upbringing and clashes with societal norms and pervasive cultural legacies. Still comprehending how this book affected me, to say the least I could hardly put it down.

Highly recommended. I could pick it up and read it again already.
Ossob
Feb 05, 2013 Ossob rated it it was amazing
This lyrical, poetic, and otherworldly tale of being a Black male in America had me alternating between states of hysterical laughter and melancholy. Every line was funny but sad. Gunnar, the protagonist, had me on a roller coaster of emotions with his clever ghetto life metaphors and his painful realizations that the perennial struggle against white supremacy is an exercise in futility. That futility begs the question of how a person of color is to escape the hopelessness, sense of defeat and f ...more
Vaman
Apr 13, 2011 Vaman rated it it was amazing
Phil Jackson gave this book to Kobe Bryant. I stumbled upon it in Engl472. It does not need praise. Infinite Jest squeezed into 200 odd pages with a message that makes Aaron McGruder look like Wayne Brady. Everything you ever need in a book is here: a Gang of Four reference, suicide, a Japanese Mail Order bride, slavery/basketball. If you're tempted to say that Beatty is better than Ellison and Baldwin fused with some Morrison on top, the book will still eat you alive and leave you painting a ta ...more
Osvaldo
Jun 08, 2012 Osvaldo rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book. Thinking back on the elements of it that worked and the playful language that resonated with its themes and content, I still want to love this book. But, ugh. . . I just don't. I don't even really like it. I don't hate it. I guess I am mostly just severely disappointed with it.

There were moments, strong moments that I hoped would blossom into something more than a sketchy, jokey run through Gunnar's life, but they never developed. The prologue and introduction were so
...more
Russell
Jan 24, 2008 Russell rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who hasn't read it yet
This is my favorite book that no one else has read; I recommend it to people constantly.

It's lovingly, compellingly detailed despite being slightly larger-than-life. (The protagonist's best friend never, ever misses a shot.) It's intensely personal and soaringly metaphorical; scathing, incendiary, imaginative, observational and, oh yes, hilarious.

Every sentence crackles-- I found myself putting it down to catch my breath occasionally.

Oh, and it will probably change your position about at least
...more
Rachel
Aug 28, 2007 Rachel rated it it was amazing
I started out hating this book, but by the time I was done I loved it. It's why I think of Christopher Walken when I see the moon.
Simon A. Smith
Apr 20, 2014 Simon A. Smith rated it did not like it
Despite really wanting to appreciate this book, I strongly disliked it. The problem is that I never started caring about the narrator. The author asks us to believe that the main character is too cool for school, too smart for the neighborhood, too smug for bullshit and too righteous to ever admit defeat. How can readers appreciate a character or relate to a character like that? My answer is... they can't.

Along with the story being unbelievable, I also felt like it was a little insulting to the
...more
tamia
Jan 18, 2009 tamia rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
jenyang
Jan 19, 2009 jenyang rated it really liked it
The Oscar Wao of the 90s. Brilliant.
There is no way that Junot Diaz wasn't influenced by this book.

I only take off a star because of the suicide theme at the end. I understand the concept of taking back power and autonomy, of suicide as the ultimate protest. I also understand that it is all meant as satire. Still, it took away from the energy and vibrancy of the rest of the book that I loved so, so much.
Ashley Lauren
*** Almost spoiler alert... maybe a foreshadowing alert?***

This book was dancing right at the 5 star range for me for the first 3/4. It is FUNNY. And then just when you're cracking up the hardest Beatty will hit you with a well placed one-liner that brings you back to your senses and makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with this world. I adore the way he talked to his mom. Hysterical.

But, obviously, you'll see that I'm rating it only 3 stars. Why the down grade? Because after that first 3/4
...more
Garrett
Mar 12, 2012 Garrett rated it it was amazing
I originally read this in 8th grade. It wasn't assigned (if you read this book you'll see no school would assign this book).

The discussions in this book between friends are intimate, relatable, and accessible. The story is a little crazy, and if I read this now I'd probably only give it 4.5. Still, it's a great book.

The book is hilarious, touching, sentimental, serious, angst-driven, and socially conscious all at once. I still remember my favorite parts (the only part seared into my mind that di
...more
Susan
Jul 22, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it
I really liked this book, and I discovered it through Goodreads! I was looking for a book to read on vacation, and this one came up as a recommendation for me. Good to know the algorithm works.

