Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany My rating: 4 of 5 stars In a coruscating epistolary critique of The Bluest Eye, innocuously titled "Letter to Q——" in the 2005 collection About Writing, Samuel R. Delany tabulates what he sees as the many flaws of Toni Morrison's classic first novel. The gravamen of his indictment is that Morrison … Continue reading Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler My rating: 5 of 5 stars This 1979 classic novel of time travel and slavery could not be published today. Imagine it, imagine Octavia Butler temporally jumped to the present and trying to put out Kindred in the current media climate. Assume, because it's so good, that the novel even finds … Continue reading Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

Albert Murray, The Hero and the Blues

The Hero And the Blues by Albert Murray My rating: 5 of 5 stars Albert Murray is, as the fashion journalists say, having a moment. His collected non-fiction and fiction/poetry have now been canonized by the Library of America (in volumes published in 2016 and 2018, respectively) and his insights on race, American identity, music, … Continue reading Albert Murray, The Hero and the Blues

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed My rating: 4 of 5 stars Thomas Pynchon's freewheeling narrator of Gravity's Rainbow (1973) tells us, "Well, and keep in mind where those Masonic Mysteries came from in the first place. (Check out Ishmael Reed. He knows more about it than you will ever find here.)" Similarly, the underground cult classic … Continue reading Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith My rating: 4 of 5 stars This celebrated 2011 volume from the current U.S. poet laureate is her elegy for her father, a scientist who worked on the Hubble telescope. Your context changes how you read any given book, and I was reading this in the context of … Continue reading Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates My rating: 4 of 5 stars It is a poor period indeed which must assess its men of letters in terms of their opposition to their society. Opposition to life’s essential conditions perhaps, or to death’s implacable tyranny, is something else again, and universal; but novels, no … Continue reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine My rating: 3 of 5 stars Citizen is a prose-poetry compendium of racial microaggressions aimed at a poetic speaker who nevertheless speaks in the second person, and who fills the middle of her book with museum pieces on the macroaggressions of police brutality (and behind them lynching and … Continue reading Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Toni Morrison, Paradise

Paradise by Toni Morrison My rating: 5 of 5 stars Paradise was not well received upon its publication in 1997—influential critics like Michiko Kakutani, James Wood, and Zoë Heller disparaged it, and even Oprah's audience, instructed to read it for the talk show host's book club, demurred, prompting Oprah to call Morrison to offer the … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Paradise

Nella Larsen, Quicksand

Quicksand by Nella Larsen My rating: 5 of 5 stars This rigorously ironic 1928 novel of the Harlem Renaissance (its author's first) has itself, in its afterlife, succumbed to an irony: contemporary readers tend to encounter it in the context of political discourses on American race relations, yet its heroine, Helga Crane, early on in … Continue reading Nella Larsen, Quicksand

August Wilson, Fences

Fences by August Wilson My rating: 4 of 5 stars I know I said that I would read August Wilson's Century Cycle in their chronological order, but everyone is talking about Fences because of the movie, which I have not seen, so I skipped ahead to that one, probably Wilson's most famous and acclaimed play. … Continue reading August Wilson, Fences