Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Beneath the Bonfire: Stories by Nickolas Butler

Hardcover, 256 pgs, Pub May 5th 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books (first pub Oct 9th 2014, ISBN13: 9781250039835

Why do writers write? Is it to tell the world what they’re thinking or is it to try to experience the world through someone else’s eyes?

Butler has facility with a phrase; he is a literary writer. In “Sven & Lily,” one of my favorite stories that comes early in the collection, Butler writes
“Sven entered the bar first, ducking under the low doorway, me following behind him like an early-afternoon shadow smaller than its maker.”
That story tells of a deep and wide generosity between two men that resulted in them beating each other to a pulp, all in the name of friendship. Alcohol was involved.

In the title story, a returned soldier terrifies his girlfriend when he tries to jumpstart his own sense of giving-a-shit. In “Morels,” three men who attended high school together have a deep connection that for them turns wrong into right. All these stories feature the mysterious inner feelings of men unaccustomed to speaking what they feel, a phenomenon common to the bars and dives of midwestern states. It’s not limited to the masculine, though this book is.

In “Sweet Light Crude,” an oil executive is kidnapped and told he must drink his own drilled oil before he will be let go. Butler manages to make both men sympathetic, defiant, and brave.

Another favorite story, “In Western Counties,” has a woman in it: a woman with agency. She is a cop with long red hair and she is close to retirement. She knows a thing or two from her time on the force, but she feels her skills slipping away, every week a new indignity of forgetting. But she still knows how to shoot and she knows how to be kind. Those things she did not forget.

Truth be told, by the last two stories of this collection, I was reading long past lunchtime, the space I had allotted myself in the middle of the day to read. I understood the attraction of long-legged black-haired Sunny in “Train People Drive Slow” in a visceral way. She was dangerous--sexy and lethal--with a radioactive aura. Some men prefer to die of radiation.

Wisconsin. That’s where they were when he caught the fifty-pound common carp in the river filled with gravel, junked cars, and “old I beams laying around like pickup sticks from some other, more brutal time.” But he survived, nicked & scarred.

Yes, this is a collection that one reads on and on, much longer and later than one intended. But the last story, “Apples,” tells us what we needed to know. What on earth do we do with all the apples?

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

Hardcover, 240 pgs, Pub Mar 9th 2010 by Free Press (first pub March 9th 2009) ISBN13: 9781439153024 Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction, Debut Author (2010)

It could be the thing I like best about Boyle’s stories are the changes made to one word of common phrases so that the meanings come up again, fresh and clear and relatable, like “wash your iniquities,” or “I hear your cancer’s in intermission.”

The other thing I enjoy Father Boyle’s work for is to hear how he takes the thoughts and work of others to meditate on. In this book he quotes the poet Mary Oliver many times, Rumi, Mother Teresa, Pema Chödrön, among others. There is always something interesting in what those leaders of thought say, and also in how Father Boyle chooses to apply their lessons to his daily life and ministry.

And let’s put this in perspective. I am not a religious person, having become inured to such teachings in Catholic schools—how did they manage to strip the joy and beauty out of love, for cripes’ sake? And then, of course, the scandal that enveloped the Catholic Church, revealing even ordained ministers to be hypocrites…

Since then I just try to pay attention. When goodness appears in our daily life, what happens? When evil appears, what happens? How to deal with evil? How to consider the bad things people do? How to love the people who do these bad things? Father Boyle gives us his answers to these questions. He’s interesting, and he seems to be able to transform bad attitudes into good ones.

He has written only two books, both of which are wonderful to read, but are also good texts for meditation, since his writing style are short…parables, really. Boyle has a M.A. in English, and his ability to write may reflect his interest in reading. But take for example, his paraphrase of Mother Teresa:
“We’ve just forgotten that we belong to each other.”
You can put that at the beginning of a tale or at the end. It says it all.

This book was written some years ago and I am reviewing it in 2017, when I discovered it. It turns out Sarah Silverman interviewed Father Greg Boyle in Nov 2017 shortly after his second book, Barking to the Choir was published. Her questions ask this important religious leader how we are supposed to deal with someone who does wrong, but on a spectacularly large scale...not a homeboy, but a Trump? Father Boyle has been ill some time, suffering from leukemia, so all of us who know of his work are eager to hear how he would respond.

