Author Archives: Tony

Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis

William Burroughs commented on Paul Bowles‘ autobiography, Without Stopping, saying it should have been, “Without Telling.” The opposite is true of this new bio on Lou Reed. It could be subtitled TMI.

Some called Lou names like The Prince of Darkness, Darth Vader of Rock, and those were the nice ones. His fans called him Lou. Andy Warhol called him Lulu. He called Warhol, Drella. A lot of people today don’t know who Lou Reed was (that’s fine…here is your shot to learn), or they confuse him with Lou Rawls (not cool). I call him the 2nd greatest songwriter ever, slightly behind Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan.

Lewis Allan Reed was born into an upper middleclass Jewish family on March 2, 1942. He was in Doo Wop and Rock groups as a teenager. He was on record by age 14, but his “true fame” wouldn’t come until after he finished College at Syracuse and had a lot of out of the norm personal experience. His parents had electroshock treatments performed on him, either because of his bisexuality (Lou’s version) or his according to his mother, doctors thought he may be schizophrenic.

Although, college was a dreadful experience for the non-conformist and drug user, Lou met someone there who changed his life. Delmore Schwartz was a renowned poet/professor on his way down. He had been a top poet in the 30’s but paranoia and speed had caught up with him by the 60’s. Of course, Lou chose him as a mentor. Schwartz would hold court at a little off campus bar and read James Joyce to his followers. Schwartz told Lou that if he ever “sold out” his talent as a writer, his ghost would haunt him. And it did to some degree.

After graduation in 1964 with a B.A. in English, Lou moved to NYC and became a songwriter for a small company called Pickwick, which produced cheap exploitation albums of the newest musical fads. He also made frequent trips into Harlem to buy heroin.

Lou and his fellow musicians wrote a song called, “The Ostrich,” that got some notice and airplay. It was recorded by studio musicians, so when a local TV station wanted the band (The Primitives) to perform, that had to search for a stage band quickly. One of the guys chosen was John Cale because he had long hair. Cale was an avant-garde classical musician from Wales. In time, the band evolved into The Velvet Underground. They played dives in NYC and got fired, but were discovered by Andy Warhol.

On July 11, 1966 Delmore dies. Lou was in the hospital for Hepatitis C and checked himself out to attend Delmore’s wake. So, in Warhol, Lou had found another 2nd father and genius to learn from. Andy is credited with producing the first Velvet Underground album. VU would go on to record 4 studio albums from 1967-1970, and go through many personnel changes (Lou was difficult to work with.) Lou fired Andy, but stayed friends until a later falling out.

Along the way Lou became a great guitarist noted for his use of distortion. When Lou left VU on August 23, 1970, he had had enough of the R&R business. VU had not been a financial success and they were only famous among the people living outside the mainstream. He had legal problems and was burned out on every level.

So he moved into his parent’s house and worked as a typist in his father’s business for $40 a week. Eventually he drifted back into his only true love. From 1972 to 2011, he released 22 solo albums, 13 live albums, and 16 compilation albums. He married 3 times to three distinct women. Lou was polysexual and experimented with various drugs, mainly speed, heroin, and alcohol. He was at times sweet and violent, and his songs reflect this. Some are soft and sensitive, others will offend most. In the end, after AA and laying off most drugs, Lou was mellow most of the time. Although reporters and critics were always fair game for him.

Lou died on a Sunday (Oct 27, 2013). One of his sweetest and most haunting songs was titled, Sunday Morning. For me, Lou had a good soul – wild, free, and full of anger as a young man. But in time, he would find some peace in the world.

A young writer named Vaclav Havel on a visit to the U.S. in 1968 bought the 2nd VU album. He would go on to lead the Velvet Revolution and become President of Czechoslovakia in 1989, and the First President of the Czech Republic. Lou interviewed him in 1990 and they became friends.

