by Roxane Gay ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 5, 2014
An occasionally brilliant, hit-or-miss grab bag of pop-culture criticism.
Essayist, novelist and pop-culture guru Gay (An Untamed State, 2014, etc.) sounds off on the frustrating complexities of gender and race in pop culture and society as a whole.
In this diverse collection of short essays, the author launches her critical salvos at seemingly countless waves of pop-cultural cannon fodder. Although the title can be somewhat misleading—she’s more of an inconsistent or conflicted feminist—the author does her best to make up for any feminist flaws by addressing, for instance, the disturbing language bandied about carelessly in what she calls “rape culture” in society—and by Gay’s measure, this is a culture in which even the stately New York Times is complicit. However, she makes weak attempts at coming to terms with her ambivalence toward the sort of violent female empowerment depicted in such movies as The Hunger Games. Gay explores the reasons for her uneasiness with the term “women’s fiction” and delivers some not-very-convincing attempts to sort out what drives her to both respect and loathe a femalecentric TV show like Lena Dunham’s Girls. Although generally well-written, some of these gender-studies essays come off as preachy and dull as a public service announcement—especially the piece about her endless self-questioning of her love-hate relationship with the tacky female-submission fantasies in Fifty Shades of Grey. Yet when it comes to race-related matters (in the section "Race and Entertainment"), Gay’s writing is much more impassioned and persuasive. Whether critiquing problematic pandering tropes in Tyler Perry’s movies or the heavy-handed and often irresponsible way race is dealt with in movies like The Help, 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained, Gay relentlessly picks apart mainstream depictions of the black experience on-screen and rightfully laments that “all too often critical acclaim for black films is built upon the altar of black suffering or subjugation.”An occasionally brilliant, hit-or-miss grab bag of pop-culture criticism.
Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014
Page Count: 336
Review Posted Online: June 16, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014
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by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2015
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Winner
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.
Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.
It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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