Don’t Call Us Dead
A stunning work of poetry. A book that left me breathless, and thrusting it into my wife’s hands, saying “you need to read this”. A work both political and deeply, deeply, personal full of poems that address race, love, manhood and more, tackling the deeply toxic race relations in America with nuance, compassion and serious writing chops.
Many many years ago I heard Tariq Ali say that if you want to understand a culture, read its poetry. He was talking about Iraq, but the same holds true for U.S. If you want to understand America, in all our horribleness and beauty, read Danez Smith.
A collection of Coates journalistic pieces and other writings, most of which first appeared in the Atlantic, and many of which I’d read before. The pieces are organized chronologically, and importantly, tied to each year of the Obama presidency. Coates writes a thoughtful introduction to each piece which serves as a reflective (sometimes self critical) look back at who he was as a writer, and who we were as a country, at the time of the writing of the piece.
Coates is a gifted writer and one of the most important intellectuals in modern America. I read everything he writes, and was happy to re-read many of these pieces. But at the center of this book is one of his articles “The Case for Reparations” that I think may be one of the most important pieces published anywhere in the last decade. It cogently and carefully makes the case for reparations to the African American community in America and it lays out its case with a combination of narrative brilliance and airtight logic that is hard to ignore.
If you pick up this book and just read the Case for Reparations, it will be well worth the price of admission, but there’s so much more in here to remember and reflect on. As I often say, well worth the time.
The Obelisk Gate
This is the follow up to Jemisin’s incredible, mind blowing, the Fifth Season and its good. Very good, even. Jemisin’s prose is top rate, and the story churns forward revealing more about our characters and the world they inhabit, while still keeping up the mystery and allure that made Fifth Season so wonderfully strange.
But its hard to follow up on a classic. I don’t know anything about how Jemisin wrote these books, but the sense I get is Fifth Season was painfully crafted, perhaps over years, every sentence worked to death, then every paragraph, then every chapter, then back again. The Obelisk Gate doesn’t have the same feeling. It’s a damn good book, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have the clock work precision of Fifth Season.
Still and all, if excellent SF/Fantasy is your thing, odds are you’ve already read this. If gorgeously written novels struggling with identity, gender, race, and the nature of relationships interests you, you should get over your genre prejudices and check this one out.
God Help the Child: A novel
A minor work by a major author, this slim book by one of the greatest American novelists is beautiful and haunting. It moves back and forth from the allegorical to the realistic tracing the story of Bride, a wounded child who grows into a celebrated, but wounded women. Morrison deals here with race, and gender, and the unique horrors our society metes out to black women. She address child abuse, and dysfunctional relationships, and love. All of it in a way that feels real and devoid of the hectoring tone some political works can have. Beautifully written, you shouldn’t pass this one up.