Wednesday, September 30, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt ten)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

Carmel was excited when Awakenings was taken up by Hollywood and I met Penny Marshall and Robert De Niro. But her instinct played her wrong on my fifty-fifth birthday, when De Niro attended my party on City Island and (in the invisible way he has) managed to come to my little house and ensconce himself quietly upstairs without anyone recognizing him. When I told Carmel that De Niro had arrived, she said, very loudly, “That’s not De Niro. He’s a look-alike, a double, sent by the studio. I know what a real actor is like, and he doesn’t take me in for a minute.” She knew how to project her voice, and everyone heard her comment. I myself became uncertain and went down to the phone box on the corner, where I phone De Niro’s office. Puzzled, they said of course that was the real De Niro. And no one was more amused than De Niro himself, who had heard Carmel’s bellowing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt nine)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

Aubrey loved telling stories, and knowing of my interest in the physical sciences, he told me several stories of his contacts with Albert Einstein. Following Chaim Weizmann’s death in 1952, Aubrey had been delegated to invite Einstein to become the next president of Israel (Einstein, of course, declined). On another occasion, Aubrey recounted with a smile, he and a colleague from the Israeli consulate visited Einstein in his house in Princeton. Einstein invited them in and courteously asked if they would like coffee, and (thinking that an assistant or housekeeper would make it), Aubrey said yes. But he was “horrified,” as he put it, when Einstein trotted into the kitchen himself. They soon heard the clatter of cups and pots and an occasional piece of crockery falling, as the great man, in his friendly but slightly clumsy way, made the coffee for them. This, more than anything, Aubrey said, showed him the human and endearing side of the world’s greatest genius.

Monday, September 28, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt eight)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

City Island had its own identity, rules, and traditions, and the natives of the island, the “clam diggers,” seemed particularly respectful of idiosyncrasy, whether it was Dr. Schaumburg, a fellow neurologist who had had polio as a child, riding his big tricycle slowly up and down City Island Avenue, or Mad Mary, a woman who became psychotic at intervals and would stand in the back of her pickup truck, preaching hellfire. But Mary was accepted as just another neighbor. Indeed, she seemed to have a special role as a wise woman, a woman whose robust common sense and humor had been forged in the fires of psychosis.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt seven)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

Staying at Oxford after my degree and often revisiting it in the late 1950s, I occasionally glimpsed W. H. Auden around town. He had been appointed a visiting professor of poetry at Oxford, and when he was there, he would go to the Cadena Café every morning to chat with anyone who wanted to drop by. He was very genial, but I felt too shy to approach him. In 1967, however, we met at a cocktail party in New York.

He invited me to visit, and I would sometimes go to his apartment on St. Mark’s Place for tea. This was a very good time to see him, because by four o’clock he had finished the day’s work but had not yet started the evening’s drinking. He was a very heavy drinker, although he was at pains to say that he was not an alcoholic but a drunk. I once asked him what the difference was, and he said, “An alcoholic has a personality change after a drink or two, but a drunk can drink as much as he wants. I’m a drunk.” He certainly drank a great deal; at dinner, either at his own place or someone else’s, he would leave the meal at 9:30 p.m., taking all the bottles on the table with him. But however much he drank, he was up and at work by six the next morning. (Orlan Fox, the friend who introduced us, called him the least lazy man he had ever met.)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt six)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

My mother’s death was the most devastating of my life—the loss of the deepest and perhaps, in some sense, the realest relation of my life. I found it impossible to read anything mundane; I could only read the Bible or Donne’s Devotions when I finally went to bed each night.

When the formal mourning was over, I stayed in London and returned to writing, with a sense of my mother’s life and death and Donne’s Devotions dominating all my thoughts. And in this mood, I wrote the later, more allegorical sections of Awakenings, with a feeling, a voice, I had never known before.

