Thinking of Ishmael Reed in the tradition of Zora Neale Hurston opens up his surrealistic novels in a surprising manner: the man is seriously into HooDoo. The essays on New Orleans at Mardi Gras and Haiti, places where voodoo practices are strong, are sweaty evocations, informative, if rather oblique, about this aspect of black history. Reed is at his best when talking about the ""Old Music"" (Hindemeth was influenced by ragtime), paying tribute to Josephine Baker, Muhammad Ali, and Charlie ""Bird"" Parker, or discussing the brilliant and neglected works of Chester Himes. On other themes--literary currents, politics--there is a touch of cultural paranoia. Reed works within the equation that everything white or Western is sterile, played out, and everything to do with folklore is the true path toward spiritual purity. His ear for contemporary slang and phrasing is impeccable, and while this may make his polemic entertaining, it does not mask the emptiness of some of his attacks. Reed believes there is a cultural mob controlling what we read and see, that real artists have left New York because it is the fiefdom of petty cultural barons--not at all a new idea and still a boring interpretation of the workings of culture. Them and Us--names of friends and foes recur, his pet projects and pet authors, giving a redundant, resentful quality. Like certain others, Reed enjoys admitting he is an ""awful"" person, unsophisticated enough to know the range of emotions from jealousy to hatred, so real that he can offend feminists and the Sisters (black women authors). But self-congratulation rules, and the judgments Reed means to be controversial and provocative are merely ill-considered.