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review 2017-03-29 15:43
This short book written decades ago, is till true today.
The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin As I began to read the first of two letters in this brief book written in 1963, I was struck by the message which seemed to contain elements of hopeless resignation and self-loathing. It was a letter that outlined injustice and placed blame on many shoulders. It openly acknowledged that there were members of the police department who were racist and that there were elements of documented police brutality. It acknowledged that there were fewer opportunities for black people and that most doors were closed to them. It acknowledged that there was an overarching distrust and fear of authority and the police department, most often, with good reason. There was little opportunity to succeed, since most men were reduced to idleness due to a lack of job opportunities for them, even when well trained. Their color locked them out of the system. The women were employed doing menial labor, but they became the breadwinners, for the most part. The men gathered in groups, drank, did drugs and were led into a lifetime of crime when no other opportunity presented itself. This was not the life that Baldwin wanted for himself or his nephew. In the second letter, a broader view of his perspective became evident as he reviewed aspects of his own life. His ideas were colored by his background in the ministry. He realized that his community had no power and he knew that the lack of that power was preventing them from gaining respect. He achieved success by not getting sucked into a system that was designed to betray him. He wrote about The Nation of Islam and its effect on the world view of the “Negro”. The Nation of Islam had suddenly gained prominence and had positively influenced many in his community to live a cleaner life, stay out of prison, refrain from drinking and doing drugs; at the same time, it also preached hate for the “white devil”, demanding that the white world accept the superiority of the blacks in society. This goal to gain power was to be accomplished by any means available to them. When Baldwin wrote about The Nation of Islam, there was definitely a respect for what they had accomplished in inspiring so many to follow a different path, to have hope and to respect themselves, as they should. However, they believed that to accomplish that goal for one group, it must be at the expense of the other. The Nation of Islam believed in violence and in black supremacy. It did not seek equality, but superiority. Baldwin did not subscribe to all of their demands or dreams of a separate nation with land and reparations. He did not wish to disengage from the white culture and live separately. Baldwin hoped for more opportunity and justice in his world, but he did not consider all white people devils, as they did. He did not agree with all of their principles. He did support their goals to empower the “Negro” and their movement to create a hopeful future, instead of a life of despair. He did agree that “Negroes” had not been afforded the opportunity to succeed, had been subjected to a horrific life of slavery, and that a path to a different future for them must be found. The manner and method is what he seemed to differ with, and he did not join their movement. There was, and still is, a great deal of simmering anger that is passed on from generation to generation. There is so much frustration and suffering that continues even today, decades later. Baldwin’s message was prescient since he predicted the election of a black president in the future, and only half a century from the time of his writing, it became a reality. However, although the book was written in the mid sixties, it might just as well have been written yesterday. The anger and the injustice still exist in many arenas. There is still police brutality. There are still advocates of a violent movement to gain power. There are still demands being made that may or may not be realistic. These demands, however, are not yet being met. There are still families that are passing on a legacy of hate, fear and insecurity in the “white devil” community and the “black lives matter” movement. There is still racism, on both sides, but only one side is suffering from the ramifications of such unnecessary, unjustified and unwarranted prejudice.

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review 2017-01-30 03:31
Odd Man Out - James Newman
Odd Man Out - Pete Kahle,James R. Newman,Ben Baldwin

We've all been there as a kid. You,me, all of us. Chances are we weren't the bully, but we were around when the bully picked his next victim - and we breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't us. Maybe the victims was the new kid. Maybe they dressed different or talked different. Maybe they stuttered or had Coke bottle glasses. Maybe they came from the wrong side of the tracks. It really didn't matter what the reason was that the bully (or bullies) decided to make them a target. That's how bullies operate. And when the bullying starts, they tend to demand that everyone join in with them against the poor bastard or take the chance of having their wrath fall upon you. Peer pressure. Nobody wants to be the victim and their mantra is "if you ain't with us, than you're against us". So, many a kid was sucked into the trap of aiding in the bullying when they really didn't want to. This is the dilemma Dennis finds himself in during summer camp when an old, boyhood friend of his, Wes, is found out that he's gay by the bullies in the group. And what they do Wes, on that lonely summer night in 1989 will chill your blood to ice and send a shiver down your spine.