Sarah Silverman's interview with Father Boyle comes at the end of her piece (start 15:33).

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Friday, December 8, 2017

George & Lizzie by Nancy Pearl

Hardcover, 288 pgs, Pub September 5th 2017 by Touchstone, ISBN13: 9781501162893

Nancy Pearl may just be a natural-born writer, though she is best known for her role as bookseller, librarian, interviewer, reviewer, and motivational speaker on the pleasure and importance of reading. In a DIY MFA podcast interview with Gabriela Pereira in September 2017, she tells us that she was merely an instrument for the characters she channels in her debut novel. Her characters feel real to us as well.

Pearl reminds us that reading outside our comfort zone can be a fruitful experience, and her debut novel challenged me—hard—in its first pages. She introduces a self-destructive character so hard to love that we draw back, judging that character without understanding. I had to put the book aside, perplexed, wondering why Pearl would risk her hard-won reputation with such an unsavory character. Months later, I was still curious when I picked up the book again. I read it through nonstop and loved what she was able to do.

In the interview linked to above, Pearl discusses the importance of mood when reading. My second look at this novel is testament to her notion that mood matters with our acceptance of certain ideas. After I had already internalized the behaviors of her difficult character, I allowed Pearl’s writing to guide me. Her writing is so skilled it is almost invisible, though there were several times during this reading when I pulled out of the novel and shook my head in awe at her fluency and execution.

This novel is character-driven. Lizzie does something truly objectionable her last year in high school, designed to hurt herself, her parents, her friends, her ‘victims,’ indeed, everyone who learns of her behavior. Her need for love is so desperate that she denies it, derides it, disguises it. Her parents were difficult academics, and were probably completely to blame for their daughter’s alienation, but blame is not a worthwhile game to play. One still has to grow up, whatever hand one is dealt, and Lizzie had a hard time of it.

Later, her husband George would tell her in exasperation that she “had the emotional maturity of a three-year-old.” This story, then, is Lizzie's emotional journey, through school, boyfriends, and marriage, all the while holding onto her rage and disappointment from childhood. Many of us do this; we never really mature. Lizzie was blessed that the man she married was an even-tempered adult who loved her, and she had close friends who loved her as well. When one is loved, one generally tries not to disappoint those people, lest they turn their love away. We watch as Lizzie learns what that means—what it means to grow up.

I ended up putting everything else aside while I read this in a huge gulp, over two days, riveted to the unfolding story. I really appreciate what Pearl did with the character of George, who would be a grace note in anyone’s life, including readers’, because he seems to understand the really big lesson all of us must learn to get any measure of happiness and satisfaction from life. One can’t have all one wants in terms of love, jobs, recognition, or pay, so how can one be happy? The way one deals with failure will determine one’s future. It’s not the failure that’s important. It’s what comes after that. His lessons feel like gifts.

Poetry plays a key role in this novel, to describe a person’s conclusion, or to underline an observation. The poem at the beginning of this novel by Terence Winch, “The Bells are Ringing for Me and Chagall,” in retrospect gives the reader a very good idea of the direction of this novel, though one cannot see that at the start. The poem at the end is a paean to a long-lasting well-maintained relationship which may sustain one in times of terrible crushing sorrow. We may think we want fast and flashy cars, but reliability may save us.

There is a lot of lived experience in this novel. Pearl is in her seventies now, having done it all when it comes to literature, and now she has written a novel herself. What a brave act. Writing a novel is difficult when one is unknown. It must be terrifying to put something out there when one is well known. All that reading stood her in good stead, however. Her writing is gorgeous, clear and propulsive, and the tricks she uses to ensnare our interest—lots of conversation, poetry, lists, word games, memories—work beautifully.

I especially liked the unique structure of this novel. There are no chapters per se, but short sections that suit a remembered story. The sections have titles, in which she tells us what comes next. And what comes next, I hope, is another novel in which lifetime lessons are revealed. Thank you Nancy Pearl.

