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ORDINARY NOTES

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

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A potent series of “notes” paints a multidimensional picture of Blackness in America.

Throughout the book, which mixes memoir, history, literary theory, and art, Sharpe—the chair of Black studies at York University in Toronto and author of the acclaimed book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being—writes about everything from her family history to the everyday trauma of American racism. Although most of the notes feature the author’s original writing, she also includes materials like photographs, copies of letters she received, responses to a Twitter-based crowdsourcing request, and definitions of terms collected from colleagues and friends (“preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness”). These diverse pieces coalesce into a multifaceted examination of the ways in which the White gaze distorts Blackness and perpetuates racist violence. Sharpe’s critique is not limited to White individuals, however. She includes, for example, a disappointing encounter with a fellow Black female scholar as well as critical analysis of Barack Obama’s choice to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in a hate crime at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. With distinct lyricism and a firm but tender tone, Sharpe executes every element of this book flawlessly. Most impressive is the collagelike structure, which seamlessly moves among an extraordinary variety of forms and topics. For example, a photograph of the author’s mother in a Halloween costume transitions easily into an introduction to Roland Barthes’ work Camera Lucida, which then connects just as smoothly to a memory of watching a White visitor struggle with the reality presented by the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. “Something about this encounter, something about seeing her struggle…feels appropriate to the weight of this history,” writes the author. It is a testament to Sharpe’s artistry that this incredibly complex text flows so naturally.

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780374604486

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

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Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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