If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin


Five stars, read in October 2016.

This was incredible. I’d read excerpts and quotes that were enough for me to tell James Baldwin was a writer I needed to know, but this is the first of his books I’ve read. I was taken aback almost every few pages by yet another piece of gorgeous text, and paused often to reread a paragraph or page.

The story is a brief snapshot in the life of Tish, a young woman whose brand-new fiance was arrested just after they became engaged. Baldwin’s descriptions of the characters, particularly their relationships to each other—especially Tish’s family—are just so sweet they would make me smile, and I feel like there needs to be a word for smiling that is comparable to “aloud,” because that’s the kind of smiles they were. I tried to find some examples to share, but I don’t think they would work out of context, anyway. And the cultural commentary, the depiction of black life in America—in the 1970s, so some things have changed, but not enough—is so sharp, so insightful, so painful. I cried a few times, too, as well as smiling, and I was sitting in a Starbucks for the last 90 pages, so that was difficult.

I already took home Giovanni’s Room last night, and I can’t wait to start it. I’m so excited that he has so many more for me to read.

She felt herself going under; people were going under around her, every day; and Albany isn’t exactly God’s gift to black folks, either. Of course, I must say that I don’t think America is God’s gift to anybody—if it is, God’s days have got to be numbered. That God these people say they serve—and do serve, in ways that they don’t know—has got a very nasty sense of humor. Like you’d beat the shit out of Him, if He was a man. Or: if you were.

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