NPR's Nancy Pearl discusses her debut:

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men & Women in the 21st C by Stephen Marche

Hardcover, 241 pgs, Pub April 1st 2017 by Simon & Schuster, ISBN13: 9781476780153

The cavalcade of sexual harassment accusations beginning with the Weinstein revelations brought the writing of Stephen Marche to my attention. In an op-ed piece published in the NYT (Nov 25, 2017), Marche asks us to confront “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido.” “The men I know,” he writes, “don’t actively discuss changing sexual norms…Men just aren’t interested. They don’t know where to start.”

If anything were designed to intrigue me, it would be this conundrum: that men cannot or will not or are not interested in fruitfully engaging on anything about gender roles except where to stick it. Marche makes reference to the fact that of all the people who interviewed him about his new book this year, The Unmade Bed, only a minuscule number were men.

“A healthy sexual existence requires a continuing education,” he writes. I am remiss here, only discovering upon reading his work recent studies which determine that gender can only really be defined on a spectrum. I hadn’t realized this was accepted thought, or becoming so (though GR friends have told me before). I haven’t kept up with my continuing ed in this field, including the apparently widely quoted study result
“that men who do housework have less sex than men who don’t, and men who do more traditional ‘work around the house,’ like yard work, have more sex than men who don’t.”
That’s me not keeping up, though the results don’t particularly surprise me. Why it is so is what makes Marche’s work interesting.

Marche began his fascinating perspective on our changing gender relations with a chapter on mansplaining, a term inspired by an essay of Rebecca Solnit to describe someone who insists upon detailing a concept his listener knows more about. In “How Much Should a Man Speak?” Marche suggests that the mansplainer bore at a party or at work is probably the end result of years of cultural training to make men more willing to express their thoughts—a weird perversion of intimacy.

Maybe. I think we might have more examples of mansplaining as just straight-on sexist thought, though like he says, men also experience mansplaining. We’ll just have to agree that such behavior in conversation describes a deeply insecure personality and view each on a case-by-case basis.

This book came about when Marche left his teaching position in NYC to move to Toronto when his wife landed a high-powered, high-paying job as editor of a national magazine. His role as house husband became far more family-centric once his son and eventually his daughter were born. Never strong on the role of housekeeping (“my gonads shrink into my body a bit”), Marche describes how he came to think about his marriage, fatherhood, and sexuality.

There are many moments I would describe as deeply insightful, perfectly thoughtful continuing ed which actually includes notes from his wife, the editor, giving her perspective of his comments. But what if men are not interested in reading about what he has learned about changing gender roles?

Maybe now is the time to point out he has a chapter on pornography, including a description of the image that first electrified him. But there is also the notion that
“Masculine maturity is inherently a lonely thing to possess. That’s why maturity and despair go together for men. The splendid isolation of masculinity has emerged from so much iconography—the cowboy, the astronaut, the gangster—that almost every hero in the past fifty years has been a figure of loneliness. Current pop culture is even more extreme: it doesn’t merely celebrate the lonely man; it despises men in groups. That contempt runs counter to male biology. Men, every iota as much as women, are social creatures who live in a permanent state of interdependence and require connection for basic happiness. In periods of vulnerability the male suicide rates spike.”
The cover blurb on Stephen Marche describes him as a cultural commentator. He is that, every bit as much as the feminist writers he critiques. In his NYT piece, Marche suggests that some people think “men need to be better feminists,” but in this book he tells us “the world doesn’t need male feminists…It needs decent guys.” That sounds right by me.

Finally, I leave you with one of Marche’s paragraphs I know you will enjoy, given the exposure men like Louis C.K. have chosen as their contribution to the gender conversation.
“Diogenes the Cynic masturbated in the marketplace and called it philosophy. Of all the wisdom available in ancient Athens, his was the earthiest, the most practical. He refused to condemn the body out of social propriety. If he was built to ejaculate, he should ejaculate, and therefore he ejaculated where everyone could see him. The Athenians loved him for his frankness, which provoked laughter as much as disgust. When asked why he masturbated in public, he answered, “Would that by rubbing my belly I could get rid of hunger.” Diogenes offered the pagan view of masturbation: Why be ashamed of the easiest expression of masculine desire? Why fear the erasure of male sexual appetite by the lightest, the most harmless of gestures?”