Friday, September 25, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt five)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

One day in 1963, I went bodysurfing off Venice Beach; it was rather rough water and no one else was in, but I, at the height of my strength (and grandiosity), was sure I could handle it. I was thrown around a bit—this was fun—but then a huge wave came towering far above my head. When I attempted to dive under it, I got flung on my back and tumbled over and over helplessly. I did not realize how far the wave had carried me until I saw it was about to crash me on the shore. Such impacts are the commonest cause of broken necks on the Pacific coast; I had just time to stick out my right arm. The impact tore my arm back and dislocated my shoulder, but it saved my neck. With one arm disabled, I could not crawl out of the surf quickly enough to get away from the next huge breaker, which following close on the first. But at the last second, strong arms seized me and pulled me to safety. It was Chet Yorton, a very strong young bodybuilder. Once I was safely on the beach, in excruciating pain with the head of my humerus sticking out in the wrong place, Chet and some of his weight-lifting buddies grabbed me—two round the waist, two pulling the arm—until the shoulder went back into place with a squelch. Chet went on to win the Mr. Universe competition, and he was still superbly muscled at the age of seventy; I would not be here had he not pulled me out of the water in 1963. The moment the joint was back in place, the shoulder pain vanished, and I became conscious of other pains in my arms and chest. I got on my motorbike and rode to the emergency room at UCLA, where they found I had a broken arm and several broken ribs.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt four)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

After I moved to Los Angeles, I missed my Sunday morning rides to Stinson Beach with my motorcyclist friends, and I reverted to being a lone rider again; on weekends, I would embark on enormous solo rides. As soon as I could get away from work on Friday, I saddled my horse—I sometimes thought of my bike as a horse—and would set out for the Grand Canyon, five hundred miles away but a straight ride on Route 66. I would ride through the night, lying flat on the tank; the bike had only 30 horsepower, but if I lay flat, I could get it to a little over a hundred miles per hour, and crouched like this, I would hold the bike flat out for hour after hour. Illuminated by the headlight—or, if there was one, by a full moon—the silvery road was sucked under my front wheel, and sometimes I had strange perceptual reversals and illusions. Sometimes I felt that I was inscribing a line on the surface of the earth, at other times that I was poised motionless above the ground, the whole planet rotating silently beneath me. My only stops were at gas stations, to fill the tank, to stretch my legs and exchange a few words with the gas attendant. If I held the bike at its maximum speed, I could reach the Grand Canyon in time to see the sunrise.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt three)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

Somehow—I can no longer reconstruct exactly how—a friendship began, and a few weeks later I set out to call on him. Thom lived, in those days, at 975 Filbert, and that street, as San Franciscans know (but I did not), suddenly drops precipitously at a thirty-degree angle. I had my Norton scrambler and, rushing along Filbert, taking it far too fast, I suddenly found myself airborne, as in a ski jump. Fortunately, my bike took the jump easily, but I was rattled; it could have ended badly. When I rang Thom’s bell, my heart was still pounding.

He invited me in, gave me a beer, and asked why I had been so eager to meet him. I said, simply, that many of his poems seemed to call to something deep inside me. Thom looked noncommittal. Which poems? he asked. Why? The first poem of his I had read was “On the Move,” and as a motorcyclist myself, I said, I instantly resonated to it, as I had years before to T. E. Lawrence’s short, lyrical piece “The Road.” And I liked his poem titled “The Unsettled Motorcyclist’s Vision of His Death,” because I was convinced that, like Lawrence, I too would be killed on my motorbike.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt two)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

The results were in The Times that weekend; I, Oliver Wolf Sacks, had won the prize. Everyone was dumbfounded—how could someone who had come one but last in the anatomy finals walk off with the Theodore Williams prize? I was not entirely surprised, for it was a sort of repetition, in reverse, of what had happened when I took the Oxford prelims. I am very bad at factual exams, yes-or-no questions, but can spread my wings with essays.

Fifty pounds came with the Theodore Williams prize--₤50! I had never had so much money at once. This time I went not to the White Horse but to Blackwell’s bookshop (next door to the pub) and bought, for ₤44, the twelve volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, for me the most coveted and desirable book in the world. I was to read the entire dictionary through when I went on to medical school, and I still like to take a volume off the shelf, now and then, for bedtime reading.

Monday, September 21, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt one)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

When I got my scholarship to Oxford, I faced a choice: Should I stick to zoology or become a pre-med student and do anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology? It was especially the physiology of the senses that fascinated me—how did we see color, depth, movement? How did we recognize anything? How did we make sense of the world, visually? I had developed these interests from an early age through having visual migraines, for besides the brilliant zigzags which heralded an attack, I might, during a migraine aura, lose the sense of color or depth or movement or even the ability to recognize anything. My vision could be unmade, deconstructed, frighteningly but fascinatingly, in front of me, and then be remade, reconstructed, all in the space of a few minutes.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt nine)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

