Archive for September, 2020

Black Bottom Saints

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

By Alice Randall

The Short Take:

This is one of the best books I have read in years. Fact and fiction combine to tell the stories of 52 “saints” associated with Detroit’s famed Black Bottom neighborhood, a wellspring for talent and creativity from the 1920s through the 1940s. The writing is brilliant and I learned so much–not just about these 52 individuals–but about being Black in America

Why?

The book is patterned after Catholic books of the saints, with the story of a different saint presented for 52 weeks. The narrator is Ziggy Johnson, who is writing the book from his deathbed. Ziggy Johnson is a genuine historic person who founded a school of theater and dance that not only nurtured talent but taught young Black girls to go out in the world and achieve. Other saints include such famous people as Joe Louis and Dinah Washington but you’ll also find a raft of people you’ve never heard of or barely recall. I finally quit looking up his saints right away and made a list–all that googling took me out of the reading moment.

I learned about Tanya Blanding, a four-year-old cowering under her table during the Detroit riots who was fatally shot by a National Guardsman. I learned about the drag balls of Alfred Finnie, the sculptures of Artis Lane, and the achievements of Bayard Rustin who played key roles in the Civil Rights movement but was sidelined because he was gay.

But the most important thing I learned was how Black entertainers, athletes, and others turned “trauma into transcendence,” overcoming the pain of slavery and Jim Crow to bring their beauty and magic to the world.

Alongside the stories of Ziggy’s saints is the story of Colored Girl, who is clearly a stand-in for author Alice Randall with only some details changed. Her complicated relationship with her mother, who stole her away from an adored father and Ziggy’s godfathering, is her trauma to transcend.

Through her creation of this book she brings the power and perseverance of Black lives to the forefront. Some told her others would steal what she possessed. She replied, “Black girl magic can’t stolen but can be given.”

Alice Randall has gifted the world with a sublime volume of exceptional inspiration and understanding. It is as close as you can get to divine.

A Little Plot:

There really isn’t a plot, though CG’s story is fairly linear and the stories of the saints have their connections, as you would expect in a tight neighborhood like Black Bottom. Each saint’s story also comes with a cocktail recipe that evokes that individuals unique spirit. And, no, I did not try them all.

For more about Alice Randall and her books click here. BTW her website is more interesting than those of most writers.

Make Russia Great Again

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

By Christopher Buckley

The Short Take:

When it comes to political satire, Buckley is one of the best. However, it’s hard to laugh at a book that is so close to our messed up reality. It’s almost depressing.

Why:

This is from the author’s notes: Any person finding any resemblance between themselves and person depicted herein should probably be ashamed. True enough. Buckley’s fictional Trump is so well portrayed you hear the real man’s voice while reading. He has also captured his imaginary administration’s revolving door as well as the sycophant senators and other “courtiers.”

But is it funny? The writing is as witty and caustic as ever (I’ve read many of his books) however the subject matter hits too close to what we’re living through. Actually, it’s a lot saner since it only focuses on Trump and Putin’s relationship and the reasons behind it and ignores the many sideshows and even main events (that virus is mentioned in passing once early on and feels like a last minute addition).

An autonomous computer that rigs elections, a Russian oligarch willing to blackmail to get his frozen assets back, sleazy events at a Miss Universe pageant, and other inventions all work hard to prop up the humor. But ultimately it is the fictional Trump that stops everything in its tracks. There’s simply no humor to be found there.

And the ending is almost believable, which is exceptionally depressing.

A Little Plot:

Long time Trump employee Herbert Nutterman is asked by his former boss to come to the White House as his Chief of Staff, even though the man has no government or political experience. But Nutterman is loyal, and that’s what matters. So loyal we learn on page one he is in jail and the book he’s writing describes how he wound up there.

For more about Buckley and his books click here. By the way, my personal favorites are Little Green Men and Thank You for Smoking.

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