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Augustown by Kei Miller

Pub May 1st 2017 by Pantheon Books (first pub Aug 11th 2016) ISBN13: 9781101871621 Awards: Nominated 2016 Green Carnation Prize, Nominated 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal, Nominated 2017 Shortlist RSL Ondaatje Prize, Nominated 2017 Shortlist HWA Endeavour Ink Gold Crown

An inverted gold crown on a jet background graces my cover of Kei Miller’s 2016 novel Augustown and the fiction points to the couple of days in the 20th C when the power structure inverted in a small town in Jamaica. A flying preacher, Alexander Bedward, is instrumental in inspiring the beginnings of the Rastafarian movement in 1920’s Jamaica. That story is wrapped around a more current parallel story of Gina, the clever girl some thought would also fly. Power and powerlessness entwine in this novel.

A town is populated with memorable figures like blind Ma Taffy, gun- and drug-runner Marlon, the dread-headed part-white child Kaia born out of wedlock, the childless spinster Sister Gilzene who could sing an operatic soprano, Rastafarian fruit peddler Clarky, the uptight upright teacher Mr. Saint-Josephs whom we suspect is insane, and a white family: a corporate father with ugly values, his wife learning to ignore him, and a boy who was selfish in the way white people are when they ‘do not see color.’

A bit of a thriller, this novel, because we scent blood early on, with the guns Marlon stashes under Ma Taffy’s house, Clarky dying, and crazy old Bedward rising up like some kind of lunatic second coming going. Oppression surrounds and weighs on us like humidity.
“The rastaman thinks, draw me a map of what you see
then I will draw a map of what you never see
and guess me whose map will be the bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?”
—from Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion
Only after I looked for interviews with Miller did I realize he is considered a poet first, though in descriptions of his education he says he started with prose stories. He is lavishly talented, and writes with an enlightened sexual awareness. This novel has a strong set of female characters and in his 2010 collection of poems called A Light Song of Light, we also get that sense of even ground, and more:
Every bed was made illegal by the brush
of chest against chest, and by our sweat.
--from A Short History of Beds We Have Slept in Together
Miller saves his challenges for colonialists and by his words we recognize Miller understands rage and sorrow.
"...how they have forced us to live in a world lacking in mermaids--mermaids who understood that they simply were, and did not need permission to exist or to be beautiful. The law concerning mermaids only caused mermaids to pass a law concerning man: that they would never again cross our boundaries of sand; never lift their torsos up from the surf; never again wave at sailors, salt dripping from their curls; would never again enter our dry and stifling world."
--from The Law Concerning Mermaids
Historical figures feature in this poetry collection, including Alexander Bedward again, Singerman (Marley?), Nathaniel Morgan, Coolie Duppy, etc. and there is a strong scent of homesickness. Miller has lived in Great Britain for some years now and perhaps is telling the same story over and over, in a new way each time, pruning and training the branches until they remind him of home.

In the poetry collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion published in 2014, Miller’s language is English but there appear so many words we have never seen that we are unsteady, unsure, very nearly undone.

So consider an unsettled island
Inside—the unflattened and unsugared

fields; inside—a tegareg
sprawl of roots and canopies,

inside—the tall sentries of blondwood
and yoke-wood and sweet-wood,

of dog-wood, of bullet trees so hard
they will one day splinter cutlasses,

will one day swing low the carcasses
of slaves; inside—a crawling

brawl of vines, unseemly
flowers that blossom from their spines;

inside—the leh-guh orchids and labrishing
hibiscuses that throw raucous

syllables at crows whose heads are red as annattos; inside—malarial mosquitoes

that rise from stagnant ponds;
inside—a green humidity thick as mud;

inside—the stinging spurge, the nightshades,
the Madame Fates;

inside—spiders, gnats and bees,
wasps and lice and fleas; inside—

the dengue, the hookworm, the heat
and botheration; unchecked macka

sharp as crucifixion. This is no paradise—
not yet—not this unfriendly, untamed island—

this unsanitised, unstructured island—
this unmannered, unmeasured island;

this island: unwritten, unsettled, unmapped.
—from Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion
The unsettlement one feels when reading the poem is curiously the way Miller makes us feel in his novel, though he does not use such words. We retain a kind of distance. Just as well. There is danger everywhere. The only other place that ever gave me this sense of familiarity and menace was another island with a bloody colonial history, Tasmania.

