Thomas Chatterton Williams and Wrestling with Race and Culture

Part One: Losing My Cool

For once, I thought I might actually offer a holiday/historical themed book review on the actual holiday. Something I have hoped but failed to do many times in the past.

But first, a confession. It might seem counterintuitive to post about Thomas Chatterton Williams on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Or perhaps it might be seen as a typical reactionary thing to do as a “conservative.” I.E. rather than write about racial injustice, what the holiday should be about, post about someone who rejects race and seeks to get beyond it. Fair enough.

For the record, I plan to read what you might call primary documents during February, Black History Month. As the Black Lives Matter movement and related issues exploded over the summer I thought it would be interesting to attempt to read in a way that was emotionally removed from this summer but intellectually connected.

Books in this vein I hope to read this year (from my Library of America and Everyman’s collection):

So with that aside, what to make of the aforementioned Thomas Chatterton Williams?

Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of Losing My Cool and Self-Portrait in Black and White. He is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor at the American Scholar and a 2019 New America Fellow. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Harper’s and elsewhere, and has been collected in The Best American Essays and The Best American Travel Writing. He has received support from Yaddo, MacDowell and The American Academy in Berlin. He lives in Paris with his wife and children.

I believe I first heard of him via Twitter where I saw links and recommendations to both his essays and his books.

I was first intrigued by Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race and checked it out from the library. But decided to read Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd first. And I really enjoyed it.

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A Creepy, Atmospheric Young Adult Story From Kevin Wignall

An interesting exploration of teenage relationships within a creepy ghost story.

Speaking of books by longtime friends. OK, maybe that is a slight exaggeration. I have never met Kevin Wignall, unlike Jim Geraghty, but I have been reading his books since 2004 and interacting with him via email and blogs nearly ever since. We are “friends” on Facebook so perhaps that counts nowadays.

Anywhoo… Mr. Wignall recently released a short horror story for young adults, This Place of Evil (he also has another book coming out soon, Those Who Disappeared, but more about that closer to publication).

A long-abandoned school in rural New Hampshire…

Four stranded teenagers…

An approaching snowstorm…

THIS PLACE OF EVIL is a chilling new ghost story from Number One Kindle Bestselling author, Kevin Wignall, perfect for fans of THE SHINING and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. Four high school students are being driven back from a wilderness camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when their teacher takes a detour. He claims he just wants to take a look at the private school where he started his teaching career, but then he heads into the deserted and remote mansion and promptly disappears. The four students find themselves stranded as a snowstorm moves in, but they become increasingly aware that they’re not quite alone, and that the ghosts of this place might be the least of their problems…

It was an enjoyable and quick read but definitely not something I would have picked up or read if not for it being written by Kevin. It’s basically an exploration of teenage relationships set against the backdrop of a ghost story in an abandoned school (jock. popular kid, underachiever, girls, etc.).

The backstory, in the form of journal entries from their teacher when he was at the school, continues to provide more context/history interspersed with current events, but the creepiness is really just the perception of what it would be like to be trapped in an old, abandoned building with no way to reach anyone after your teacher just disappeared.

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Jim Geraghty Returns with Another Dangerous Clique Novel

“Ripped from the headlines” plot with Geraghty’s sense of humor makes this a quick read.


When I went to post my review of Jim Geraghty’s latest book, Hunting Four Horseman, on Goodreads I was again cursing the lack of half stars (although, does a half star really mean a lot?) and wrestling with judging a book by the genre it is or the appeal of that genre to you personally…

Which is to say I enjoyed the second Dangerous Clique book but realized these books really aren’t my prefered genre or style within the genre.

Having known Jim for some time, and appreciating his writing, I wanted to buy and read his novels. And they are full of his research, knowledge and sense of humor, which is why I enjoyed them.

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Senator Josh Hawley VS Simon & Schuster

What if they are both wrong?

Remember when I said I was going to leave politics to my personal site? Yeah, I lied.

Speaking of Senator Hawley, regarding his spat with Simon & Schuster

After witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Simon & Schuster has decided to cancel publication of Senator Josh Hawley’s forthcoming book, THE TYRANNY OF BIG TECH.  We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.

And the Senator responds:

What if they are both wrong? I think S&S, whose books I enjoy, should publish the book.  I think the last sentence above makes little sense.  Either you are open to a variety of voices or you are not.  Publishing the book of a politician doesn’t mean you support their election or their views.  I am not a fan of Hawley or his recent actions but canceling his contract will just make him a martyr to certain people and allow him to sell more books at Regnery or someplace like it.

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The Best of 2020: Top 5 Nonfiction

A totally nonscientific, off the cuff, Top 5 nonfiction books I read (not necessarily published in) in 2020

A Time to Build by Yuval Levin

Yuval Levin has become one of my favorite authors.  His books are both brilliant, illuminating and important. A Time to Build is no different. Here is what I wrote for Goodreads:

If you want to better understand where we are as a country and what we can do to change for the better, read this book. It is insightful, challenging, and yet ultimately hopeful.

tl/dr –> We need to commit to rebuilding institutions that are formative nor performative; that form us rather than giving us a platform to raise our profile and become a celebrity.

This is not a partisan message or book. Readers of all perspectives can and should read and think about the issues Levin raises.

I hope to post a longer, more thoughtful review here in the coming days. [fingers crossed]

Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs

Alan Jacobs is another author who has grown in my estimation as I have read more of his work.  One of my goals in 2020 was to read most of his books and I did (a couple of his early books are a bit pricey for me). His latest, Breaking Bread with the Dead, is another must-read I recommend constantly.

You can read my review over at the University Bookman

Jacobs argues neither for throwing out the past as hopelessly wrong nor for ignoring the serious issues with which readers must wrestle. The reader with personal density doesn’t have to abandon engaging ideas from the past because they may encounter racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, and other beliefs with which they strongly disagree. Instead, Jacobs’s strategy acknowledges that even the brilliant and insightful writers of the past were human beings with foibles and sins; with wrong beliefs that sit, often uncomfortably, beside their insights and talents.

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