This book was different than anything I've read in a while. It is realistic - sort of. All kinds of wierdnesses pop up throughout the story that are exaggerated versions of things that could happen in real life and sometimes the story gets just plain fanciful. Parts of the book read like it was written in
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Elyce Strong
May 26, 2015 Elyce Strong rated it it was ok
While I want to like The White Boy Shuffle and find much of its language to be poetic and beautifully written, I think Beatty fails a bit because, at times, the lovely writing is held back by awkward sentences jammed together with a few too many adjectives, adverbs, and allusions. With the addition of one extra descriptor, a sentence goes from being well-written, to becoming distracting. For instance, on page 5, a sentence reads, “Mom raised my sisters and me as the hard-won spoils of a vicious ...more
T.J.
May 14, 2008 T.J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people of color, anyone with a sense of humour
Recommended to T.J. by: Professor Widener
Shelves: negritude
I love this book far more than humanly necessary. White Boy Shuffle speaks greatly to ethnic stereotypes, satirically skewering perceptions left and right with an increasingly ridiculous narrative. The book goes from the surfer-dominated West L.A. to the inner=city to the wilds of East Coast university life, and manages to be witty and poignant and bizarre all at once. Hiliarous read.
Lucero
Dec 12, 2011 Lucero rated it liked it
Even though this book is nothing like the types of books I like to read, I kind of enjoyed it. It was very funny! But came to a depressing conclusion. A lot of things confused me about this book, but at least it wasn't one of those books that make me wonder why I decided to major in English. It's probably one of the better books I had to read for my Black Novel class.
Cydne B
Jul 20, 2013 Cydne B rated it it was amazing
A must read for the Brutha/Sistahood of Black folk who grew up oddly tolerated by white people and routinely rejected by their own based on speech patterns, dress codes, music tastes, and reading ability. And there's more...stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination under one nation...I commit myself to read this book every other year.
Devon H
Nov 27, 2015 Devon H rated it it was amazing
White Boy Shuffle is truly an amazing read. 10/10. I highly recommend giving this book a try if you’ve never experienced Beatty’s way with words before. As a white person, this book made me uncomfortable at times, but mostly I was just thinking how a lot of the really heavy statements were ideas that my friends of color had expressed to me before, summed up rather eloquently.

I am not so much a fan of poetry, but this novel incorporated poetry in a way that made sense as it led me through the jou
...more
Seth Reeves
Jan 16, 2016 Seth Reeves rated it really liked it
What can you say about this book? In a way it is like a black version of the movie 'Cool World' where we are transported to a world where everything is both cartoon-ish and inherently threatening at the same time. A black teenager with a white first name and Jewish second name gets to experience being the 'cool black kid' in middle-class Santa Monica to being marginalized and insulted for bringing his 'white' sense of fashion and way of speaking to the lower-class neighborhood of Hillside and th ...more
Paddythemic
Jun 06, 2014 Paddythemic rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
brilliant book. will read all of his others. funny and insightful memoir.

"The people of Hillside treat society the way society treats them. Strangers and friends are suspect and guilty until proven innocent. Instant camaraderie beyond familial ties does not exist. It takes more than wearing the same uniform to be accepted among one's ghetto peers. The German spies in those late night world war 2 movies who tried to infiltrate u.s army units by memorizing baseball trivia and learning to chew gum
...more
Julia Brown
Jan 16, 2012 Julia Brown rated it liked it
Gunnar Kaufman is the "funny, cool, black guy" on a quest to acclimate when his mother moves the family to a new neighborhood. He writes poetry, discovers his unusual talent for basketball, and gives his eighth grade class (and us) a detailed account of his unusual family tree.

When Gunnar's about to graduate high school, there's a left turn. A *sharp* left turn. Things go a bit funny. Gunnar leaves the west coast for Boston. After a thought-provoking, intense speech, the story finds its path ag
...more
Marie
Sep 15, 2013 Marie rated it liked it
The book wavers between absurd-reality to absurd-absurd. Now and then I was wondering "Wait, did he mean that literally or figuratively?" (There are a lot of random and shocking pronouncements). But the narrative does keep moving forward and I was constantly wondering what would happen next - how it would end.