This is a new cultural sphere; it takes some time to accustom to this point-of-view. The language which is at once foreign and familiar, continental and island, melodic and profane, knowing and naive. Hope is not an obvious choice when one is the underclass. Rastafarians have a mighty sense of their closeness to god and ghost. White folk don’t offer the same opportunities. This truth is such a relief after centuries of colonial cant.

We can feel the tide, the sun, the heat; we smell the flowers, the sea, the mangoes. Miller’s language in Augustown is easily poetic, not caught in it but casual and natural. The story, Gina’s growing up and standing up, is where we’re focused. And yet…and yet the bleaching light on the sunbaked road and the overhanging flowers thrust their way into the story, embellishing it, making us a little homesick, too.

The chapter on autoclaps squeezed the heart and was almost pure poetry. This chapter made the book Kei Miller’s. Any other author may have left that chapter out, and they would have been utterly wrong.

We, humans in the world, for centuries in every country, have put men in charge of…everything…our well-being, our safety, our protection. Since barely cognizant, I have always thought that was a lot to lay on one half of the human race. Kei Miller seems to understand this.

And finally, the place, Jamaica, is clearly what Miller is about. He is centered on this and staking out this territory as his own.

The extraordinary talent is evident in Miller’s Youtube video, him talking about his new book of poetry

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle

Hardcover, 224 pgs, Pub Nov 14th 2017 by Simon Schuster, ISBN13: 9781476726151

This book radiates such loving-kindness, one wishes everyone could share in the bounty. I had not heard of Boyle’s 2009 No. 1 bestseller, called Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, before I heard Krista Tippett interview Father Boyle for her podcast On Being. This second book is a series of true stories about the gang members, former convicts, drug dealers and addicts Father Boyle knows from his ministry, Homeboy Industries, in Los Angeles. Each anecdote carries with it a reminder of the burdens people carry, a prod to do better in our lives, and something small (or big) to meditate on.

A highlight of this book are Boyle’s pointing to and holding up some of the homies’ mangling of common phrases—phrases so ordinary to many of us that we rush by them, never stopping to think them through carefully. By misunderstanding phrases only heard and never read, the homies sometimes hit upon a better, deeper meaning that speaks to their experiences, e.g., “I’m at a pitchfork in my life.”

Father Boyle is following the teaching of the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, and every other effective practitioner of faith and loving-kindness on earth by going with the exhortation to “Stay Close to the Poor.” He discusses this in his usual discursive style near the end of this book, asking
“Is God inclusive or exclusive?…In the end, though, the measure of our compassion with what Martin Luther King calls ‘the last, the least, and the lost’ lies less in our service to those on the margins, and more in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”
Radical kinship. If you’ve ever experienced a blast of radical kinship—an openhearted, limitless generosity—you will know it is transformative. And that is where Father Boyle is going.

There are no bad people, only bad actions. We’re all in a stage of becoming. We all are equally able to find grace and create the kind of environment we seek, if given a place to rest and to experience love without expectation of return.
“We are charged not with obliterating our diversity and difference but instead with heightening our connection to each other.”
This is his answer to reconciling diversity and connectedness. It is often thought that the more diverse we are, the less we have in common, the less we can come together over shared goals. This book tells a different story.

Father Boyle’s book about gang members in L.A. finding a place of peace to gather their thoughts together is the antidote to a political world in which power and money are operative goals. We’d all like a little more power, to live as we like without anybody else’s say so, but sometimes the lack of power is the key to humility, and thus to a wide and deep world of loving-kindness. But as Boyle tells Terry Gross in a Fresh Air interview: “Prayer is not going to fix our healthcare system. Stop it. Don’t think that. You actually have to do something about guns, you can’t just pray.”

This is powerful stuff, folks, and will be my gift to family and friends at this year-end. When you get your own copy, look carefully at the author photo on the inside back jacket. Have you ever seen a group of people more radiant in your lives?