Agent Denver had warned them that it wasn’t over, though they tried to live otherwise. It was twelve months after Louis’s death and the Incident at Braggsville. D’aron had transferred to Loyola University of New Orleans to be with Candice, and both were on track to graduate with honors. Charlie was living at home, attending Northwestern. The Incident at Braggsville had been too much for his mother to bear, though she did let him travel (by train only) to Nola to visit his friends (for a weekend only). The occasional laugh sounded, but when the 3 Little Indians bid adieu at the station Sunday night, tears couldn’t mask their relief. Charlie promised, via text, to be back, He!!a soon!!! All three agreed that would be, S+upendous!!! Daron was therefore shocked when, some thin months later, Candice skipped in clapping and singing about Charlie spring breaking in Nola.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt eight)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

Where are you from again, Colonel?

L.A. Lower Alabama. Dothan to be particular.

Not far from Georgia?

Oh, no, young miss. Close. Very close. My nana was born there, in fact. She used to say, Drink enough beer and you could water their peaches, but for the fact that we were in a dry county.

Lee and Kain grunted politely.

Friday, September 18, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt seven)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

He was also angry about Candice. Just that morning he found a black footie with orange piping and an orange toe box, and imagined sorting it into her pile while she hummed along elsewhere in the house, tickled to have a boyfriend who embraced housework in that clumsy puppy way, but that was not to be.

For reasons inarticulate he knew it could not happen, not with Candice’s professor parents, originally from New York, oh the mysteries of that city—Woody Allen; Mafiosi; bearded Jewish diamond dealers; Warriors, come out to play—could not happen any more than a copy could say, Sorry, could not happen any more than D’aron could wing a Gull. In fact, back in high school, when Jean, a Gull, asked D’aron to prom with his sister, D’aron said he’d be out of town, or rather, he agreed as such when Jean suggested it. He wasn’t lying. Jean said it first. No. Nothing was as it seemed.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt six)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

Grits and hash browns, bacon and sausage, eggs and toast. Two double portions scattered, smothered, and covered. No spice. Two cheesy eggs breakfasts. Three waffles. Sheriff flipped over the ticket. Growing boys. Got the whole thing here. The waitress remembers y’all huddling like Comanches. Wasteful, too. Y’all shook Rick’s seeds good, leaving most of the food uneaten as you done. D’aron was again in Sheriff’s office, with the same gunmetal desk and same painted cinder-block walls and same sticky square-tube vinyl chairs and same photos of Chuck Norris and Buford Pusser sitting in judgment, exactly as they did when sixteen-year-old D’aron was brought in for driving like a choirboy who’d broken into the wine cabinet. The deputy made him sit in the cell for a few hours, where D’aron paced madly, as one did when fear and boredom peaked unendurable, and etched no less than seven hash marks in the wall, thinking at the time it was what hardened criminals did. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving vacation. Who was to say he hadn’t spent a week in jail? Back then, after an interminable lecture in this very office, Sheriff released D’aron into his father’s custody without booking him, expecting his father would do D’aron right. He’d since looked back on that occasion with laughter, but now felt the same again—terrified. Today, D’aron’s father was outside in the waiting room because Sheriff said D’aron might want some privacy in light of possible delicate subjects.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt five)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

It’s our fault. It’s our fault, repeated Charlie. In school they teased me, in public school that was, for being Mr. Charlie. Mr. Charlie, especially if I did well on a test. What do you expect from Mr. Charlie? they would ask. Now, asked Charlie, who am I? I’m Judas, Iago, Nixon. Washington, Ellison, Obama. A great conciliator. But a part of me—his voice dropped to a whisper—is so glad to be alive. Before with Tyler, and even now. This sliver of myself, that part wind-thin, and just as sharp, as my own nana used to say, was relieved when Tyler killed himself. I know God hates me for it. He gave me that ulcer, for starters. It was like swallowing razors. I spent half the time in the nurses’ station. He gripped Daron’s arms, staring like a wild man. I know God hates me for it, I know he does, but I felt that way again when I saw Louis yesterday. I saw him there with that shoe polish on his face and that wig, and the muscle suit, and I knew that would have been me, and I was glad I didn’t go. Glad to have been afraid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt four)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