Odd Man Out is an incredibly realistic tale told by Newman. I mean he absolutely nails it when describing the life of teenage boys in 1989. This story could've had me cast as Dennis, the unwilling participant that felt he had no other choice but to go through with their heinous act. I have a feeling that many of you will feel that you could've been Dennis too. And that's what makes Odd Man Out so effective. It touches a raw nerve because we all could've been unwilling participants in a bullying gone so wrong. An absolute perfect story that you won't be able to put down.



5 bloody hammers out of 5



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review 2016-05-30 14:05
Is it wrong to say I hated this?
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin

Baldwin is one of those authors that I've been meaning to pick up and read for awhile, but I just hadn't gotten around to reading him. After seeing his name pop up elsewhere, I decided it would be a good push for me to actually read something by him. A few months later, I finally picked up the book.


A young man named David is in Paris during the 1950's, unable to decide between the "traditional" life and has an affair with a bartender.


Honestly, that's all I got out of the book. I thought the comparisons to 'Hamlet' were quite apt. The main character can't (or won't) decide what to do and not a lot really happens. He's quite self-centered/unable to look beyond himself. It made for a real "emptiness" to the character that made it impossible to relate to.


I tried really hard to remember that this is a male expatriate in 1950's Paris (obviously I can't relate to that very much) but the writing just seemed so...dated. I feel so terrible for saying this but I honestly didn't find the writing beautiful. I'm not sure if I'm not in the right frame for the book or it's something that's not translating for me (I don't mind classics) or what. I went into this book expecting to like it or at least understand why Baldwin is widely praised. I really didn't get that at all.


I don't know. I don't have any objection to the content itself (the reviews criticizing the fact that the book deals with complicated issues such as sexuality are pretty eye-rolling) but this ended up as another book that I could not understand what the fuss is about. Many people love this and I respect that but I wish I had borrowed this from the library instead.

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review 2016-02-19 04:58
Review | Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin

“Mountain,” Baldwin said, “is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” Go Tell It on the Mountain, originally published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery one Saturday in March of 1935 of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a Pentecostal storefront church in Harlem. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle toward self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.






While only being just barely over 220 pages long, this novel certainly has a family saga feel to it! It's also definitely one of those books that falls on my "multiple readings likely required to catch everything" list. No problem there though, because the writing here is stunning! Even when he talks about the most mundane, everyday moments, Baldwin's superb word choice just makes you want to wrap up in these stories, grim as they may be sometimes. The poet Langston Hughes had this to say of Baldwin:


He is thought-provoking, tantalizing, irritating, abusing and amusing. And he uses words as the sea uses waves, to flow and beat, advance and retreat, rise and take a bow in disappearing,,,the thought becomes poetry and the poetry illuminates the thought.


Go Tell It On The Mountain marks my first experience of reading Baldwin and I could not have described it better than Hughes. :-)


This short novel is broken down into three parts. Part 1 introduces the reader to John and his brother Roy living in Harlem, NYC. John is the son expected to follow in his father's footsteps of being a pastor, while not much is really expected of older brother Roy. Much of the story here is on John, as he asks himself if a life with the church is really what he wants. The reader also sees the somewhat strained relationship John has with his parents, his father outwardly a respected church figure but secretly a spouse abuser, John's mother appearing as a bit of a pushover / doormat type. But as the story progresses, we learn there's quite a bit more to the story than you might imagine. 


But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective, to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place.


Part 2... well, Part two has three segments on its own. I'll call them 2.1 / 2.2., etc. Okay, so 2.1 is essentially the story of John's Aunt Florence (sister to John's father), her past and present and how all those pivotal moments throughout her life brought her to be a key figure in John's life in present time. Part 2.2 then looks at the life of Gabriel, John's father; the fragile, nearly severed at times bond between Gabriel & Florence, as well as how Gabriel went from a life of shady activity and constant bad life choices to that of respected church figure. The reader also learns the history of Gabriel's life with first wife Deborah (not John's mother). Parts of the story here reminded me a bit of the biblical story of Abraham, Sarah & Hagar. Part 2.3 gets into how Gabriel and second wife Elizabeth (John's mother) got together, as well as looks back on Elizabeth's life before she came to know Gabriel. 


