Zora Neale Hurston, Ed. by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Genevieve West
RaveBookforum... a garden-fresh collection of Hurston’s nonfiction cocurated by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Genevieve West. One can never have too much Zora in one’s intellectual diet. And these testimonies, tirades, reveries, and reportage—some of them never before published—forge a vibrant simulacrum of a ferociously independent, disarmingly mercurial sensibility whose complex legacy and even knottier personality we’re still trying to figure out decades after her death in 1960 at age sixty-nine. The reignited tensions of this new century likely will make her just as bemusing to contemporary readers, white and Black. But she has always made it fun for all of us to stick our heads in the game ... There’s little in Gates and West’s anthology that surpasses anything found in Their Eyes. But taken together...You Don’t Know Us Negroes reaffirms Hurston’s stature as perhaps one of the greatest, and certainly most demonstratively idiosyncratic, of America’s twentieth-century prose stylists.
PositiveBookforum\"Reaganland detonates revelatory pop-ups...throughout its narrative. Taken together, they illuminate an era that remains a dreary, hectic blur to those who lived through it. As with the best popular histories (an undervalued subgenre, even with such widely acknowledged masters of the form as Barbara Tuchman and William Manchester), Perlstein’s book not only rolls out its sequence of events but also evokes their emotional impact, whether it was shock, incredulity, or delight. No dots go unconnected in his American tableaux, in which the popularity of movies like 1977’s Star Wars and 1978’s Superman contribute as much to the country’s enchantment with rousing triumphalism as the US hockey team’s \'Miracle on Ice\' upset over the USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Nothing seems left out ... Perlstein’s chronicle, which seems to be in something of a hurry to conclude, makes me even more certain that, in the end, the people who voted for Ronald Reagan and his politics in 1980 knew exactly what they were getting—and, as suggested above, they did not care.
RaveBookforumDeacon King Kong...is a warm-blooded free-for-all, a donnybrook, a rumpus, what in baseball lingo would be called a \'rhubarb\' ... [a] bountiful and compassionate comedy of errors, bloopers, and near misses. The generosity of detail and range of emotional life infused in McBride’s vision of working-class Brooklyn at the hinge of the 1960s and 1970s are more characteristic of a nineteenth-century novel than of its counterparts in the twenty-first. And McBride is so adroit at manipulating his characters through myriad complications that there will likely be readers who mistake Deacon King Kong’s high spirits and comedic invention for a lack of whatever they believe to be \'seriousness.\' That’s the risk with farce: The better it’s executed, the easier it looks—until you try doing it yourself ... one of Deacon King Kong’s sustained pleasures comes in watching its author juke, dodge, and slip free from solemnity or tragedy ... Most of the major characters—Sportcoat, Deems, Potts, the Elephant, his mother, and others—are in a paradoxical manner linked by isolation or, at best, detachment from both their surroundings and their better selves. Theirs is the kind of loneliness that can be dispelled only by the sense of community McBride exalts in this book.
Ed. by John F. Callahan and Marc C. Conner
RaveBookforumIn heft and breadth, the missives here make up the Big Book of Life that Invisible Man’s triumph augured, and that we’ve been awaiting (not always patiently) for all these years ... Ellison’s letters vibrate with striking imagery, flinty repartee, shrewd literary insight, and bountiful reverie. One can’t help thinking while wandering through this capacious volume that if only this mercurial and meticulous man could have somehow sustained the high-spirited, polychromatic flow of his correspondence and carried it into his regular routine, there could have been two, three, even four more novels bearing his name ... in the end, Ralph Ellison, as so many writers before and since, turned out to be an even deeper and more fascinating creation than the nameless hero of his great novel.
RaveUSA TodayThe only thing that could have been better than Sam Wasson\'s page-turning, comprehensively rendered biography of choreographer-director Bob Fosse would have been Fosse\'s own memoir ... At nearly 600 pages, Fosse is certainly big, if not lithe. And Wasson\'s own narrative style has a jazzy, discursive and relentless energy well aligned with its subject ... [a] riveting show...
Daniel R. Day
PositiveNewsdayYou can always trust an autobiographer who discloses a childhood memory in which he and his siblings \'had to smack a cereal box twice on its side . . . to make sure we got the roaches out before we started pouring it into our bowls\' ... minor anecdotes like the one about the cereal box attest to a fine-tuned sense of detail that one would expect from a legendary clothes designer and culture hero ... Vividly, but without sentimentality, he evokes both the pleasures and hazards of living and dreaming in what was once considered the citadel of black America ... Day conveys both his streetwise philosophy and the details of his life with a sang froid that forgoes self-pity or simplistic bromides.
