Notes of a Native Son

Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Notes of a Native Son under the category of essays.

I have to start off by saying Notes of a Native Son was way too short. I felt that Baldwin could have kept writing and writing. His essays held such clarity and truth they could have been written last year, last month, or even last week. Ranging from an analytical commentary of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to remembering the time he was jailed in Paris for allegedly stealing a bedsheet, Baldwin expresses his place in society with the utmost frankness. The most tender of moments came when writing about his father, a man with which he had a complicated relationship.

Quotes to quote about hate, “Hate is a very fertile yet dangerous place from which to draw creativity” (p 37), and “I imagine that one of those reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain” (p 91). So true.
Another line I liked, “This seals the action off, as it were, in a vacuum in which the spectacle of color is divested of danger” (p 45).

Author fact: Did you know Baldwin was a preacher for three years, from the age of 14 to 17, or that he was a waiter at 22?

Book trivia: Baldwin talks about writing his first novel. It was interesting to hear about the process.

Nancy said: Pearl said Baldwin is an essayist not to miss.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Essaying Essays” (p 80).


August Behind Me

August was…the final push to move back into the new library space. People who used to work there won’t recognize it. August was also the finishing of the deck and patio. It looks awesome. Sidelined by injury I only ran 60.86 miles this month. But. But! But, here are the books:

  • Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
  • Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (AB)
  • Lost City of Z by David Grann
  • The High and the Mighty by Ernest Gann
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
  • Children in the Woods by Frederick Busch
  • Flora’s Suitcase by Dalia Rabinovich
  • ADDED: Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • ADDED: Dorothy Gutzeit: Be True and Serve by Dorothy Gutzeit (ER)

My favorite was Dogs of Riga followed by Anarchy and Old Dogs.


If Beale Street Could Talk

Baldwin, James. If Beale Street Could Talk. New York: Laurel Book, 1974.

Reason read: Baldwin’s birth month is in August.

Part One: Troubled About My Soul
Nineteen year old Clementine breaks the news to her incarcerated twenty-two year old boyfriend she is pregnant. Then she has to tell Lonny’s family and her own. What follows is a typical commentary on out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy when one parent is in jail. Of course the families do not agree on anything.
This is a stark portrayal of what it means to be black and poor in New York City. What we discover about Lonny is that he has been accused of rape by a woman who picks him out of a lineup. It’s an open and shut case thanks to a cop who has it in for the oft-in-trouble teen. Clementine’s mother is the most heroic, amazing character in the whole book.
Part Two: Zion
Questions. Will Fonny and Clementine’s families raise enough money for bail? Will Fonny survive prison? What are his chances of receiving a fair trial in such an unfair society? What is to come of his unborn child?

Quotes that caught me, “Trouble means you’re alone” (p 9) and “I am imprisoned somewhere in the silence of that wood, and so is he” (p 191).

Book trivia: You could read this in a day, but it’s too painful to do so.

Author fact: I am reading seven different books by Baldwin. I have finished three so far.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 10).


August Ahead

My obsession with moving rocks has come to an end now that the big boys are playing in the backyard. This hopefully means I’ll scale back to just two fanatical activities: running and reading. Or reading and running. I wonder who will win out? I am in the last month of training before the half marathon, but here are the books planned for August:

  • Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill – to continue the series started in May in honor of Laos Rocket Day. I have been able to read other books in the series in one to two days.
  • Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell – in honor of July being one of the best times to visit Sweden (listening as an audio book).
  • Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon by David Grann in honor of August being the driest month in the Amazon.
  • The High and the Mighty by Ernest Gann in honor of August being Aviation month.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin in honor of Baldwin’s birth month (print & AB).
  • Children in the Woods by Frederick Busch in honor of Busch’s birth month (short stories).
  • Flora’s Suitcase by Dalia Rabinovich in honor of Columbia’s independence.

PS – on the eve of posting this I ran 7.93 miles. Why the .93? My calf/Achilles started to give me grief so I had to stop. Now I wonder if the running has a chance to catch the books?


Nobody Knows My Name

Baldwin, James. Collected Essays: Nobody Knows My Name. New York: Library of America, 1998.

Nobody Knows My Name is a collection of essays continued from Notes From a Native Son. While the essays are less biting than those in Notes they are just as honest and clear about the Negro condition at the time of Baldwin’s writing. He has a sharp eye for the social and economical position of the time. As he was frequenting Paris I find it interesting that for Baldwin the question of color did not exist in Europe whereas in America he was afraid to listen to Bessie Smith or even touch watermelon. It is in Europe that Baldwin discovered what it mean to be an American.

Interesting quotes, “I love to talk to people, all kinds of people, and almost everyone, as I hope we still know, loves a man who loves to listen” (p 140) and “No Negro in this country has ever made that much money and it will be a long time before any Negro does” (p 173). Baldwin wrote those words in the early 60s. I wonder what he would think of Oprah…

Reason read: Baldwin was born in August.

Author fact: Baldwin was born a New Yorker but died in Paris.

Book trivia: This isn’t really a book, but a short (150 pages) essay.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. The first called “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 10). Not entirely accurate since this is nonfiction (another example of Pearl filling space in a chapter). The second time Nobody Knows My Name is mentioned is in the chapter called “Essaying Essays” (p 81) which is the more accurate place for this to be mentioned.