Guest blog: NF

As you may have noticed by now, nonfiction is not really my friend. I seldom choose to read it, and when I do make the attempt I seem to have a recurrence of the selective narcolepsy that has plagued me on and off for years, never making it past the first few chapters.

How lucky am I, therefore, to have friends who read, and friends who are also willing to write something about what they have read and allow me to share it here?

The review to follow is by Mary K. Chelton, a well known advocate for young adults and libraries. A retired professor of library and information studies at Queens College (New York), Dr. Chelton is co-founder of Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) journal. and has published more than 60 articles in library literature. She has 20+ years experience as a public librarian, serving as a voice for all underserved library populations. One of her particular specialties is readers’ advisory, over which we recently bonded online. I am honored to share her thoughts about her reading.

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. (Crown Publishing 6/30/2020, 272 pp.)

The chair of Princeton’s Department of African American Studies, who teaches a seminar on James Baldwin as part of that program, has done an exhaustive, critical examination of Baldwin’s writings, letters, interviews, and travels, to see what his thoughts and experiences might say to those of us trying, once again, through Black Lives Matter, to restart the Civil Rights movement.

Baldwin comes across as a tortured individual, in part because of his emotional and intellectual involvement in the movement, but also because of his sexuality and estrangement from both black and white politics in the United States. For example, he did not support the Black Power people, and he grappled intellectually with whether Black activists had to “become white” to achieve anything. He also became an unwilling celebrity as his writing was published and reviewed. Twice he tried to commit suicide, the first time after Martin Luther King was murdered.

Glaude follows his life and offers a rich interpretation of it with insights for those of us suffering through the Trump era, followed by a personal journey himself to the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama to experience “the Lie” as he calls America’s underbelly of racist origins and structures. Begin Again is a wonderful work of scholarship, with something thought-provoking on every page.

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There are people who have words for a particular situation, and James Baldwin is one of those. Although the things he said were certainly applicable during his lifetime, they also seem peculiarly addressed to us in our current situation. I sat through the so-called presidential debate Tuesday night watching the man in charge of our collective welfare bully his opponent and lie through his teeth with a confident smirk, and my response was this statement from Baldwin: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

It also, of course, addresses the other revolution taking place in our country right now, which is the effort to see what we do to the black lives among us and choose to do better. Dual purpose Baldwin, if you will. —ME