Henry Louis Gates
PositiveNewsdayStony the Road poses at its outset a curious rhetorical question that connects present-day realities to the book\'s historical subject matter ... Gates, arguably the nation’s number one \'go-to\' black public intellectual, is likely using such past-is-prologue devices to pry open a wider perspective on the dismally cyclical pattern of American race relations ... Gates rousingly, persuasively contends that black resistance to racism embodied by the New Negro ideal remains as much a part of the cycle of race relations as white reaction to black progress.
RaveBookforumIf something this graphically over the top, in your face, and on the mark doesn’t mortify white supremacy into oblivion, then nothing will ... The junkie visions of Naked Lunch are often cited as direct links to Negrophobia’s hallucinatory delirium, and William S. Burroughs’s demented-vaudeville tone of voice resonates in James’s descriptions of Bubbles’s world ... In this social-media era, when we are more intent than ever on isolating things that offend and outrage, Negrophobia revels in its own outrageousness, and thus is more of a tonic now than it was almost three decades ago. It neither blinks nor recoils at the stereotypes, insults, and presumptions that have been used to cage and subdue African American self-esteem, but compels its readers to confront rather than retreat from or smooth over the retro Jim Crow imagery. Negrophobia inhales all that inappropriateness with gusto and composure before shooting it all right back in the face of whatever we mean by \'political correctness.\'
RaveNewsday\"James’ shrewd conjuring of [fantastic] beings, as well as the tribulations they face, demonstrates rich imagination and supple ingenuity ... The writing in Black Leopard, Red Wolf is infused throughout with similar lyricism [to A Brief History of Seven Killings] and a jolting intensity that makes even the landscapes seem like living personages ... The first installment of a planned Dark Star Trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is already being hyped as a black \'Game of Thrones.\' But such a comparison diminishes James’ innovative infusion of an African setting and an allusive, wide-ranging storytelling reminiscent of African griot tradition. When he’s done, James may not only raise the stakes of the fantasy genre but also help reinvent the nature of narrative fiction.\
Arnold A. Offner
PositiveBookforum\"Reading Arnold Offner’s thorough and sharply balanced account of Humphrey’s life, one is left with the overriding impression that all would have been as merry and bright with Humphrey’s long-term reputation as it was with his personal demeanor if he hadn’t wanted so badly to be president ... Probing for answers [to Humphrey\'s behavior] deeper than those implied in Offner’s narrative is for novelists and other imaginative artists. And, mostly to the book’s credit, historical detail is more important than psychology...\
PositiveUSA TodayEven if you’ve watched Monty Python’s 1979 Biblical satire, Life of Brian, a skillion-and-one times and thus know by heart the song for which Python member Eric Idle named his \'sortabiography\'...you probably should reacquaint yourself with Idle’s song before starting his book. The first reason is because it’s funny. The second is that the song comes up a lot throughout this affable, leisurely and occasionally enlightening tour of a full and, generally, happy life ... [George] Harrison’s death in 2001 and its immediate aftermath strike some of the saddest and most resonant chords in the book, whose latter section also takes time to mourn some of Idle’s other absent friends, notably Robin Williams, whose own comedic genius is recounted in shrewdly observed short takes ... Idle has no interest in settling scores because he apparently has none to settle. What you see in Always Look… is what you get: A very funny Englishman with a wicked sense of humor, a long and happy marriage and, despite intimations of mortality that crop up now and then, a sunny, agreeable disposition.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
RaveNewsday...caustically inventive and audaciously topical ... There is anger in this collection, but also nuance, grace and a probing empathy with the breaking hearts and bemused emotions of men, women and children struggling to deal with the jolting maelstrom of postmillennial American racism ... His mordant wit, dystopian visions and keen sense of injustice aren’t just intended to shock the reader but also to provide space to contemplate myriad social traumas and their close-to-the-bone effects on people’s lives.