The author and the main character are both poets, and there are several poems included in the story. My favorite part was the character of Scoby, a savant of basketball and early jazz who b
...more
Arturo Ballesteros
Mar 13, 2007 Arturo Ballesteros rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Caroline
I've been privy to the "what does it mean to be a person of color" conversation on many occasions. To POC, it's a belabored issue without resolution. To those white friends who've been subjected to my ramblings on how growing up on the border imprints one with an indelible and symbolic dividing line right down the middle of your personality, taste in food, music, even your political disposition, it's just another confusing topic.

Beatty deftly delves into the substance of the POC "Who and what am
...more
Shawn
Sep 30, 2010 Shawn marked it as to-read
This has been on my "Currently Reading" list since I endeavored to make it my current read a month or so ago. I've not decided, yet, whether I will give up trying to get into this or not. My initial feeling as that this novel suffers from what I call "The Maya Angelou/Spike Lee Syndrome" -- a convoluted, unintelligible, confusing piece of work that is in reality crap (for lack of a better word), but critics and others have deemed it "genius" and are too afraid to be counted among the dissenting ...more
Ohenrypacey
Mar 15, 2015 Ohenrypacey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lit
One of the funniest books I've ever read. I owe finding this book to author Michael Chabon, whose Telegraph Ave. I hated so much that I made it a point to seek more authenticity in the voicing of people of color.

Sharp and satirical, this is poet Beatty's ode to growing up in contemporary America.

Gunnar Kaufman is the voice of his people, and a voice that everyone should read.
Thelonious Legend
Mar 14, 2014 Thelonious Legend rated it really liked it
Um wow! The prose in this book is brilliant and amazing. There are writers and there are artist and to me Paul Beatty is an artist. How he could weave such a poetic story about the struggle and absurdity of urban life weighted down by ubiquity of race is the definition of talent. Kudos.
Tatiana
May 19, 2014 Tatiana rated it it was amazing
Beatty is one deep motha. I've read this book numerous times now and I have to say this novel is one of the most powerful pieces of literature I've ever read. Intricate storyline and an exceptional usage of the human language- his vocabulary is STELLAR! Must read for sure!
Erin
Mar 08, 2014 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Man, I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The beginning was particularly difficult as I felt the author was trying too hard to be witty and it was just coming off as forced. I much more preferred the back half of the novel as he seemed to tone it down and I got a bit more of a grasp of the characters. The story at times was a bit abstract and tongue in cheek so I rarely knew if what was written was "real" or "not real," which perhaps was the whole point of the narrative. (To be fai ...more
Charlie
Apr 09, 2007 Charlie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People willing to read poetry-like prose, anyone looking for a tale told in a new way.
This was a great book. It took me a few days to really get into it because the voice is different than most novels, but once I got into it's rhythym, I loved it. It was like spoken word on the page. Or a Jazz tune played by Thelonious Monk in his heyday. This book flowed and the main character reverberated in my head.

WBS is the story of a black boy who grew up in California and ends up being the voice of his people (I'm not giving anything away here. He says that on the first page of the book).
...more
Cassius Zen
Jun 17, 2015 Cassius Zen rated it it was amazing
Really good book!
I didn't really like it the first pages and was thinking on putting it down but i didn't and im really glad that i keept reading because it turns out to be really good reading in the end.
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The White Boy Shuffle - YA? 2 12 Dec 30, 2012 11:51PM  
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Paul Beatty (born 1962 in Los Angeles) is a contemporary African-American author. Beatty received an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College and an MA in psychology from Boston University. He is a 1980 graduate of El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, California.

In 1990, Paul Beatty was crowned the first ever Grand Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. One of the prizes f
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“It's corny, but I think poems are echoes of the voices in your head and from your past. Your sisters, your father, your ancestors taking to you and through you. Some of it is primal, some of it is hallucinatory bullshit. That madness those boys rapping ain't nothing but urban folklore. They retelling stories passed down from chicken coop to apartment stoop to Ford coupe. Hear that rhyme, boy. Shit, I could get down and rap if I had to. MC Big Mama Osteoporosis in the house.” 3 likes
“Like the good Reverend King
I too 'have a dream'
but when I wake up
I forget it and
remember I'm running late for work.”
1 likes
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