Calculating the Worth of Human Lives

Along the same lines as my earlier thoughts about Howard Zinn, I have this to say about a paragraph in the introduction to my textbook (the Norton Anthology of American Literature (shorter ninth edition)). “The Civil War transformed the lives of the four million African Americans who obtained their freedom from slavery, but its costs…

Rethinking Howard Zinn

While reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power a couple years ago, I came across some information that required consideration. In the book Coates addresses some remarks made by Howard Zinn regarding the Civil War, which Coates had written about for The Atlantic. These are Zinn’s comments, made a few months before he…

Will Everyone Complaining About “Identity Politics” Please Shut Up

I don’t understand how white intellectuals are so dense on the subject of “identity politics.” Sam Harris was the first to frustrate me (he’s done it again recently), and a little while ago I read this whole piece at Brain Pickings on the tragedy of “imprisoning ourselves in the fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities,…

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Five stars, read in November 2017. This book covers the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. For each year, there is an article Coates wrote for The Atlantic, preceded by an essay (“a sort of extended blog post,” I think is how he describes it) in which he looks back on his own work and assesses…

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah, read April 30 – May 1, 2014 I go back and forth between 4 and 5 stars, I think because the ending didn’t have as much of an impact as I was expecting. But then I remember how I basically devoured this book, loving every minute that I was reading, feeling completely absorbed and…

The Origin of Others, by Toni Morrison

Four stars, read in December 2017. When I think back on this book, the anecdote I remember is the one Morrison shares about coming across a woman near the fence on her property. The scene of their meeting is peaceful and friendly (because fences are “where the most interesting things always happen”), and Morrison’s thoughts…

An Autobiography, by Angela Davis

Five stars, read in April 2017. Yes, once again a post has taken me this long to write. For years I have been meaning to find out more about Angela Davis, and as so often happens, now that I’ve finally met her books I cannot believe it took me so long—or that in all my reading, she’s…

Books for People Who Wonder Why Everything Is So Fucked Up

Because that’s what I’ve been reading for several years now, but this year, it’s almost all I can read. Rather than explain in advance, because I am on the verge of developing carpal tunnel after a week and a half spent cataloging Vietnamese books for the library, I will just put this random collection here—if you’re wondering…

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

Five stars, read in June 2017. First lesson learned from listening to James Baldwin on audio: I cannot listen to James Baldwin on audio. Jesse Martin’s narration is excellent (I knew I recognized his voice but had to look him up to learn that what I know him from is Rent), but James Baldwin is…

Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde

Four stars, read in March and April 2017. I have meant to read Audre Lorde for so long, and now that I have, I see the irony of it having been her prose that I read first, and not her poetry. Poetry was everything to Lorde, not just a form of art but a framework…

Women, Race and Class, by Angela Davis

Five stars, read in March 2017. I can’t believe how readable this book is, considering how dense it also is in historical detail. The research that went into it must be astounding, but it flows like a conversation with a (really well-informed) friend. Along with many subjects I am familiar with, I was absolutely fascinated by…

Coretta: The Story of Coretta Scott King, by Octavia Vivian

Four stars, read in March 2012. I wrote this review back then, on my old blog, and have meant to repost it here. Now the timing is even more perfect, not just because of Black History Month, but because her name is in the news since Elizabeth Warren was punished for reading her words against Jeff…

Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Five stars, read in January 2017. If you want a perfect example of why this book is (STILL) necessary, consider this: It’s a book about the same time period, the same issues, as To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee—the book nearly every person in the United States had to read in school. While I…

We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Four stars, read in January 2017 (though I watched the TEDTalk it’s based on at least a couple years ago). I hadn’t technically read this yet because it’s essentially a transcript of that TEDTalk. But we just got a few brand new copies of it at the library, so I took it home and it…

Because Today We Remember Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am taking home this book, which I’ve had on my to-read shelf for years, probably. I’m trying to do a thing this year in which I just actually read things, instead of adding to an exponentially-growing list of things I could never possibly get all the way through. (I’m also going through that list, trying to…

Juliet Takes a Breath, by Gabby Rivera

Four stars, maybe five. Read in December 2016. I’d been excited about this book for a while, and there was a surprise right up front because for some reason—because of the glorious cover design—I had thought it was a graphic novel. It is not. It has a very self-published look underneath that fabulous cover, which was…

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,…

Fresh Off the Boat, by Eddie Huang

Three and a half stars, read in September 2016. I don’t speak hip-hop, so a significant portion of this book was entirely incomprehensible to me. That sounds like a joke, but “colloquial” doesn’t even begin to cover the vocabulary, and that’s before I take all the sports jargon into account. I could at least get…

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Five stars, read in July 2016. This is a book about a Communist spy during the Vietnam War. That premise was intriguing enough for me to pick it up, but while it continued to be an engaging plot throughout the book, for me the plot became secondary to the smart, insightful narrative voice. We never learn the narrator’s…

It’s Time For More Women of Color in Comic Book Movies — PANELS

It’s official: we’re all mad for Black Panther. You could argue, if you wanted, that people’s enormous reaction to Black Panther’s inclusion in Captain America: Civil War indicates just how thirsty fans are for representation in comics and related media. And even as we celebrate an awesome showing of an awesome character in a huge…

Black History Month

I took an online course about the Civil War from Eric Foner at Columbia, and what he had to say about abolitionists was the most accurate thing I’ve ever heard on the subject. I’m not totally sure whether it’s okay to quote him directly, but this was the gist of it: We might almost say…

For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Angela Davis. Coretta Scott King. Fannie Lou Hamer. Malcolm X. Shirley Chisholm. Booker T. Washington. Frederick Douglass. Colia Lafayette Clark. Ruby Bridges. Daisy Bates. Maya Angelou. Amelia Boynton Robinson. Stokely Carmichael. Harriet Tubman. Septima Poinsette Clark. John Lewis. James Farmer. Ida B. Wells. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sheyann Webb. Diane Nash. Rosa Parks. Jesse Jackson….

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Five stars, read in November 2015. All I can do by way of reviewing this book is quote it extensively. I really don’t feel like I can say anything about it—a feeling which, to embark on a small rant, also applies to what I’ve seen others say about it—e.g. Ryan Holiday, the poor, dejected white…

My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor

Four stars, read in July 2015. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this. No matter how interested I am in a nonfiction book, I usually hit a lull about two-thirds of the way through, and then it takes me a couple weeks to pick it back up again. Nothing like that happened…

Once Upon a Quinceanera, by Julia Alvarez

Two and a half stars, read July/August 2014. Once Upon a Quinceanera was a mixed bag for me: interesting but slightly disappointing, until I got to the end, which pissed me off. The concept is great; there’s so much material for discussion, and the tradition is an intriguing one to learn about. I enjoyed the…

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

Two and a half stars, read in May 2015. Gay has a lot of interesting things to say, particularly about media and pop culture, but I ended up being mostly annoyed with how much she harped on the “bad feminist” thing. She talks about how wrong it is for people to claim that there’s some kind of…