PositiveNewsdaySeth Greenland’s droll, multifaceted page-turner has already been compared in scope and subject matter to Tom Wolfe’s 1987 bestseller, The Bonfire of the Vanities. But Greenland, the author of four previous novels who has written for stage and screen, shows far more heart than Wolfe-ian snark in conducting his own grand tour of the upper tier of New York society, set somewhere in the middle of the Obama years. However acerbic The Hazards of Good Fortune is toward its many characters, there’s also consideration, even grace, in its use of personal detail ... If Greenland were a circus performer, The Hazards of Good Fortune would be the equivalent of juggling several sharp objects while walking a tightrope. Yet he makes it look easy and most, if not all his characters are granted dimension. More importantly, his novel of contemporary manners does what such novels are supposed to do: Remind its readers that the best and worst of us aren’t always what we appear to be — on our the screens of our devices or on the front pages.
RaveUSA TodayIt\'s hard to overstate how important Anna Clark’s new book The Poisoned City: Flint\'s Water and the American Urban Tragedy (Metropolitan Books, 320 pp., four stars out of four) is for reminding us of the alarming revelations about lead and other contaminants in the city’s water supply ... [a] taut, riveting and comprehensive account ... Clark is meticulous in untangling the welter of misstatements, cover-ups and dismissals of the problem’s severity ... Clark is also unsparing in pointing out how the disproportionate number of poor black families harmed by the crisis were emblematic of Flint’s deeply embedded racial segregation.
RaveUSA TodayThere’s something close to enchantment to be found in the stories Whitaker unpacks piece by piece, name by glittering name. Black excellence, black talent and black achievement were of such incandescence in Pittsburgh for most of the late century’s first half that one imagines them piercing through the thickest mesh of soot and smog draping the city during its coal-and-steel heyday.
Jeffrey C. Stewart
RaveBookforumStewart’s biography is most illuminating when it traces the tangled path of Locke’s awakening as a scholar and aesthete ... Stewart’s account of those final years is as exhaustively detailed and as rigorously attentive to Locke’s mood swings, flirtations, flings, and ambitions as it is when examining his youth ... In our dismal present, when Difference-with-a-capital-D remains what white Americans tend to notice before they assess intelligence, ideas, and ability, when merely asserting that black lives matter can in some circles be taken as a terrorist threat, Stewart’s sprawling, magisterial labor of love comes as a reminder that in those Birth of a Nation days a century ago, when race relations were far worse than they are now, a fiercely independent philosopher of color set down visions of black American freedom beyond economic agendas, nationalist visions, and political protest. This book draws Alain Locke out of the shadows and bestows his legacy to artists of all colors and genders seeking freedom from narrow-minded expectations and fear-mongering hypocrisy.
RaveUSA Today...illuminates vast sectors of the American soul that most Americans would rather not see — or, worse, continue to view simplistically ... If you’ve read Taibbi’s columns on politics and the economy for Rolling Stone magazine, you know he never pulls his punches or curbs his indignation. And he delivers a potent, shattering blow in summing up what happened on that Staten Island corner three summers ago: 'Garner’s death, and the great distances that were traveled to protect his killer, now stand as testaments to America’s pathological desire to avoid equal treatment under the law for its black population.'
Hillary Rodham Clinton
PositiveBookforumThose folks likely bought What Happened hoping it was a full-bore confession of real and (mostly) imagined crimes committed against God and the republic by the former secretary of state and 'unapologetic policy wonk.' She is not, as you might have heard, altogether unapologetic about things ... But What Happened also manages to be, all at once, a tenacious apologia, a painstaking autopsy, and a strenuous brief for her defense ...it’s a more engrossing and, oddly, more winning book than the one that would have been written by a triumphant President Hillary Clinton ... To better appreciate What Happened, it’s probably necessary to slide past most of the prepublication welter of dishy disclosures, puffy bluster, and zero-calorie instant analysis from pundits and provocateurs alike ... She is neither a monster nor a liberator. She’s a pragmatist. And what gives What Happened its poignancy is the author’s bemused exasperation over how very little having the answers to people’s problems matters compared with, as her husband would have put it a quarter century ago, 'feeling their pain.'
John Le Carré
PositiveUSA TodayOne wonders at first why le Carré would bother revisiting territory whose possibilities were realized so successfully 50-odd years ago. While A Legacy of Spies may not occupy the upper tier of le Carré’s body of work, it’s as swift and satisfying a read as the book it derives from. Through its beloved characters, Legacy also revives old, yet still relevant questions about whether the 'ends' compelled by the long-moribund Cold War — or any war — were worth the questionable 'means.' But what you all really want to know is whether George Smiley is still alive. You won't find out here. We need to keep some secrets secret, right?
