Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's QuestBeth Macy
RaveUSA TodayMacy’s conscientious reporting (affirming the story's accuracy) and her vigorous storytelling make the saga of George and Willie Muse even more enthralling than fiction ... It is also by turns infuriating, heartbreaking and, ultimately, inspiring in recounting a mother’s struggle, through daunting odds, to not only find her lost children, but to secure their proper treatment by the people exploiting them ... Macy is especially adroit at placing the Muses’ story against a backdrop of myriad indignities and atrocities that were accepted as rigid customs in the racially segregated South of a century ago ... Macy is as tender and solicitous in telling their stories as she is in recovering, in print, the dignity of a family broken apart by avarice and injustice.
Born a CrimeTrevor Noah
RaveUSA Today...what makes Born a Crime such a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism ... Consider Born a Crime another such gift to [his mother] — and an enormous gift to the rest of us.
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' RollPeter Guralnick
PositiveNewsdayYou may not always like or understand Sam Phillips, but by the time you put down the book, you somehow wish you’d gotten to know him.
The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social JusticePatricia Bell-Scott
RaveUSA Today“[Written] with the grace, compassion and diligent attention to detail that characterized both its principle subjects ... 'The Firebrand' is someone whose inspiration is sorely needed – and not only by black women.”
Kill 'Em and Leave: My Search for the Real James BrownJames McBride
PositiveBookforumKill ’Em and Leave makes a wary, focused, and altogether inventive broken-field run at the Godfather of Soul’s legacy ... The musician in McBride is savvy when it comes to assessing Brown’s work ... He is also a tender and solicitous listener, preserving the tone and pattern of testimonies from Brown’s inner circle as if he were protecting yellowed news clippings of family wedding announcements.
The SelloutPaul Beatty
RaveBookforum...[an] audacious, diabolical trickster-god of a novel ... this damn-near-instant classic of African American satiric fiction keeps asking impertinent questions to the end, arousing those open to its subversive agenda to wonder by the book's conclusion who's really on their worst behavior here: The Sellout's narrator and alleged 'sellout,' or the people in his world—and ours—who think they know better than he does how to go about getting Justice and Equality.
The Blood of Emmett TillTimothy B. Tyson
RaveUSA Today...as Tyson recounts, applying diligent research, scrupulous perspective and a vigorous aptitude for weaving pertinent public and intimate details, Emmett Till’s murder became a story the nation couldn’t avoid ... As far as Tyson is concerned, 'America is still killing Emmett Till,' not just through 'bludgeons and bullets,' but through violence, poverty and social and economic inequality. Meanwhile, among the those who share the pain of Till’s family is Carolyn Bryant herself, who in an interview with the author more than a half-century after the fact, says, 'Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.'”
Ernest Hemingway: A BiographyMary V. Dearborn
PositiveUSA Today... there is always room for fresh perspective on familiar territory. And Dearborn, who has published life stories of two other exemplars of American machismo, Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, brings a keenly dispassionate, coolly discerning tone to her narrative. She refuses to indulge Hemingway’s odious behavioral tics. (Those anti-Semitic slurs hurt one’s ears more now than they ever did.) But she also persuasively explains why so many others did: “Simply put, people wanted him to like them, so he got away with more than other people did. His charisma protected him from the consequences of his most outrageous actions.”
PositiveBookforum[Jefferson,] toward the book’s conclusion[,] presents herself as 'a woman who grew up as a Negro and usually calls herself black,' and who saves the term African American 'strictly for official discourse.' If this elegant self-definition comes across as easily obtainable, the silken, wistful, and incisive narrative leading up to it assures the reader that it isn’t.
"Most Blessed of the Patriarchs": Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the ImaginationAnnette Gordon Reed and Peter S. Onuf
PositiveNewsdayIn an age such as ours where certainties are tweeted, proclaimed and feverishly sought in the public domain, Jefferson’s seeming embrace of contradiction and paradox is frustrating. Gordon-Reed and Onuf share this pain. But in the end, they, too, seem to embrace, if warily, Jefferson’s vagabond imaginings and ideas as embodying America’s willful, constant impulse to revise and reinvent itself. If history is any guide, the pendulum that now swings in Alexander Hamilton’s favor will surely swerve back toward Jefferson — and Most Blessed of Patriarchs submits the first, convincing brief for that shift.
Girl at WarSara Novic
PositiveUSA TodayGrim details assemble like corpses on these pages, many of them as mundane as the slow flickering of a house lamp ('the whim of a damaged wire') or as jolting as the lone report of an AK-47 that resounds 'like a laugh' as it cuts down an unarmed painter among the many men, women and children rounded up by abusive soldiers. When chronicling man-made horrors, large and small, the devil really is in the details. What is more remarkable is that the American-born Novic assembled such a vivid narrative from speaking with friends and family members who lived through the war.
Katrina: After the FloodGary Rivlin
RaveUSA Today[Rivlin] manages to pack into a lean, taut narrative the heartbreaking setbacks, thwarted dreams and the confounding, repeated inability of anybody in power to either get things done or transcend festering social divisions ... As with the finest works of journalism, Rivlin’s book deploys the tools of his trade to illuminate the segment of history he examines – and make us wonder about the things we all have in common with those in New Orleans.
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in AmericaJill Leovy
RaveUSA TodayLos Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy's penetrating and heartbreaking report from the front lines of 21st-century urban crime arrives at this seemingly auspicious moment in our ongoing racial dialogue. Ghettoside points out how relatively little America has cared even as recently as the last decade about the value of young black men's lives, especially in the nation's inner cities.
