Amidst the heartbreaking coverage of the fire at Notre Dame cathedral, I almost missed the announcement of the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes. As usual, most of the attention has been toward the journalism awards (and perhaps a bit more so this year, given that our presidunce has set himself against anyone who exposes the truth about him), but of course there were the also the book prizes, the nonfiction winners I always look forward to seeing.
And among this year's winners was Jeffrey Stewart for his biography of Alain Locke.
I cannot tell you the feeling of pride that I felt when I saw that he had won. This wasn't because I had anything to do with its genesis, production, or publication, of course, but because I interviewed him last year for a NBN podcast. Seeing his book receive the recognition it so richly deserves leaves me feeling like someone who purchased an artwork before the artist became famous, or discovering a local restaurant before it received its Michelin star. And while I claim zero credit for all of the acclaim that he has received for his book, I do like to think that I helped bring some attention to a book that truly deserved it.
Now I have to decide whether I am going to buy a copy of David Blight's Frederick Douglass biography, given that just about every library I know has a copy of it.
Yesterday the 2018 National Book Awards were announced, and among the winners was Jeffrey Stewart for his biography of Alain Locke. I was really happy to see that he won, not just because it's a worthy choice, but because I read it earlier this year. I always get a nice smug feeling when I read award-winning books before they win, and this was the first time I was ahead of the curve for the National Book Award. I think I'll take the rest of the day off to bask in my awesomeness.
As I previously mentioned in my update, I was struggling a bit with this book and the pacing. Once I got home from work today, I settled in to read - my husband and daughter are spending the night with my in-laws, and my son works until 8:30, so I had a completely silent house all to myself.
The first half of the book was good. The second half of the book was great. Locke tied all of the disparate threads together. She palmed the ace a few times, and made me go "aha," more than once. She answered all of my questions, and then some, and left me wanting more.
So much more that I jumped directly into the second book of the Jay Porter series, Pleasantville.
I still think I liked Bluebird, Bluebird better, because a book about a black Texas Ranger is pretty freaking hard to beat. But I ended up thoroughly enjoying this legal thriller.
I read this for the Diverse Voices square.
I'm struggling a bit with this one - not because it's poorly written, but because the setting - Houston, Texas, at an indeterminate time in the past that seems like it's probably the mid- to late-1970's - is so gritty, bleak and unpleasant.
Jay Porter is a struggling black lawyer in Houston, whose wife, Bernie, is very pregnant with their first child. There are two story lines - the first, and seemingly primary, story line focuses on a birthday cruise that Jay has arranged for Bernie, during which they rescue a white woman whom they originally thought was a crime victim from the river, but it seems that this may not be true. The body of a murdered man is found the following day, and then things get weird, and dangerous, for Jay.
The second story line involves the decision by the dockworkers union to strike, which puts Houston's economy in peril, and which has resulted in a young black man, Darren, being beaten up by three white men. Jay has been asked by Bernie's father to speak to the mayor, an old friend from their college days, to seek prosecution of the men who assaulted Darren. One of them is fairly prominent, so you can see where this is going.
Interspersed with these stories are flashbacks to Jay's college years in the sixties, when he was a civil rights activist. He and the mayor, Cynthia, go way back to those days. Cynthia's character is confusing. I can't tell if she was just a white girl "slumming" with the civil rights activists for kicks, or if she was really committed. And I can't tell if she is going to betray Jay to retain the power she's managed to consolidate or not.
This is not a fast-paced book - Locke is unfolding and revealing in a positively leisurely manner, which is not the norm for this genre and takes some getting used to. Her writing is convincing, even if her characters (except for Bernie. Bernie is everything) seem to be continually making the worst possible, most dangerous, choices for themselves and their loved ones. If Jay's stupidity gets Bernie hurt, I am going to be pissed.
There is a lot of uncomfortable material in here to unpack. Locke doesn't pull her punches talking about race relations in Houston, and she does not romanticize the civil rights era, or the aftermath. It is dirty and brutal. Houston is humid, dirty and segregated, both racially and into extremes of wealth and poverty. I can't say that I like it, but I am interested in where it is going and where it will end up.
I am reading this for my Diverse Authors square.