PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn highlighting these seemingly ordinary activities, [Dyson] adroitly alludes to the dire consequences that sometimes accrue from fill-in-the-blank, doing and being \'while Black\' ... Pithy openers provide context for the date and original source of each chapter. The only piece of completely new writing is his well-crafted and meaty introductory essay ... Dyson’s work clearly comes from a deep well of love — for his country, for his people and for the intellectual and cultural figures he admires. He includes essays about Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin, for instance, paeans fueled by genuine fandom that are delightful reads because he speaks to these singers’ artistry with authoritative specificity...The same can’t be said of his takes on other art forms, such as photography, film and theater ... By passing up opportunities to apply his critical lens to lesser-known culture makers or to add new insights to older works, Dyson essentially offers up what amounts to a scholarly greatest-hits album ... Known for extemporizing full speeches and sermons without notes, Dyson plays in the space between preacher and poet ... his eulogy for the firebrand poet Amiri Baraka brims with eloquence, insight and deep respect, despite the fact that he was often at odds with Baraka when Baraka was alive ... There is also a stylistic performance taking place within the pages of the book: that of the public Black intellectual demonstrating that he is erudite yet still hip, referencing philosophers and theorists like Kant, Derrida and Foucault while also name-checking rappers like Nas and Jay-Z ... Dyson isn’t known for brevity or restraint. He tends to milk his metaphors for all they are worth, at times layering the wordplay until it becomes one paragraph-long big pun ... would benefit from greater curation and clearer vision. Some sections, such as the transcribed conversations with younger peers and debates with conservative pundits, feel like filler that is only tangentially connected to the book’s theme ... in a truly odd move, Dyson ends his book with a somewhat rambling commencement speech that he gave 25 years ago at the University of North Carolina in support of Generation X’s youth culture ... Still, Dyson’s fans may relish this opportunity to read his early academic papers, in which his literary voice was still forming. They bring into relief those of his more signature style, full of the alliteration and anaphora that mark the best of Black oratory and written word.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe challenge of making racism relevant, or even evident, to those who do not bear the brunt of its ill effects is tricky. Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves ... The writing zigs and zags effortlessly between prose poems, images and essays. This is the poet as conceptual artist, in full mastery of her craft. And while the themes of this book could have been mined from any point in America’s history, Rankine sets the whole collection resolutely in the present. Contemporary content and contemporary form mirror each other ... it’s like viewing an experimental film or live performance. One is left with a mix of emotions that linger and wend themselves into the subconscious ... Rankine creates an intentionally disorienting experience, one that mirrors the experience of racial micro-aggressions her subjects encounter. ... throws a Molotov cocktail at the notion that a reduction of injustice is the same as freedom.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewContemporary tellings tend to mask the real horrors of the original Brothers Grimm stories and their ilk...Roxane Gay’s striking debut novel, An Untamed State, is a fairy tale in this vein, its complex and fragile moral arrived at through great pain and high cost … After Mireille’s captors release her, the book follows her attempts to piece herself back together. The ‘near-perfect recall’ that once let her pull up detailed memories of eating fresh sugarcane and Haitian fudge now works against her. In her traumatized state, present and recent past blur … Gay avoids the pat outcome of a Disney tale and, in an emotional and unforeseen twist, does the Grimms one better. In this fable, the princess and a wicked witch relate to each other as real women do, and ultimately rescue each other.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewSmith has a knack for unearthing the deeper truths that lie beneath common experience. In Swing Time, she excels at capturing the world of prepubescence, with all of its unwritten rites and rules and frank sexuality ... To be sure, there are insights to be mined from the disconnected reality of the rich and famous, particularly when Aimee and her squad embark on building a girl’s school in a small, unspecified West African country. But those perceptions pale in comparison to the visceral feeling Smith has for the workaday characters of Northwest London ... The book relies not on plot or character development but on a series of skillfully rendered passages to propel the story as it swings back and forth through time, though not necessarily with perfect rhythm.