Put Greil Marcus and Susan Sontag ringside, and you get something approaching this book. A little too postmodern at times...

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THE SQUARED CIRCLE

LIFE, DEATH, AND PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING

Book designer and Grantland and Deadspin contributor Shoemaker offers a frontline report on a panem et circenses scene of power plays, big money and spandex girdles.

No, it’s not a KISS reunion, but instead the world of pro wrestling. Of course it’s fake; early on, Shoemaker introduces readers to the insider term “kayfabe,” which refers to “the wrestlers’ adherence to the big lie, the insistence that the unreal is real.” Consider this scenario: “Ravishing” Rick Rude insults a woman at ringside. She just happens to be married to Jake “The Snake” Roberts, one of Rude’s many bêtes noires. The Snake vows vengeance, while Rude places her image on various strategically located parts of his costume. Kayfabe? You bet, even if Shoemaker quietly goes on to describe how the whole Snake/Rude show “underscored the fundamentally homoerotic nature of the enterprise.” Good thing André the Giant isn’t around to ponder such possibilities, but he remains a hero of the narrative—and, for all the oddness of wrestling and the avariciousness of some of the men behind the curtain, Shoemaker finds in its narratives a bit of the old Joseph Campbell hero quest, as when, once upon a time, the Macho Man set down the burden of evil and shook hands with Hulk Hogan, whereupon his “transformation into good guy was complete.” The possibilities for hipster irony are endless in the fundamentally unironic display that is wrestling, just as in NASCAR or pro bowling, and Shoemaker is respectful even as he looks behind that very curtain to see how the odd dreams of pro wrestling and its discontents are shaped. A hint for would-be practitioners: It helps if you’re, yes, a giant in “a playground for literally outsized men to act out metaphorically outsized tropes and storylines for the technological gratification of the masses.”

Put Greil Marcus and Susan Sontag ringside, and you get something approaching this book. A little too postmodern at times but an eye-opener.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-592-40767-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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