A collection of warm memories; an unaffected ode to a faded, Southern way of growing up.

THE CHATTAHOOCHEE BOYS

A debut memoir that tracks the early life, hijinks and carefree days of a Southern mill-town boy.

Baker and his childhood friends—often nameless and always mischievous—flooded a Depression-era Atlanta suburb with their tricks. Life was “hard and money was scarce for the people who worked in the cotton mill and lived in the village.” A little shabby, but better off than many of the families of the Great Depression, the boys poach golf balls, chase baseballs, peep at girls, steal turnips and dodge ornery neighbors. They pound rats, repeat grades, roll sloppy cigarettes, covet each others’ hunting boots and slowly discover the joys and terrors of girls. And that’s all before high school starts. The scenes are self-contained and read like they’re told from a porch rocker. The forgettable anecdotes rely on slim memories and trivial details. But the best of the group relate the hard coming-of-age realities the boys uncover, usually by accident. In one, an older girl is jilted by her faraway sailor. In another, the author discovers that, though he never before had cause to think about it, his father’s job makes him unwelcome in one of Atlanta’s finer neighborhoods. Baker describes a string of teenage spare-change jobs, one of which included breaking down junk cars all the way to their seat springs. His book follows a similar track. Each chapter shows a set piece or shenanigan, like an isolated car part, in detail—from Halloween pranks to stolen rowboats and from skinny-dipping to tent-revival kissing—but no cohesive narrative emerges to crank the engine and keep the parts moving together.

A collection of warm memories; an unaffected ode to a faded, Southern way of growing up. 

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461188582

Page Count: 172

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2012

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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