Lou was influential to many younger musicians and he could be called the Father of Punk, New Wave, Glam, and Alternative. All his albums are distinct. Read the book and listen to his albums! You’ll be glad you did.

Format Available: Large Type, Regular Type, eBook

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

 

Before I Let You Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Kyra is dead. Kyra was Corey’s best friend. Corey will not let Death slip quietly away without answers and Death will not give them up without a fight.

Lost Creek, Alaska is a closed, tight knit community. You either belong or you don’t. Kyra and Corey were born in Lost, grew up together, and were best friends. But things change, businesses folded, times got harder, and Kyra began to have manic episodes. The good people of Lost didn’t just avoid Kyra, they feared her.

So, why after her death were they idolizing her? Her paintings were everywhere but the most disturbing was one of a girl floating under the ice, Kyra herself. Everyone said it was an accident but the painting suggested suicidal thoughts. Why hadn’t someone tried to get her help before she died?

Why hadn’t Corey answered Kyra’s letters more often? They had plans to leave Lost to go out into the world and do things. Kyra saw a therapist and took medication. When she had one of her episodes she painted beautifully, madly, and hated it. Corey wanted to study the stars, Kyra wanted to gather people’s stories, she loved life.

When Corey’s mom got a job outside of Lost, the family moved. Corey promised to keep in touch with Kyra, but the first year of college changed things again. She had room mates and friends that she could openly talk with and do things, so different from life in the closed up town of Lost. More and more, Kyra’s letters got pushed back in a drawer to be read and answered at a later time. Now Corey keeps asking herself why hadn’t she answered Kyra’s letters more often?

Now it was too late.

Everyone said Kyra’s death was inevitable, it was meant to be, that she had even predicted it. Corey didn’t believe any of it, Kyra had promised to wait for her to return to Lost. She hadn’t been there when Kyra needed her now she was determined to find out what happened.

We see Lost and its people through Corey’s eyes but Nijkamp draws the reader in with her words. You feel the cold and isolation of a town that has lost hope for the future and then latches on to a young girl they believe sees a brighter future for them. Corey and Kyra’s story is shared in alternating chapters that carry us back and forth in time. We learn of the girls’ friendship, their dreams of the future, the old spa they would escape to, their attempt to make more of their friendship, and meet some of the town’s people. Most of all you read of the love, disappointment, acceptance, and heartbreak that friendship can bring.

A suspenseful thriller of a mystery that tells the story of friendship, warts and all, from beyond the grave. It also a coming of age story where one girl grows up and the other lives on in memories. In the end, we see that everyone has a side of themselves they keep hidden, sometimes even from their selves.

Format Available: Book, eBook

Review by Katy, Shawnee Branch

 

Born to Run in the U.S.A.

What can anyone say about this album that probably hasn’t been said a million times before?  I mean, it is a transcendent slice of American rock ‘n’ roll that made rock ‘n’ roll fun again without losing any punch as to the stories it told. The album’s tales nearly burst from exuberance and hope. The young and disenfranchised protagonists still believe they will, as the title track puts it, “get out while [they’re] young,” and will enjoy themselves along the way.

Well, how about saying Born to Run is a forgotten classic?  This may strike many as a weird statement considering the long shadow that The Boss has extended over the American rock landscape in his 47 years (as the very first version of the E Street Band – known then as the Bruce Springsteen Band – was formed in 1971). Yet this characterization really is apropos because while familiar with individual tracks in some form, usually a live version, many haven’t listened to the original album at all or in the manner it was meant to be listened to at the time of its release.

In 1975, the full length album was meant to be a total experience, over and above any tunes that might get cut from it to play as singles. Often the album versions of songs varied in length or composition because the album was for the musician and lovers of music while the single was for the radio and the casual listener.  Further, there was no easy way to change the artist’s presentation of his or her music.

