This book came out more than ten years ago, when the modern-day prison abolitionist movement was surging on the left, powered by groups like Critical Resistance and intellectuals like Davis. I was part of that world and I’m a little embarrassed it took me this long to read this.
This is make, no mistake, a polemic. But it is also well done arguing the case that we need not just prison reform, but prison abolition. That the institution cannot be reformed, but instead must be abandoned. It’s a radical, idea, of course. But one worth taking seriously.
There’s nothing that says we must imprison those who break societies laws. Other forms of restorative justice and mediation should also be considered. Davis makes the cases for these alternatives to incarceration eloquently and succinctly in this slim volume and while I don’t also agree with her, I always find her compelling. Too often today we tune out the voices that don’t align exactly with our own opinions. That’s a mistake. Take the concept Davis is arguing (that prisons are barbaric and should be replaced) seriously. Listen to her arguments, look at her sources, and decide what is valid and what isn’t. You’ll be a better citizen for it.
Worth a read for those interested in criminal justice and a just society, which, really should be all of us.
Men We Reaped: A Memoir
There may be other American writers working today who are as gifted as Ward, but I have a hard time believing there are any more gifted. From fiction to memoir, Ward consistently leaves me at the edge of tears at the raw emotion of what she is sharing, and the technical brilliance with which she does it.
This is a memoir. It is the story memorializing the dead men from her hometown in rural Louisiana. All the men here were young, all died unnatural deaths, and all were black. None of that should surprise you, young black men in our country die at shameful rates. How this comes about is what Ward is struggling to explore.
The story focuses on the untimely death of Ward’s brother, but it comes to his death last, as a sort of culmination of a series of events, all related in one way of another, that hit Ward’s community over the span of a few short years. The book is pitch perfect in balancing reportage with anguish, making us feel the loses Ward suffered, personally, with every death, while also not losing sight of the larger story here – that our society sends young black men to the grave with alarming regularity.
All of Ward’s books are worth reading. She is truly among the best living American authors, but this one feels the most necessary, the most urgent, of what she has done so far. If you’re going to start anywhere with Ward’s work, I suggest you start here. But keep going, she has much to share.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
A gut punch, a wake up call, a deeply effecting book about race, sexual assault, food, immigration, class, writing, love and America. Really a must read.
I’m someone who cares deeply about health and fitness. I struggle to make the right food choices, and hit the gym, but my personal issues are put into stark relief as the cloying bullshit problems of a privileged white dude when held against Gays heartrending and inspiring story.
This is a story of growing up the child of immigrants, of suffering horrible sexual assault, and struggling with that, and more. Its about coping with lives horrors with food, both for comfort and protection.
It’s also the story of a powerful writer finding her voice through years of work and struggle and missteps and luck.
It is near perfectly written in Gay’s direct to the jugular style.
I couldn’t put it down.
You might not think of yourself as the kind of person who would read a memoir that is, at least ostensibly, about weight problems, but really it is about so much more. And you are the kind of person who reads important, powerful, books and you should read this one.
Salvage the Bones
Stunning prose. A look into a world (rural, black, deep south) that is not often depicted in literature. Really, really good.
Salvage the Bones tells the story of a young girl and her family and community as they prepare for, and endure, Hurricane Katrina. The sense of dread that permeates the first part of the book sets in even deeper when you realize (a) that they have no idea how bad things will get and (b) that other calamities and challenges unrelated to the storm are also coming down on this struggling family.
Ward writes with a clarity that is awe inspiring. She says Faulkerner was an inspiration, and you tell. The writing is crystal clear, yet beautiful. Slow burning, yet, I couldn’t put it down. This was the first book by Ward that I read, but within months, I’d go on to read two more.
If you want to see the future of the American novel depicting a part of the world rarely shown, read this.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce
“I do whatever I want because I could die any minute
I don’t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me”
This book is a gut punch. Full of lines like the above, angry and wounded. But it is also full of moments of real tenderness and intimacy, and of humor, and of things I can’t really name or understand but still think are beautiful.
I don’t read that much modern poetry, but multiple people recommended this one to me and I’m so glad they did. Timely and timeless, I think people will be reading this slim volume for many years to come.
The second Easy Rawlins novel, filled with the detail of place and time that all fans of the series enjoy. (I reviewed the first one here). This one finds our protagonist tied up in a red scare witch hunt involving a Jewish socialist working in a Black church, a back to Africa group of well meaning swindlers, a bunch of murders, a fair amount of sex, and lots of drinking. If you like your crime novels shot through with some, but not a lot, of politics, and you enjoy a story deeply rooted in a time and place, the Easy Rawlins books can’t be beat.
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
It always feels a bit absurd to review a classic, especially one with the profound emotional and political resonance of Invisible Man. I could leave it at this – you need to read this book – but I’ll say a little more.
I came to Invisible Man with a bit of hesitation. I often feel this way with classics. I’m worried it won’t be as good as described, or that reading it will be a slog. Neither of these fears were justified here. Invisible Man, the story of a black man in America attempting to make his way through a horrific, though often darkly comedic and surreal, world of racist America, is an incredible work of fiction. It is compelling entertaining, and moving. Is it challenging? Emotionally, yes, the horror of race in America is in your face here. Technically, its a brilliantly written, but accessible read. Unlike many classics, the pages turned themselves here.
What else is there to say? Of course you must read it.