An important story of a great civil rights battle told in exhaustive detail.

THE ENGAGEMENT

AMERICA'S QUARTER-CENTURY STRUGGLE OVER SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

A journalist and political science professor chronicles the fight for same-sex marriage from its beginnings through the presidential candidacy of Pete Buttigieg.

In 1990, three same-sex couples applied “on a lark” for Hawaii marriage licenses. The inevitable rejection set in motion a cascade of legal and political challenges that culminated in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the U.S. In this exceptionally comprehensive but overlong and inefficiently organized account, Issenberg, Washington correspondent for the Monocle, shows how the movement lurched forward through triumphs in states like Vermont and Massachusetts and seemingly fatal setbacks such as Bill Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Advocates of marriage equality had to overcome not just political and religious foes—among them, Catholic bishops, Protestant evangelicals, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—but conflicts in their own ranks between incrementalists willing to settle for civil unions and those who saw anything less than marriage as second-class status for same-sex couples. The movement prevailed with the help of courageous opponents such as Dan Foley, a Buddhist attorney who took on the Hawaii marriage-license applicants as clients after chanting about it; and Mary Bonauto, a lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, whom former congressman Barney Frank called “our Thurgood Marshall.” Issenberg’s encyclopedic narrative, though written well on the sentence level, has an inelegant structure that reveals an author unable or unwilling to necessarily condense the narrative (at least 200 pages could have been cut). He also includes too many unedifying details, including an attempt to put Barack Obama’s support for gay rights in context in part by stating, “Both Obama’s high-school drug dealer and favorite college professor were gay men.” Future journalists or historians will likely offer more efficient histories, but Issenberg’s research makes the book a vital source for bookstores, libraries, and LGBTQ studies completists.

An important story of a great civil rights battle told in exhaustive detail.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-524-74873-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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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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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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