Tape recorders – which would have made it possible to reorder the album – were only just making headway in the market but had not yet become dominant as they would only a few years later when punk broke in the U.S.  Only DJ’s had the equipment to mix songs but these (just emerging) hip-hop techniques were still found only in the ghettos of New York City, cultivated by an audience that completely eschewed the kind of music Springsteen played. Singles – with their radio-friendly edits and B-sides – were about the only way to listen to an album in a different way other than to go to a concert.

What is so striking about Born to Run is that it feels like you are listening to a live band. No, not the kind of cheesy live albums with canned crowd noise that would make Kiss famous. Born to Run definitely has some studio polish with music business veterans Mike Appel and Jon Landau behind the boards but they so well capture the energy of the road-tested E Street band that this album seems as if it’s being played right in front of you, and by a much faster, louder band. After all, the album mostly sticks to mid-tempo songs!

So, no one in the 33 1/3 series – which I highly recommend for music fans with  time constraints – has written on Born to Run (yet). But Geoffrey Himes, music critic for a number of publications but particularly the Washington Post, did pen a really interesting look at the writing process and production of Springsteen’s 1984 classic, Born in the U.S.ABorn in the U.S.A., much like Born to Run, captures its own time period in a striking way. However, we find similar characters to those on Born to Run, years older and much more jaded, looking for some kind of recognition that their wild dreams of youth have been endangered by the economic shifts that struck American industry and towns in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Review by Tony, Main Library

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti

Did you ever wish upon a star?  Careful what you might wish for…

In the city of Madison, people don’t need a star. They have a special place that gives them one wish on their 18th birthday. Eldon’s birthday wish is coming up in just 25 days but he still isn’t sure what he wants.

Ebba, his little sister, is on life support after an accident. Eldon lost the star spot on the football team. And the girl he loves dumped him for the Calvin, the new star of the team. Now there is nothing left but his wish.

His mother is pressuring him to wish for a way to bring his sister back. His father is consoling but ineffective, locked into a life controlled by his wife’s life-long wish for his love, a love that has made both of them miserable. So what can Eldon wish for that will make the world right again in his eyes? After all, there is always someone who can wish away what his wish has given him?

Those under eighteen dream of their wish, long for the moment they can will get their greatest desire. Many who have made their wish now live with regret or are ruled by their greed for power or money. In high school it has even become part of the curriculum to discuss what to wish for and how to word their wish.

Eldon has the answer, he thinks. Merrill, his best friend, and he join forces with Norrie, a very religious young lady in a town of non-believers, to set out and talk with those who have made their wish. What did they wish for, why and how did it turn out? Along the way Eldon will see a side of himself he never saw, the way others see him, arrogant, self-centered and quarrelsome.

In his search for wisdom, he makes a hash of things. Eldon’s behavior includes fighting, letting others (especially his father) down on the football field, drinking, and even divulging the town’s long-kept secret to outsiders. Intertwined with Eldon’s growing realization of himself and how others view him, are the stories told by those who have already made their wish, why and how it changed their lives.

Before and after they wish, people are driven to protect their secret source. This effectively closes off the town from outsiders and what goes on beyond its limits. Eldon and others, who have yet to wish, are so focused on what will give them their heart’s desire, they forget that life is full of choices and one bad choice/wish shouldn’t control your future.

Merrill and Norrie, with their common sense and vision of a possible future outside Madison, are a good balance for Eldon’s self-centered attitude. So, has Eldon gained any wisdom from his mistakes and from listening to other’s stories? Will he simply make a wish for himself or one that will change Madison forever?

We don’t get the full picture of all the characters in this book but you don’t need it to walk with Eldon, see his mistakes, watch him grow and meet some curious characters along the way. This is a story of how being given something you don’t have to work for rarely makes you happy. It’s also the tale of a town, closed off to the opportunities from the larger world, given the chance to grow up as well.

Match As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti with Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters for an example of what happens when small town secrets are shared with the world. Learning from other’s mistakes in life means listen first and then make your own choices.

