Thursday, September 24, 2015


Very good

Coates is possibly the most important writer on race in this country today. I read everything he publishes in The Atlantic, and find him keenly insightful and illuminating, as well as eloquent. Between the World and Me delivers in some ways, but not in others. I’m going to say it’s a must read… for its ideas. But Coates is an essayist, and this—written as a letter to his son—is a kind of memoir, a form that demands rich storytelling. In this aspect, I found the book to fall a tad short.  Coates tells far more than he shows, and his prose—so elegant in his essays—occasionally veers into the purple, and can be somewhat pedantic and repetitive. He establishes his thesis early on—that the White Dream is deadly to the Black body—and he goes on to replicate it in a kind of theme and variations. Between the World and Me is an homage to Richard Wright—whose very words and language he borrows from liberally*—and James Baldwin, whose “Letter to my Nephew” was the inspiration for this work. Wright tells a better story, imho, and Baldwin’s prose is simpler and clearer—and just as outraged and powerful. Criticisms notwithstanding, the ideas and emotions are absolutely vital to our national discussion. Read it.

*(For instance, Wright, Black Boy: “There was the hint of cosmic cruelty that I felt when I saw the curved timbers of a wooden shack that had been warped in the summer sun.” Coates, Between the World and Me: “And I felt in this a cosmic injustice, a profound cruelty, which infused an abiding, irrepressible desire to unshackle my body and achieve the velocity of escape.”)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr, BATTLEBORN by Claire Vaye Watkins; STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel; LOVING DAY by Mat Johnson

Very Good
It’s hard to put down this tender, suspenseful, nicely crafted novel, set in WWII Europe. On the other hand, Pulitzer Prize winner? There’s the brave, clever blind girl, who’s part of the French resistance; the oversized German killer who loves classical music and has a streak of goodness; and so on. They’ll pull at your heartstrings, yes, but they verge on caricature. The sentence-by-sentence writing is lovely, the plot compelling… but I’m not sure it rises above a better-than-average, page-turning, heartfelt summer read.

BATTLEBORN by Claire Vaye Watkins
Very Good
Hard-edged, smart, well-written stories set in the Nevada dessert. One reviewer described the author as an Annie Proulx for the Wild West, for her evocative way with the places in which her stories are set. Not sure about that, but this collection nevertheless warrants a read. The book gained cult status, partially because Watkins is the daughter of Charles Mansion Family Member Paul Watkins, a fact that figures heavily in the first story, and is reflected in some of the others.

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel
A traveling band of actors in a post-apocalyptic world. Thoroughly enjoyable, moving and thoughtful, with characters you want to read about, good writing, and a gripping plot. Highly recommended.

LOVING DAY by Mat Johnson
The first couple of chapters are absolutely stellar. Johnson writes about being Black—and White—in this country with honesty, irreverence, guffaw aloud humor, smarts… and a refreshing fearlessness of the muzzle of a mass-market strain of political correctness that silences productive, respectful dialogue around critical issues of race and identity. But after those first chapters, the novel degenerates into a silly romp with characters, relationships and situations that require far too big a leap of faith. Still. Read the beginning.