The InseparablesStuart Nadler
PositiveNewsday...[a] droll, warm and trenchantly observant comic novel ... The deadpan, rueful humor along with its glowing insights into the mechanisms of desire are what sustain your attention throughout The Inseparables ... And though the book’s plotting may feel a tad piled-on at the end, its generosity of spirit and its fascinating trio of women-in-crisis help make The Inseparables the smartest and most touching romantic comedy you won’t find at a multiplex movie theater this summer.
New PeopleDanzy Senna
RaveNewsdayIt says a great deal for New People — Danzy Senna’s martini-dry, espresso-dark comedy of contemporary manners — that its compound of caustic observations and shrewd characterizations could only have emerged from a writer as finely tuned to her social milieu as [Jane] Austen was to hers ... We may not always like Maria. Yet, as with many a complex heroine of classic comedies-of-errors, we somehow keep faith with her struggles to reconcile her myriad convolutions and warring emotions ... The book doesn’t pour cold water on one’s expectations for a better, more tolerant world. In fact, it implies that world has, to a great extent, already arrived. Brave new worlds sometimes emerge when you’re not ready for them; whether in a stranger’s apartment or in your own, too-human heart.
Be Free or DieCate Lineberry
PositiveUSA Today...serves to remind us that black people were active, daring and, often, successful agents in securing their own freedom ... Be Free or Die maintains a tautly rendered perspective on the complex social dynamics of Civil War-era race relations, especially in the North, where its embrace of emancipation was warmer than whites' embrace of newly freed blacks ... yet, something about his personality, the character that gave him such a cool head and an unconquerable will, remains just out of reach. It’s not the fault of Be Free or Die, which deserves credit for restoring his name and his achievements to public attention.
Jackson, 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in AmericaCalvin Trillin
RaveUSA TodayThe title essay takes what must have been, at the time, the most probing, wide-ranging view yet of the epochal 'Freedom Summer' of 1964 when young activists from all over the country converged upon Mississippi to register black votes. With the diligent clarity, humane wit, polished prose and attention to pertinent detail that exemplify Trillin’s journalism at its best, the piece captures both the potential and the perils of that movement ... Jackson, 1964 drives home a sobering realization: Even with signs of progress, racism in America is news that stays news.
American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty HearstJeffrey Toobin
PositiveUSA TodayToobin skillfully frames all this raw material in the historic context of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s ... Toobin presents vivid, comprehensive renderings of all its personalities, from Hearst’s tormented parents and feckless fiancé, Steven Weed, to the SLA members and FBI investigators and attorneys in her trial, especially the flamboyant and (in Toobin’s view) egomaniacal F. Lee Bailey, who represented Hearst.
The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My LifeJohn le Carre
PositiveUSA Todayle Carré plays fair with the reader at the outset by declaring that he is not using this occasion to write at length about his family life; nor he is going to add any details about his real-life spy work...With all that content kept off-limits, The Pigeon Tunnel still comes across as an illuminating, self-effacing and pleasurable inquiry into le Carré’s creative process, offering globe-spanning thrills of a different, but no less captivating kind than those associated with the novels.
White TearsHari Kunzru
RaveBookforum...by the time the book's horrific jolts have finished pulling your insides out of your own skin, whatever color it may be, White Tears discloses to its readers that it's been wearing a series of masks all along, each concealing what turns out to have been its real motive: to show how the icy hands of exploitation and greed are act ... Kunzru has proved that he is one of our most delicate manipulators of shadow, inference, and menace, and that he knows how each is conjoined by history to exact dues from the present ... White Tears won't answer all your questions about race and authenticity. But it may at least help make a couple of things clear. First, race isn't the only factor in getting fucked over by the powerful in America; second, the only 'authenticity' that counts for anything in the end is whatever's staring back at you in the mirror.
A Legacy of SpiesJohn Le Carré
PositiveUSA TodayOne wonders at first why le Carré would bother revisiting territory whose possibilities were realized so successfully 50-odd years ago. While A Legacy of Spies may not occupy the upper tier of le Carré’s body of work, it’s as swift and satisfying a read as the book it derives from. Through its beloved characters, Legacy also revives old, yet still relevant questions about whether the 'ends' compelled by the long-moribund Cold War — or any war — were worth the questionable 'means.' But what you all really want to know is whether George Smiley is still alive. You won't find out here. We need to keep some secrets secret, right?
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead
RaveNewsdayWhat never shifts, flags or wavers throughout The Underground Railroad is Cora’s resilience, which becomes analogous to the spirit of a people still wondering, to this day, what it means to be free. As much as any literary classic, Whitehead’s novel poses beautifully shaped questions that speak not just to history, or to the present day, but to eternity itself. This is a great book.
I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay StreetMatt Taibbi
RaveUSA Today...illuminates vast sectors of the American soul that most Americans would rather not see — or, worse, continue to view simplistically ... If you’ve read Taibbi’s columns on politics and the economy for Rolling Stone magazine, you know he never pulls his punches or curbs his indignation. And he delivers a potent, shattering blow in summing up what happened on that Staten Island corner three summers ago: 'Garner’s death, and the great distances that were traveled to protect his killer, now stand as testaments to America’s pathological desire to avoid equal treatment under the law for its black population.'