When Charlie was in ninth grade, and that school offered him that academic scholarship with the matching tie and helmet, his father said, This is the end zone, son. This may be as far as football takes you. Your friends now are good kids, a few of them, that is. But most of them won’t amount to shit. I know that. You know that. His father had then steered him by the elbow to the window, where he pointed at Charlie’s friends, who had appeared as if on his father’s payroll: Rock and T-bone were posted up on the corner spitting freestyle, each with one thumb hooked on his belt loops, behind them the busted windows and the barbed wire around the school. Hell, they know that. But your friends at this new school, well, they’ll be somebodies. One might even be president one day. (Charlie had been scouted, courted, but felt like Rumpelstiltskin. When the recruiter made that home visit, he felt like a daughter being married off, like a bride-to-be who, in sight of three aunts, two grandparents, and in-laws, had agreed to marry her high school beau with whom she hadn’t even slept, not for love but only because a tour of duty felt impossibly long and probably terminal. What would he do in a school of white people? Plenty, as it turned out. As he admitted to Daron, Chase and Hunter and Preston were quick to befriend, slow to know, in short, the opposite of Cassius and Hovante and Tyrone. Charlie soon grew to like companionship without the burdens of intimacy, to no longer wonder whether to tease Hovante to cheer him up when his father was bending corners again, or to avoid teasing Cassius because it was his mother this time. And his teachers, Christ. They knew, how he didn’t know, but they knew that his father was wasting away, swarmed him with compliments, one had even said, You’re not going to be a statistic.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt three)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

Because along its southernmost border lay an inexplicable depression called the Devil’s Footprint and others Pasco Holler, and all agreed was haunted. For proof they needed only regard their own history: Bragg’s caravan lost there for days like a schooner listless, adrift without anchor or sail—while his missus, gripped in a stupor by the nameless illness that befell her, the old folk claimed, the very second the very first Pasco tree dropped shadow on them—lay wasting away in the carriage, quarantined from even her three young sons, giving up the ghost just as they escaped the cruciferous canopy that had played day for night the better part of a week. Murmurs about a curse, a murder, a lone Indian left behind to guard the wood, an enchanted elm, but these were never mentioned out loud. The widower’s gray face case doubt on all unfavorable speculation. Himself sick with grief, Bragg ventured little farther than the hill beyond that tree line. There where the Oconee forked in sight of the Holler, he laid his wife to rest in the center of what would become known as Braggsville, the city that love built in the heart of Georgia.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt two)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

Waffle House, a southern icon, the black lettering on a yellow background a beacon of gastronomical joy to the road-weary traveler, the Chapel of Carbohydrates where the high priest dispensed waffles to salve the soul, to satisfy every spiritual desire, even with chocolate chips. Then there were the hash browns, which could be ordered as a double portion, scattered, covered, smothered, and spiced. In Yankee-ese that meant with onion, cheese, chili, and jalapeños. Not quite home cooking, but a welcome treat because each location was locally owned and operated, and so felt like part of the family. The Braggsville kids traveled distances to circle BK or McD’s on Friday nights, but when munchies took over the wheel, it was here they came. In this Awful Waffle, as it was affectionately known, Daron had broken up, made up, and broken up again with Rheanne. In high school, Daron often stopped here for midnight meals on his way home from parties as far as fifty miles away. It was fifteen miles from home, twice the width of San Fran, a short jaunt to Daron.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

the last book I ever read (Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, excerpt one)

from Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson:

When they entered the backyard, his mom gesturing as though announcing dignitaries to the royal court, a cheer sounded across the crowd. Daron cringed when he heard Jungle Boogie playing. His family was dangerously drunk when they started playing soul, and it was only eight P.M. Almost thirty people danced, sang, chatted, smoked, or swapped stories in various corners of the yard, all waiting to ambush him with embarrassment. His fifty-seven-year-old aunt Boo would soon be dropping it like it was hot, his uncle Lance would soon be doing the funky chicken clogging routine, and his seven-year-old cousin Ashley would soon be doing her Beyoncé Single Ladies impersonation, complete with a body suit, stockings, and high heels.

