Yesterday’s New York Times features an exchange, of sorts, between Baratunde Thurston (co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics, Director of Digital for The Onion, all-around funnyman, and author of the recently released How To Be Black) and Charles Murray (author of a new book on the state of white America, co-author of 1994’s The Bell Curve—wherein I learned my respectable IQ means I couldn’t possibly be black, and former youthful prankster who burned a cross next to a police station with his friends, “oblivious” of the racial connotations.)
Somebody didn't get the memo.
Both of the recent books apparently include series of questions about cultural identity and, “in the spirit of journalistic mischief,” Gregory Cowles had Thurston answer Murray’s questions and vice versa. Their answers are interesting and often pretty funny. It’s worth a read.
The response that surprised me the least and annoyed me the most was Murray’s reply to Thurston’s “How’s that postracial thing working out for ya?” Murray:
“Actually, pretty well. I’ve been noticing the last few years how normal and easy the relationships I see between blacks and whites have become. The bending-over-backward stuff of the 1970s and ’80s has largely disappeared, at least in my neck of the woods (rural Maryland). There’s a lot of just-folks-getting-long interactions around these days. It’s especially noticeable in my children’s generation, but people in their 50s and 60s also seem to be doing a lot better than they used to.”
I get his point. I mean, I’m black and nobody’s tried to lynch me in ages. I can’t even remember the last time I warmed my hands by the fire of a burning cross. Plus, there’s a black man in the White House, and what could be a stronger indicator of how little race matters in this country? Read more »
Despite a deep and abiding hatred of cold weather, I’ve always had a soft spot for December. Not only is it the month of Christmas and my birthday and extended breaks from school, but it is also a time for reflection as the year winds to a close. Below, you will find the most significant highlights of 2011. You’re welcome.
10 Weirdest Life Forms of 2011
I'm just as cute as a panda.
It’s kind of cool that we live in a world where new species are
still being discovered. Saving those giant pandas seems a little
less important now.
Read more »
Occasionally, at a party or a bar or some other situation that requires engaging with strangers, someone will tell me, “I don’t read fiction.” The statement is tragic enough by itself, and it becomes more so when the person offers the inevitable justification: I prefer reading books that teach me something. Instead of going on a rant about fiction expressing truth, rather than mere facts, or waxing philosophical about the human condition, I usually just nod politely and wander off to find someone more interesting.
fiction probably makes you happier, too!
It’s not that I’m deeply offended by someone rejecting my chosen genre as a writer. It’s more that I find myself incapable of addressing the implicit question: What’s the point? To me, asking what’s the point of fiction is akin to asking what’s the point of poetry or music or sculpture or anything, really. In the moment, it never occurs to me to ask those who dismiss fiction whether they’re opposed to all imaginative works. Are documentaries the only movies they watch? Do they restrict their TV viewing to cooking and history channels? Are their walls adorned only with utilitarian objects? Do they see no value in beauty at all? Read more »
just dim lights and add smoke for the old-school coffeehouse experience
Back in the day, before there was a Starbucks at every third lamppost and when hanging out in coffee shops still felt avant-garde and faintly French, I mostly wrote in cafés. Specifically, I wrote at Stella’s, a hip, little spot near my undergraduate campus. Stella’s had big, comfy chairs that looked like they came straight out of the library of some Victorian novel, a stack of chess sets resting on the bookcase in the back, and classic jazz playing over the sound system. It was a little dark, a little smoky, and the first environment that struck me as being inherently writerly.
I wasn’t the only one. It was easy to tell that Stella’s denizens had spent precious hours purchasing just the right pens to complement their hardbound, spiral journals. Weekend mornings would find us there, bobbing our heads to Billie Holiday, making repeated trips to the counter for fresh caffeine, and smoking cloves instead of our usual Marlboros because the scene was just that cool. Despite all the posturing, most of us actually got some writing done.
Read more »
Should we care?
According to The Huffington Post, a children’s book by Canadian serial killer Charles Kembo sold more than 14,000 copies in its first two weeks on Amazon. Kembo published his work under the pseudonym J.D. Bauer and, now that his identity has been revealed, some people are a little upset.
Andy Kahan, a crime victim advocate for the City of Houston, told The Huffington Post, “Parents will more than likely be horrified to find out that the book they either purchased or read to their children was written by a serial killer.” He goes on to say “Amazon should take the high road and immediately remove this fraudulent book that was written under false pretenses.”
I don’t feel his pain. Kahan’s thinking disturbs me—and not just because “Canadian serial killer” sounds more mythical than “meth-dealing unicorn.” First, writing a book under a pseudonym doesn’t really equate to “false pretenses.” (I’m betting Kahan was never up in arms about Emily Bronte publishing Wuthering Heights as Ellis Bell or Charles Dodgson writing as Lewis Carroll.) Second, the fact that Kembo is a convicted serial killer doesn’t make the book fraudulent. It’s not like he plagiarized it or pretended that everyone who bought the book would get a Porsche as an added bonus. The larger issue for me, though, is that an author’s deeds should have no bearing on how we respond to his or her work. Read more »