Format Available: Book, eBook

Review by Katy, Shawnee Branch

GonzoFest@LFPL

Saturday, April 14, 2018, 12:00 PM – 8:00 PM 

The annual celebration of the life and work of Louisville-native Hunter S. Thompson, features poetry, spoken word, art, live music, and more! This year’s music lineup includes Southern Sirens, Anemic Royalty, Jet Lawrence, “Outlaw Poet” Ron Whitehead, and Electric Garden. GonzoFest 2018 will also feature a screening of The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo, the national PBS documentary on Chicano civil rights activist/attorney/author Oscar Zeta Acosta, who was well-known for his friendship with Hunter S. Thompson in the late 1960s. The film is directed by veteran award-winning filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez, and Louisville-native Gaba Gavi plays the role of Rolling Stone writer David Felton in the film. A question & answer session with Rodriquez and Gavi is scheduled immediately following the film.

Other scheduled discussions include “Hell’s Angels: Will the Real Hunter S. Thompson Please Stand Up” with Hell’s Angels editor Margaret Harrell, and “The Battle of Michigan Avenue: Chicago 1968, Hunter S. Thompson, and Violence Against Journalists.” For more information on GonzoFest—including how to enter the annual literary and art contests sponsored by BiblioboarD.

For more info, visit GonzoFestLouisville.com.

Location:
301 York Street

LouisvilleKY USA 40203
Phone: 502-574-1611

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Body Music by Julie Maroh

The Library just received this graphic by Julie Maroh a few days ago and it hasn’t circulated yet. But the cover of Body Music was delicate and pretty at first glance…

…so I picked it up just to flip through it. And I ended up reading it all straight through in one setting. It was that good.

The interior art is less delicate, using fluid yet solid black lines for the characters and softer lines for the background. The coloring ranges from grey to sepia, matching the emotional tone of the vignettes. The human figure is not always proportional or technically correct but expressive. The crudity of it in places reminds me a little of the work of (fellow Canadian artist) Jeff Lemire.

This book takes a look at love from many perspectives in its twenty-one set pieces. It’s 2018 and I shouldn’t have to say this but if you are the kind of person who has trouble with depictions of same-sex or non-traditional gendered relationships, then you need to just move along. But if your mind and heart are open, you will find the sweet melody alluded to in the title.

Maroh is also the author and artist of Blue is the Warmest Color, which I will definitely read in the near future.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Review by Tony, Main Library

Bop Apocalypse by Martin Torgoff

 

 “HighI’m telling youhighWhat’s the law against being highWhat’s the use of not being highYou gonna be low?” — JACK KEROUAC, VISIONS OF CODY

This book, published in 2017, grew from the seeds of an earlier, and very good, book that Torgoff wrote titled Can’t Find My Way Home (2004). The title of the second chapter is the title of the current work.  It deals with his and America’s drug use after WWII to the end of the 20th century. But his current book is even better than that.

This is a book that I think everyone should read. From the subtitle one could think that Jazz and The Beats are ancient history, if they even know who the Beats were. Even a concise history of these for subjects could take up a few thousand pages, but Torgoff cooks it up boils it down to less than 350 remarkable pages. I’m a fan of modest chapters and he divides the 347 pages into 30 Chapters.

Each chapter bleeds into the next much like my remembrance of reading Grapes of Wrath. Both are books I didn’t want to put down.  These four subjects are intertwined so gracefully they seem like one couldn’t exist without the other and perhaps the apex of each couldn’t.  With race and drugs so much in the news and fabric of current everyday life, this was a perfect time for this book to appear.  Both the issues and conflicts of race and drugs have been around for centuries but it is the invention of Jazz that really brought both to the forefront in both.  Black musicians found a new freedom in Jazz and marijuana. But people of all colors and social strata were doing drugs, although race and position always played a part in how the legal apparatus handled the drug user.