The Nov 13, 2017 Fresh Air interview, Terry Gross speaking with Father Greg Boyle (36 minutes):

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Hardcover, 367 pgs, Pub Oct 3rd 2017 by One World, ISBN13: 9780399590566, Awards: Carnegie Medal Nominee for Nonfiction (2018)

Coates intersperses notes of his experience each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency along with some of his carefully-researched larger essays previously published in The Atlantic. It is especially worthwhile to read again his earlier pieces in their context with the hindsight a few years bring, and not having to search around several places for his ideas makes this book especially valuable. Most of us were not prepared for Ta-Nehisi Coates when his work first appeared in the monthly magazine. It was his explosive Between the World and Me that shook us awake.

The centerpiece of this collection, “The Case for Reparations,” talks about a
“national reckoning…more than hush money or a reluctant bribe…What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.”
The banishment of white guilt. That is something I would not have gone for. If that is required, I’m not sure we’ll ever get there. I’m on board with “an airing of family secrets, a settling of old ghosts—[a recognition] that American prosperity was ill gotten and selective in its distribution.” But if it comes to making white people, mostly Christians, banish their guilt, I don’t think it will happen. These folks wear guilt like a fur coat.

Whenever he is asked about hope for the future, Coates says he is not responsible for bringing good news. He merely reports the news. He looks at what we have and says what he thinks. But I think “…Reparations” is his most hopeful essay, though filled as it is of horrible instances of degrading racism and exclusion. In it Coates sees a possible way out…if only.
"I believe wrestling publicly with [issues around reparations] matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced…More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders."
It seems we have been hearing Coates everywhere these days—back-to-back interviews on the Radio Atlantic podcast, another podcast of a conversation in Chicago for Krista Tippett’s On Being, etc. But Coates is not overexposed. He still has a way of saying things in a way that allows us to hear him. He’s not asking for anything. He’s just laying it out there, giving us the opportunity to step up.

Right after his ground-breaking essay on reparations, the first paragraph of his notes for year seven of the Obama presidency takes away any hope he might have given us about the possibility for change.
“To be black in America was to be plundered. To be white was to benefit from, and at times directly execute, this plunder. No national conversation, no invocations to love, no moral appeals, no pleas for ‘sensitivity’ and ‘diversity,’ no lamenting of ‘race relations’ could make this right.”
Boom. “Racism was banditry, pure and simple. And the banditry was not incidental to America, it was essential to it.” How lucky we have been that this man escaped everything that conspired to hold him silent: “black people in America do not generally have the luxury of recording their ‘feelings…’”

Born to a black household secure in their determination to be black and proud of it, and having been educated in the heart of black learning at Howard University, Coates did not unlearn or give away his heritage to fit in with white culture. He is talented, but he is also unusual in that he didn't have to give away large parts of himself to get where he is. We are the beneficiaries of such a voice, for there aren’t enough who can express with such clarity and singularity of purpose arguments we need to consider. Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning, is another.

One of Coates’ last essays in this collection, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” begins with the themes Daniel Moynihan wrote about in a report written for Department of Labor during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” i.e., the disintegration of black American families under the pressure of centuries of oppression and neglect. From the poisonous atmosphere in a government where Moynihan’s ideas circulated freely without policy recommendations, arose a means to solve that problem: incarcerate wrong-doers, something Moynihan had not recommended.

Coates’ exegesis of the Moynihan argument is thorough, and non-ideological. He is not quick to praise because there is plenty to dislike, but he recognizes where Moynihan was correct in his analysis. By the end he is pointing out something that many of us can now identify:
“[Moynihan’s] 'The Negro Family' is a flawed work in part because it is a fundamentally sexist document that promotes the importance not just of family but of patriarchy, arguing black men should be empowered at the expense of black women.”
In Coates’ final essay, his Epilogue, talks about “The First White President,” the man who won the presidency only because he was a white male. What an insight! But I want to highlight what Coates says in “My President was Black,” about President Obama.
“…I found it interesting that [Obama’s] optimism does not extend to the possibility of the public’s accepting …the moral logic of reparations…that the president, by his own account, has accepted for himself and is willing to teach his children...The notion that a president would attempt to achieve change within the boundaries of the accepted consensus is appropriate But Obama is almost constitutionally skeptical of those who seek to achieve change outside that consensus.
Not that we expect it to be easy, but sometimes people are more ready than we imagine.

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