An unsettling demonstration of how a paranoid, reactionary government can treat significant artists.

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JAMES BALDWIN

THE FBI FILE

An exposé of the governmental surveillance of James Baldwin (1924-1987), annotated by an accomplished literary scholar.

Maxwell (English and African-American Studies/Washington Univ.; F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, 2015, etc.) appreciates Baldwin’s radicalism, noting that he “often looks like today's most vital and most cherished new African American author.” The author argues that young black activists are particularly moved by him: “The impression that Baldwin has returned to preeminence, unbowed and unwrinkled, reflects his special ubiquity in the imagination of Black Lives Matter.” Yet, Maxwell sees an absurdist cautionary tale in how J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI obsessively shadowed Baldwin, with equal astuteness and incompetence, due to his political outspokenness and sexual frankness. Baldwin’s FBI file, updated through 1974, was the largest compiled on any African-American author. Since it was declassified following a 1998 court challenge (though still redacted), the file is a bizarre testament to governmental overreach. Maxwell presents the actual documentation in chronological order, using brief discussions to provide valuable context. Baldwin first attracted interest following the success of The Fire Next Time, his 1963 account of the early civil rights movement; he was first photographed by the FBI during protests in Selma that fall. Baldwin’s articulate discussion of the movement ironically made him a target, and he landed on Hoover’s “Security Index” of potential threats. As Maxwell notes, “the Bureau turned the tools and fruits of his literary success into investigative weapons against him.” Baldwin was well-aware of the scrutiny and baited the FBI with a long-promised but never-delivered book about their antagonism toward the black community. By 1968, the FBI was attempting to track Baldwin (now a reclusive expatriate) while focusing more on the black radicalism symbolized by the Malcom X murder and the Black Panthers. Maxwell adeptly curates the strange hoard of documentation, but the primary sources will be most appreciated by completists.

An unsettling demonstration of how a paranoid, reactionary government can treat significant artists.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62872-737-1

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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