What is great about this book is that you will meet all kinds of REAL CHARACTERS. Many are famous, but some you may not have heard of before. Members of the Underclass don’t get much notice unless it is a small article for an arrest or they get notoriety later for being a poet, musician, etc. With my background in The Beats and other outsiders, I had heard of most of the people, but even with the ones I knew, I learned many new things.

You get to meet:

And then there are the Jazz Geniuses:

You will find things about them you probably didn’t know unless you read tell all bios. Some of the things that are included in here about Billie Holliday are still messing with my mind. But I came away with a deeper love for her and Lester Young.

And the unknowns too:

  • Ruby Rosano is my favorite chick whose chapter 19 title is Blues for a Junkie Whore. When asked what was heroin like, she replied, “Like being back in your mother’s womb.  Like being in this place where nothing could ever touch you.”

My favorite (unknown, then known) hipster is in here too:

  • Herbert Huncke, the Original Beat who used the word Beat to mean down and out, tired, which he was. Kerouac picked up on that use of the word and added the Christian Beatific to it and coined the phrase BEAT GENERATION. It began as a small group of friends who were writers, and later became a sort of literary movement that had worldwide social significance.

All of the original Beats were drug users and most were Jazz lovers and they are here too.

And then there is the Greatest Enemy of them all:

Anyway, Just READ IT! You will thank me.

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

 

 

 

 

1984

One Book Louisville: George Orwell's "1984" One Book Louisville is a community reading program designed to bring people from all walks of life together around a book chosen for its ability to prompt lively conversation and debate.

In January 2017, George Orwell’s 1984 became the #1 best-seller on Amazon, illustrating its profound influence as a cultural touchstone nearly 70 years after its publication. Join us in February for one of four in-depth facilitated conversations on the relevance of 1984 to our own present day; an in-depth film discussion with Don Whitfield; and a panel discussion featuring distinguished UofL faculty. All programs and discussions are free.


UPCOMING EVENTS:

Kick-off Book Discussion*
Main Library, Thursday, February 1, 6:30-8 p.m.
Ages 18+. Call (502) 574-1611 to register.

Teen Book Discussion*
Highlands-Shelby Park Library, Saturday, February 10, 2-4 p.m.
Ages 15-19. Refreshments provided. Call (502) 574-1672 to register.

Newbery Honor Award winner Ann M. Martin

1984 Film Discussion
Main Library, Tuesday, February 13, 6:30-8 p.m.
A screening of the 1984 film version of 1984 with post-screening discussion led by Don Whitfield, formerly of the Great Books Foundation.
Ages 17+. Rated-R | 1hr 53min | ©1984 Umbrella-Rosenblum Films Production

Carmichael’s Book Discussion*
Sunday, February 18, 2-3:30 p.m.
Carmichael’s Bookstore | 2720 Frankfort Avenue
Ages 18+. No registration required.

UofL Faculty Panel Discussion
Main Library, Thursday, February 22, 6-8 p.m.
A panel of UofL’s distinguished faculty will discuss the influence of George Orwell’s masterpiece on today’s cultural and political landscape, including Rodger Payne and S. Matthew Biberman. Moderated by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Middletown Book Discussion*
Middletown Library, Tuesday, February 27, 6:30-8 p.m.
Ages 18+. Call (502) 245-7332 to register.


*Books are available for checkout at local branches, or for purchase from Carmichael’s Bookstore with a 20% discount.

It’s That Time: Ten Great Graphic Novels

Yes, yes, 2017 was another exceptional year for Graphic Novels in the Library!

So many great titles were put out that it was really hard to put this list together. After a while, I decided to not worry too much and just list some of my favorite comics read in the past year. Per tradition, these picks have been listed in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.

All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. Each title has a “Check Our Catalog” link that will take you to where you can view the location and status of the specific item in our system.

After taking a look, if your selection is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a hold request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry).

Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet
By Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Illustrator Stelfreeze, Brian
Check Our Catalog

A new era begins for the Black Panther! MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning writer T-Nehisi Coates (BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME) takes the helm, confronting T’Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before. When a superhuman terrorist group that calls itself The People sparks a violent uprising, the land famed for its …More

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
By Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto
Illustrator Hack, Robert
Check Our Catalog

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here For TEEN+ readers.Compiles the first six…More

Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception
By Simone, Gail
Check Our Catalog

From the minds of superstar writer Gail Simone and gifted artist Jon Davis-Hunt comes CLEAN ROOM VOL. 1: IMMACULATE CONCEPTION–a new vision of horror that takes you inside the locked chambers of sex, science, celebrity, and the supernatural.Somewhere between the realms of self-help and religion lies the Honest World Foundation. Its creator started out as an obscure writer of disposable …More

The Fun Family The Fun Family
By Frisch, Benjamin
Check Our Catalog

Beloved cartoonist Robert Fun has earned a devoted following for his circular daily comic strip, celebrating the wholesome American family by drawing inspiration from his real home life… but the Fun Family bears some dark secrets. As their idyllic world collapses and the kids are forced to pick up the pieces, will their family circle become a broken mirror, or a portal to a nightmare world? In …More

ALSO: You can read a staff review of this work by clicking here.
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
By Liu, Marjorie M.
Check Our Catalog

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.About the …More

Paper Girls, Volume 1 Paper Girls, Volume 1
By Chiang, Cliff K.
Check Our Catalog

From Brian K. Vaughan, #1 New York Times bestselling writer of SAGA, and Cliff Chiang, legendary artist of WONDER WOMAN, comes the first volume of an all-new ongoing adventure.In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about …More

Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia
By Wood, Brian
Illustrator Mutti, Andrea
Check Our Catalog

This is 1775. With the War for Independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide. Not merely rehashing the tales of the most famous men of the time, Rebels details the epic story of the colonists, explorers and traders, wives and daughters, farmers and volunteer soldiers …More

Roughneck Roughneck
By Lemire, Jeff
Check Our Catalog

From the New York Times bestselling author and award-winning creator ofEssex CountySecret PathDescender, and The Underwater Welder comes an all-original graphic novel about a brother and sister who must come together after years apart to face the disturbing history that has cursed their family.Derek Ouelette’s glory days are behind him. His hockey …More

Valerian: The Complete Collection Valerian: The Complete Collection
By Christin, Pierre
Check Our Catalog

VALERIAN is a saga that every fan of Star Wars and Star Trek will identify with and love. Valerian and his beautiful, sharp-witten and sharp-tongued partner, Laureline, live adventures set against visually stunning backgrounds: complex architectural inventions, futuristic machines, otherworldly landscapes, and odd-looking aliens that are staples of artist Mezieres’s seemingly boundless visual …More

Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man
By King, Tom
Illustrator Walta, Gabriel Hernandez
Check Our Catalog

The Vision wants to be human, and what’s more human than family? So he heads back to the beginning, to the laboratory where Ultron created him and molded him into a weapon. The place where he first rebelled against his given destiny and imagined that he could be more -that he could be a man. There, he builds them. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his …More

 

If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join LFPL’s Graphic Novel Discussion Group.

Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Upcoming meetings will take place on the following dates:

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Article by Tony, Main Library

Native Son by Richard Wright

I usually do not like recommending books to the average stranger, because my tastes, though wide, are more precise as I age. But I’m telling you, EVERYONE should read these two books NOW!  Native Son (1940) is a work of fiction that astounds me.

For years I have wanted to read Wright but never got around to it. In my twenties, I read a handful of Black authors and liked them but became a little burned out on the subject, much like telling a talker, “OK, I get it.”

Well, as I aged, I learned a lot about how things work and how people are, and about how I am. I am a white male. And as I became older and wiser, I discovered I had racist issues as is expected, since society is full of racism. My racism wasn’t hatred or feelings of inequality, but such that I bought into a lot of stereotypes that society threw at me.

