Another winner from Abdurraqib, a writer always worth paying attention to.

A LITTLE DEVIL IN AMERICA

NOTES IN PRAISE OF BLACK PERFORMANCE

A thoughtful memoir rolled into a set of joined essays on life, death, and the Black experience in America.

Black women, it’s been said, saved American democracy by delivering their votes to the Democratic Party in 2020. Poet, essayist, and music critic Abdurraqib is having none of it. “Black people—specifically Black women in this case, are not here in this country as vessels to drag it closer to some moral competence,” he writes. Later, he adds, “it occurred to me that Black women were simply attempting to save themselves.” The point is well taken. The chapters open with flowing stream-of-consciousness introductory passages—e.g., “I was the only one in the Islamic Center on Broad Street who got to stay up & watch the shows on MTV that came on after my parents cut out the lights & went up to bed & it was only me & the warmth of an old television’s glow & the DJs spinning C+C Music Factory for people in baggy & colorful getups”—and then settle in to tightly constructed, smart essays—in this case, about the history of marathon dancing, the exhilarating contributions but tragic life of Soul Train host Don Cornelius, the deaths of both his mother and Aretha Franklin, and numerous other subjects. In another essay, Abdurraqib considers the concept of the magical negro and the unenviable role of being the Black friend who provides an escape route for White racism. Here, comedian Dave Chappelle figures prominently, having become a huge draw for Comedy Central precisely because it gained a huge White audience: “Chappelle got to be everyone’s Black friend for a while,” writes the author. “The one that stays at a comfortable enough distance but still provides a service.” Social criticism, pop culture, and autobiography come together neatly in these pages, and every sentence is sharp, provocative, and self-aware.

Another winner from Abdurraqib, a writer always worth paying attention to.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984801-19-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A cogent overview of the court’s crucial role, the application of which is sure to be discussed among scholars.

THE AUTHORITY OF THE COURT AND THE PERIL OF POLITICS

Why the Supreme Court deserves the public’s trust.

Based on his 2021 lecture at Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Justice Breyer offers a selected history of court cases, a defense of judicial impartiality, and recommendations for promoting the public’s respect for and acceptance of the role of the judiciary in the future. The author regrets that many Americans see the justices as “unelected political officials or ‘junior varsity’ politicians themselves, rather than jurists,” asserting that “nearly all” justices apply “the basic same interpretive tools” to decide a case: “They will consider the statute’s text, its history, relevant legal tradition, precedents, the statute’s purposes (or the values that underlie it), and the relevant consequences.” Although Breyer maintains that all try to avoid the influence of ideology or political philosophy, he acknowledges that suggesting “a total and clean divorce between the Court and politics is not quite right either,” since a justice’s background, education, and experiences surely affect their views, especially when considering the consequences of a decision. The judicial process, Breyer explains, begins as a conference held once or twice each week where substantive discussion leads to preliminary conclusions. Sometimes, in order to find a majority, the court will take a minimalist perspective, allowing those who differ “on the broader legal questions to come together in answering narrower ones.” Noting that, in 2016, only 1 in 4 Americans could name the three branches of federal government, Breyer suggests a revival of civics education in schools so that students can learn how government works and what the rule of law is. He believes that confidence in government will result from citizens’ participation in public life: by voting, taking part in local governance such as school boards, and resolving their differences through argument, debate, cooperation, and compromise, all of which are “the embodiment of the democratic ideal.”

A cogent overview of the court’s crucial role, the application of which is sure to be discussed among scholars.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-674-26936-1

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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