RaveNewsdayIt says a great deal for New People — Danzy Senna’s martini-dry, espresso-dark comedy of contemporary manners — that its compound of caustic observations and shrewd characterizations could only have emerged from a writer as finely tuned to her social milieu as [Jane] Austen was to hers ... We may not always like Maria. Yet, as with many a complex heroine of classic comedies-of-errors, we somehow keep faith with her struggles to reconcile her myriad convolutions and warring emotions ... The book doesn’t pour cold water on one’s expectations for a better, more tolerant world. In fact, it implies that world has, to a great extent, already arrived. Brave new worlds sometimes emerge when you’re not ready for them; whether in a stranger’s apartment or in your own, too-human heart.
PositiveUSA Today...serves to remind us that black people were active, daring and, often, successful agents in securing their own freedom ... Be Free or Die maintains a tautly rendered perspective on the complex social dynamics of Civil War-era race relations, especially in the North, where its embrace of emancipation was warmer than whites' embrace of newly freed blacks ... yet, something about his personality, the character that gave him such a cool head and an unconquerable will, remains just out of reach. It’s not the fault of Be Free or Die, which deserves credit for restoring his name and his achievements to public attention.
Mary V. Dearborn
PositiveUSA Today... there is always room for fresh perspective on familiar territory. And Dearborn, who has published life stories of two other exemplars of American machismo, Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, brings a keenly dispassionate, coolly discerning tone to her narrative. She refuses to indulge Hemingway’s odious behavioral tics. (Those anti-Semitic slurs hurt one’s ears more now than they ever did.) But she also persuasively explains why so many others did: “Simply put, people wanted him to like them, so he got away with more than other people did. His charisma protected him from the consequences of his most outrageous actions.”
RaveBookforum...by the time the book's horrific jolts have finished pulling your insides out of your own skin, whatever color it may be, White Tears discloses to its readers that it's been wearing a series of masks all along, each concealing what turns out to have been its real motive: to show how the icy hands of exploitation and greed are act ... Kunzru has proved that he is one of our most delicate manipulators of shadow, inference, and menace, and that he knows how each is conjoined by history to exact dues from the present ... White Tears won't answer all your questions about race and authenticity. But it may at least help make a couple of things clear. First, race isn't the only factor in getting fucked over by the powerful in America; second, the only 'authenticity' that counts for anything in the end is whatever's staring back at you in the mirror.
Timothy B. Tyson
RaveUSA Today...as Tyson recounts, applying diligent research, scrupulous perspective and a vigorous aptitude for weaving pertinent public and intimate details, Emmett Till’s murder became a story the nation couldn’t avoid ... As far as Tyson is concerned, 'America is still killing Emmett Till,' not just through 'bludgeons and bullets,' but through violence, poverty and social and economic inequality. Meanwhile, among the those who share the pain of Till’s family is Carolyn Bryant herself, who in an interview with the author more than a half-century after the fact, says, 'Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.'”
RaveUSA Today...what makes Born a Crime such a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism ... Consider Born a Crime another such gift to [his mother] — and an enormous gift to the rest of us.
RaveBookforum...[an] audacious, diabolical trickster-god of a novel ... this damn-near-instant classic of African American satiric fiction keeps asking impertinent questions to the end, arousing those open to its subversive agenda to wonder by the book's conclusion who's really on their worst behavior here: The Sellout's narrator and alleged 'sellout,' or the people in his world—and ours—who think they know better than he does how to go about getting Justice and Equality.
RaveUSA TodayMacy’s conscientious reporting (affirming the story's accuracy) and her vigorous storytelling make the saga of George and Willie Muse even more enthralling than fiction ... It is also by turns infuriating, heartbreaking and, ultimately, inspiring in recounting a mother’s struggle, through daunting odds, to not only find her lost children, but to secure their proper treatment by the people exploiting them ... Macy is especially adroit at placing the Muses’ story against a backdrop of myriad indignities and atrocities that were accepted as rigid customs in the racially segregated South of a century ago ... Macy is as tender and solicitous in telling their stories as she is in recovering, in print, the dignity of a family broken apart by avarice and injustice.
John le Carre
PositiveUSA Todayle Carré plays fair with the reader at the outset by declaring that he is not using this occasion to write at length about his family life; nor he is going to add any details about his real-life spy work...With all that content kept off-limits, The Pigeon Tunnel still comes across as an illuminating, self-effacing and pleasurable inquiry into le Carré’s creative process, offering globe-spanning thrills of a different, but no less captivating kind than those associated with the novels.