Then there were his older female cousins—the stripper, the trucker, and the elementary school teacher—referred to as no-count because they’d never married. The stripper and teacher were twins, and rumor had it they occasionally played switcheroo. At most gatherings, one started a fire and the other a fight. But there was no telling who because they switched roles for each party.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt eight)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

It had to be blood. It had to be nails driven through tongue and ears pruned away. “Some disobedience,” wrote a Southern mistress. “Much idleness, sullenness, slovenliness . . . . Used the rod.” It had to be the thrashing of kitchen hands for the crime of churning butter at a leisurely clip. It had to some woman “chear’d . . . with thirty lashes a Saturday last and as many more a Tuesday again.” It could only be the employment of carriage whips, tongs, iron pokers, handsaws, stones, paperweights, or whatever might be handy to break the black body, the black family, the black community, the black nation. The bodies were pulverized into stock and marked with insurance. And the bodies were an aspiration, lucrative as Indian land, a veranda, a beautiful wife, or a summer home in the mountains. For the men who needed to believe themselves white, the bodies were the key to a social club, and the right to break the bodies was the mark of civilization. “The two great divisions of society are not the rich and the poor, but white and black,” said the great South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun. “And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” And there it is—the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has always meant that there was someone down in the valley because a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt seven)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

At the onset of the Civil War, our bodies were worth four billion dollars, more than all of American industry, all of American railroads, workshops, and factories combined, and the prime product rendered by our stolen bodies—cotton—was America’s primary export. The richest men in America lived in the Mississippi River Valley, and they made their riches off our stolen bodies. Our bodies were held in bondage by the early presidents. Our bodies were traded from the White House by James K. Polk. Our bodies built the Capitol and the National Mall. The first shot of the Civil War was fired in South Carolina, where our bodies constituted the majority of human bodies in the state. Here is the motive for the great war. It’s not a secret. But we can do better and find the bandit confessing his crime. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” declared Mississippi as it left the union,” the greatest material interest in the world.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt six)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

And the lack of safety cannot help but constrain your sense of the galaxy. It never occurred to me, for instance, that I could, or should even want to, live in New York. I did love Baltimore. I loved Charlie Rudo’s and the sidewalk sales at Mondawmin. I loved sitting out on the porch with your uncle Damani waiting for Frank Ski to play “Fresh Is the Word.” I always thought I was destined to go back home after college—but not simply because I loved home but because I could not imagine much else for myself. And that stunted imagination is something I owe to my chains. And yet some of us really do see more.

I met many of them at The Mecca—like your uncle Ben, who was raised in New York, which forced him to understand himself as an African American navigating among Haitians, Jamaicans, Hasidic Jews, and Italians. And there were others like him, others who, having gotten a boost from a teacher, an aunt, an older brother, had peered over the wall as children, and as adults became set on seeing the full view. These black people felt, as did I, that their bodies could be snatched back at a whim, but this set in them a different kind of fear that propelled them out into the cosmos. They spent semesters abroad. I never knew what they did or why. But perhaps I always sensed I was going down too easy. Perhaps that explains every girl I’ve ever loved, because every girl I’ve ever loved was a bridge to somewhere else. Your mother, who knew so much more of the world than me, fell in love with New York through culture, through Crossing Delancey, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Working Girl, Nas, and Wu-Tang. Your mother secured a job, and I followed, stowed away almost, because no one in New York, at that time, was paying for me to write much of anything. What little I did make, reviewing an album or a book, covered approximately two electric bills every year.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt five)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Nothing between us was ever planned—not even you. We were both twenty-four years old when you were born, the normal age for most Americans, but among the class we soon found ourselves, we ranked as teenage parents. With a whiff of fear, we were very often asked if we planned to marry. Marriage was presented to us as a shield against other women, other men, or the corrosive monotony of dirty socks and dishwashing. But your mother and I knew too many people who’d married and abandoned each other for less. The truth of us was always that you were our ring. We’d summoned you out of ourselves, and you were not given a vote. If only for that reason, you deserved all the protection we could muster. Everything else was subordinate to this fact. If that sounds like a weight, it shouldn’t. The truth is that I owe you everything I have. Before you, I had my questions but nothing beyond my own skin in the game, and that was really nothing at all because I was a young man, and not yet clear of my own human vulnerabilities. But I was grounded and domesticated by the plain fact that should I now go down, I would not go down alone.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt four)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Now, the heirs of those Virginia planters could never directly acknowledge this legacy or reckon with its power. And so that beauty that Malcolm pledged us to protect, black beauty, was never celebrated in movies, in television, or in the textbooks I’d seen as a child. Everyone of any import, from Jesus to George Washington, was white. This was why your grandparents banned Tarzan and the Lone Ranger and toys with white faces from the house. They were rebelling against the history books that spoke of black people only as sentimental “firsts”—first black five-star general, first black congressman, first black mayor—always presented in the bemused manner of a category of Trivial Pursuit. Serious history was the West, and the West was white. This was all distilled for me in a quote I once read from the novelist Saul Bellow. I can’t remember where I read it, or when—only that I was already at Howard. “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?” Bellow quipped. Tolstoy was “white,” and so Tolstoy “mattered,” like everything else that was white “mattered.” And this view of things was connected to the fear that passed through the generations, to the sense of dispossession. We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization. Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior. And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West. Would it not be better, then, if our bodies were civilized, improved, and put to some legitimate Christian use?