And when he took her to the Museum of Natural History or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they were almost certain to be the only black people, and he guided her through the halls, which never ceased in her imagination to be as cold as tombstones, it was then she saw another life in him. It never ceased to frighten her, this passion he brought to something she could not understand...She did not know why he adored things that were so long dead; what sustenance they gave him, what secrets he hoped to wrest from them. But she understood, at least, that they did give him a kind of bitter nourishment, and that the secrets they held for him were a matter of his life and death. It frightened her because she felt that he was reaching for the moon and that he would, therefore, be dashed down against the rocks; but she did not say any of this. She only listened, and in her heart she prayed for him. 


Part 3 is a sort of wrapup, in a way. It brings together all the characters the reader has come to know to one church service in present time where final questions and thoughts are hashed out and addressed and final "say your peace" moments are aired out. It takes all this family history you've read about up to this point and finally connects all the dots to make this amazing & rich family tapestry that I think most any reader will find relatable on some level. John talks about a nightmare that has left him a changed man and Gabriel is forced to answer for some of his past wrongs. 


It's not just the writing itself -- lines like "the waters of anguish riding the world" --  that grabs you in this book, but also the themes. So many powerful themes! One of the strongest being the idea of how even one small choice not thoroughly thought through can have the potential  to have massive repercussions that can ruin numerous lives in the quietest of ways. I guess that's the stamp of great writing on this novel -- in some ways the story is pretty straightforward, yet in other ways it's deep and resonate even in the everyday-ness of it all. Though it's a short read, I recommend savoring this one and really getting to know all the characters & their struggles. Relate and commiserate with them! 



Potenial Trigger Warning: There is mention of a suicide in this novel. 

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review 2016-01-28 00:00
Giovanni's Room
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin This novel was everything I thought it was not going to be. And this time, I don’t blame my expectations for disliking a book. It did make an impression on me, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

I feel that Baldwin did no research before writing this book. He just used bits and pieces that he had heard of here and there and scrambled together a story that to me felt disjointed and predictable. I felt like he wanted to write about a sensible issue yet chose the wrong tools. I thought themes of homosexuality, lust, longing, love, fear, stigma will be central to the plot. If they were I never noticed because they were suffocated by all the prejudice and preconception the characters were built upon. They all fell flat, one-dimensional and hateful.
Why write about a sensitive topic that was considered unorthodox back in the day (and, sadly, still is to some extent) and make all your characters so conventional and judgmental? Was it supposed to create some kind of a contradiction in order to enhance the message?

I don’t know. Maybe I just didn’t understand this or maybe the below was just not my type of crowd:

The woman: ’Hell, I want to be knocked up. I want to start having babies. In a way, it’s really all I’m good for.

The confused man: ’I don’t see what’s so hard being a woman. At least, not as long as she’s got a man.’

The woman and the confused man: I stepped away from her. She swayed where I had left her, like a puppet dangling from a string.
‘David, please let me be a woman. I don’t care what you do to me. I don’t care what it costs. I’ll wear my hair long, I’ll give up cigarettes, I’ll throw away the books.’ She tried to smile; my heart turned over. ‘Just let me be a woman, take me. It’s what I want. It’s all I want. I don’t care about anything else.’

The homosexual man: ‘Oh, well’, said Giovanni, ‘these absurd women running around today, full of ideas and nonsense, and thinking themselves equal to men – quelle rigolade! – they need to be beaten half to death so that they can find out who rules the world.

The Italian man: ’Yes, I wanted to stay there and eat much spaghetti and drink much wine and make many babies and grow fat.’

The Italian man to the American man: ’I can see you, many years from now, coming through our village in the ugly, fat, American motor car you will surely have by then and looking at me and looking at all of us and tasting our wine and shitting on us with those empty smiles Americans wear everywhere and which you wear all the time and driving off with a great roar of the motors and a great sound of tires and telling all the other Americans you meet that they must come and see our village because it is so picturesque.’

To me this novel was an attempt to fight fire with fire, all the way not knowing how to light a fire.
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