Recently, I’ve gotten into a writer, Nelson Algren, who was a close friend with  Wright. They met at the Federal Writer’s Project in Chicago, and this gave Wright the time and money to produce Native Son.  Both were “Communists” in the 30’s and 40’s. Both experienced life from the bottom of society. Native Son, as well as Algren’s early novels, delves deeper into the intricate ways that the top and middle of American society preys upon its poor and black people than any work of fiction that I have read.

It is an exceptional novel that begins with high drama and is able to sustain the climax for the entire novel. The protagonist is Bigger Thomas, a 20 year old African-American male, who at his mother’s urging gets a real job. He is a young “thug” surviving by stealing and using his wits. Wright intentionally makes him a stereotypical thug for effect. If Bigger is an acceptable young man, who fit into society, it would be easy for everyone to let him pursuit the “American Dream.” But Bigger is trapped in 1930’s society in Chicago slums. The Jim Crow effects reach northward in more subtle ways, but they are not subtle if you are black. Bigger was not allowed to be an AMERICAN. He was only a “Negro Nationalist” living in America. Bigger was unwanted by his OWN PEOPLE and “his” country of birth.

Bigger knows how to survive in a tough black reality. He is exceptionally smart and can figure out the con in every game. But all he knows of the white world is to avoid it. It is ok to rob a black liquor store, but not a white one. He knows the Cops will come down on you hard if you mess with white folks.

So the real action begins when Bigger gets a job as a chauffeur for a rich, white family.  One night out with the beautiful daughter (Mary) of this rich man, and her Communist boyfriend (Jan) forces Bigger to cross many boundaries he doesn’t want to. He soon learns that one small action can change  the lives of many. We are all interconnected in a very simple, yet complex way although we seem all separate from one another.

If I had to give one book to Middle School to College aged people to read, Native Son is the one. The language is so simple and Wright makes the complex ways of interconnectedness so clear than everyone can see.  This modern world is made to make us a cold money making machine. And we roll along with this machine as it grinds out human lives beneath it.

To some, who are not willing to open their minds, it may feel that white people are on trial here but it is more that society is on trial. Individuals only make up a tiny part of it. But individuals and their actions can shape the world at large. In groups, we go easily along with what is inhumane in society.

The great baseball player Curt Flood, speaking about The St. Louis Cardinals owner August Busch, who was astonished to learn that black players could not stay at white hotels during spring training, said: “It shows you how you can segregate yourself into the back seat of a limousine and not know what’s going on.”  In the novel, the wealthy Mr. Dalton is one that rolls along with it. He is a great philanthropist and supporter of black people but he also had made his wealth in real estate at black people’s expense.

There is an innocent intelligence to the main character Bigger Thomas. He knows what is going on, but not quite. His survival in his black world is much different than his trying to stay alive in the white world. The rules are much different.  He learns as he goes. Experience is his teacher. In the end, what Bigger (and the reader) has to learn goes SOUL DEEP. It speeds by all the rules of civilization. The REDS, the WHITES, and the BLACKS are all weighing on Bigger’s mind wanting something from him that he cannot give. He is truly an outsider who must face a reality he could never have imagined.

Another book that I highly suggest is The Fire Next Time (1962), a work of non-fiction by James Baldwin, an adversary of Richard Wright. It is very enlightening, collecting two Letters, written during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Each Letter looks frankly at the state of American race relations from the black perspective, as well as Baldwin’s personal history.

It was a suggestion offered by a Facebook friend, who said it should be taught in school. It did not disappoint me. In fact, it inflamed me even though it is 55 years old.

We have both books in three different formats. I used all three with both books. I read both the Hardcover versions, the eBook (when around a computer), and listened to the Audiobook as well.  I usually have a hard time following along with an audio version but both books were a joy to listen to. The Native Son CD is beyond excellent.

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library