Friday, September 4, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt three)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I loved Malcolm because Malcolm never lied, unlike the schools and their façade of morality, unlike the streets and their bravado, unlike the world of dreamers. I love him because he made it plain, never mystical or esoteric, because his science was not rooted in the actions of spooks and mystery gods but in the work of the physical world. Malcolm was the first political pragmatist I knew, the first honest man I’d ever heard. He was unconcerned with making the people who believed they were white comfortable in their belief. If he was angry, he said so. If he hated, he hated because it was human for the enslaved to hate the enslaver, natural as Prometheus hating the birds. He would not turn the other cheek for you. He would not be a better man for you. He would not be your morality. Malcolm spoke like a man who was free, like a black man above the laws that proscribed our imagination. I identified with him. I knew that he had chafed against the schools, that he had almost been doomed by the streets. But even more I knew that he had found himself while studying in prison, and that when he emerged from the jails, he returned wielding some old power that made him speak as though his body were his own. “If you’re black, you were born in jail,” Malcolm said. And I felt the truth of this in the blocks I had to avoid, in the times of day when I must not be caught walking home from school, in my lack of control over my body. Perhaps I too might live free. Perhaps I too might wield the same old power that animated the ancestors, that lived in Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Nanny, Cudjoe, Malcolm X, and speak—no, act—as though my body were my own.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt two)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Every February my classmates and I were herded into assemblies for a ritual review of the Civil Rights Movement. Our teachers urged us toward the example of freedom marchers, Freedom Riders, and Freedom Summers, and it seemed that the month could not pass without a series of films dedicated to the glories of being beaten on camera. The black people in these films seemed to love the worst things in life—love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the firehoses that tore off their clothes and tumbled them into the streets. They seemed to love the men who raped them, the women who cursed them, love the children who spat on them, the terrorists that bombed them. Why are they showing this to us? Why were only our heroes nonviolent? I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in especial need of this morality. Back then all I could do was measure these freedom-lovers by what I knew. Which is to say, I measured them against children pulling out in the 7-Eleven parking lot, against parents wielding extension cords, and “Yeah, nigger, what’s up now?” I judged them against the country I knew, which had acquired the land through murder and tamed it under slavery, against the country whose armies fanned out across the world to extend their dominion. The world, the real one, was civilization secured and ruled by savage means. How could the schools valorize men and women whose values society actively scorned? How could they send us out into the streets of Baltimore, knowing all that they were, and then speak of nonviolence?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

the last book I ever read (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, excerpt one)

from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath bound to protect. And you have seen men in the same uniforms pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone’s grandmother, on the side of a road. And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

the last book I ever read (Mat Johnson's Pym, excerpt fourteen)

from Pym: A Novel by Mat Johnson:

Mr. Sausage Nose didn’t bother with the deck’s stairs, instead grabbing the railing with one hand and launching out into the air as if he could sustain that flight. For a moment there, as he hung above me, he seemed impossibly powerful and graceful, and I knew that, regardless of how much poison he had eaten, my death must be destined to arrive before his did. When he landed, though, stumbling to a stop, I could already see that his invulnerability had left him, that he was diminished. Lurching forward, exposing an awkwardness I had never seen among these creatures, Sausage Nose still managed to get to the small corpse in less time than the fastest human could have. Watching him drag the delicate, now limp body from its sugar-water grave, for the moment, I was overcome with more grief and empathy than fear. Or maybe it was that by this point the fear had become so commonplace in my system that it no longer had the impact it should. Regardless, I couldn’t deny the enormity of what we had done. No creature should have to know the loss of its young. Not even a worm. Not even an evil worm. But when the monster looked up to me, fixed me with those ice blue eyes and gave another scream, this sound beyond the range I knew any man was capable of, my knack for overwhelming fear returned, along with two other thing: the enraged beast and his full attention.