RaveNewsdayWhat never shifts, flags or wavers throughout The Underground Railroad is Cora’s resilience, which becomes analogous to the spirit of a people still wondering, to this day, what it means to be free. As much as any literary classic, Whitehead’s novel poses beautifully shaped questions that speak not just to history, or to the present day, but to eternity itself. This is a great book.
PositiveUSA TodayToobin skillfully frames all this raw material in the historic context of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s ... Toobin presents vivid, comprehensive renderings of all its personalities, from Hearst’s tormented parents and feckless fiancé, Steven Weed, to the SLA members and FBI investigators and attorneys in her trial, especially the flamboyant and (in Toobin’s view) egomaniacal F. Lee Bailey, who represented Hearst.
PositiveNewsday...[a] droll, warm and trenchantly observant comic novel ... The deadpan, rueful humor along with its glowing insights into the mechanisms of desire are what sustain your attention throughout The Inseparables ... And though the book’s plotting may feel a tad piled-on at the end, its generosity of spirit and its fascinating trio of women-in-crisis help make The Inseparables the smartest and most touching romantic comedy you won’t find at a multiplex movie theater this summer.
RaveUSA TodayThe title essay takes what must have been, at the time, the most probing, wide-ranging view yet of the epochal 'Freedom Summer' of 1964 when young activists from all over the country converged upon Mississippi to register black votes. With the diligent clarity, humane wit, polished prose and attention to pertinent detail that exemplify Trillin’s journalism at its best, the piece captures both the potential and the perils of that movement ... Jackson, 1964 drives home a sobering realization: Even with signs of progress, racism in America is news that stays news.
PositiveUSA TodayGrim details assemble like corpses on these pages, many of them as mundane as the slow flickering of a house lamp ('the whim of a damaged wire') or as jolting as the lone report of an AK-47 that resounds 'like a laugh' as it cuts down an unarmed painter among the many men, women and children rounded up by abusive soldiers. When chronicling man-made horrors, large and small, the devil really is in the details. What is more remarkable is that the American-born Novic assembled such a vivid narrative from speaking with friends and family members who lived through the war.
RaveUSA Today[Rivlin] manages to pack into a lean, taut narrative the heartbreaking setbacks, thwarted dreams and the confounding, repeated inability of anybody in power to either get things done or transcend festering social divisions ... As with the finest works of journalism, Rivlin’s book deploys the tools of his trade to illuminate the segment of history he examines – and make us wonder about the things we all have in common with those in New Orleans.
RaveUSA TodayLos Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy's penetrating and heartbreaking report from the front lines of 21st-century urban crime arrives at this seemingly auspicious moment in our ongoing racial dialogue. Ghettoside points out how relatively little America has cared even as recently as the last decade about the value of young black men's lives, especially in the nation's inner cities.
Annette Gordon Reed and Peter S. Onuf
PositiveNewsdayIn an age such as ours where certainties are tweeted, proclaimed and feverishly sought in the public domain, Jefferson’s seeming embrace of contradiction and paradox is frustrating. Gordon-Reed and Onuf share this pain. But in the end, they, too, seem to embrace, if warily, Jefferson’s vagabond imaginings and ideas as embodying America’s willful, constant impulse to revise and reinvent itself. If history is any guide, the pendulum that now swings in Alexander Hamilton’s favor will surely swerve back toward Jefferson — and Most Blessed of Patriarchs submits the first, convincing brief for that shift.
PositiveBookforumKill ’Em and Leave makes a wary, focused, and altogether inventive broken-field run at the Godfather of Soul’s legacy ... The musician in McBride is savvy when it comes to assessing Brown’s work ... He is also a tender and solicitous listener, preserving the tone and pattern of testimonies from Brown’s inner circle as if he were protecting yellowed news clippings of family wedding announcements.
RaveUSA Today“[Written] with the grace, compassion and diligent attention to detail that characterized both its principle subjects ... 'The Firebrand' is someone whose inspiration is sorely needed – and not only by black women.”
PositiveNewsdayYou may not always like or understand Sam Phillips, but by the time you put down the book, you somehow wish you’d gotten to know him.
PositiveBookforum[Jefferson,] toward the book’s conclusion[,] presents herself as 'a woman who grew up as a Negro and usually calls herself black,' and who saves the term African American 'strictly for official discourse.' If this elegant self-definition comes across as easily obtainable, the silken, wistful, and incisive narrative leading up to it assures the reader that it isn’t.