Book Time: March Titles

Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest – Hanif Abdurraqib


Hanif Abdurraqib is one of the best writers at work today. He’s a poet and essayist but no box can contain everything that comes out of his brain – and I can’t get enough. With this latest book, Abdurraqib writes about and to A Tribe Called Quest, combining a deep love and appreciation for the group with a far-reaching history of why people make and share music, an elegiac sensibility for cultural legacies that have come before and cannot always be carried forward, epistolary sections to the group’s members, and and personal ode to the mark it left on him and his world.

It’s one of my favorite openings to a book I’ve read in a while: “In the beginning, from somewhere south of anywhere I come from, lips pressed the edge of a horn, and a horn was blown. In the beginning before the beginning, there were drums, and hymns, and a people carried here from another here, and a language stripped and a new one learned, with the songs to go with it.”

I got to see Abdurraqib speak and read recently, and I want to leave some of his sentiments here. The joy and love for his subject, while still holding it at arm’s length, was palpable and insanely fun to hear about firsthand.

“Sampling is speaking backwards.”
“I’m not speaking as an authority, but as a fan. I raise the personal stakes while keeping a distance.”
“Adam looked upon the apple and said ‘I have no choice but to stan.’”
“There are moments you can tell a rapper is fully in their bag.”
“I don’t care how much you know about music. If you have one song you love, I’m with you.”
“To love a musician is to already have mourned the world without them in it.”

Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss


In the 1970s, teenage Silvie and her family are on a two-week trip of sorts reenacting the lives of Iron Age Britons in northern England. Her father is obsessed with this period of life, turning out to be an abusive bigot (not a spoiler). He would like to think that if he goes back far enough, there will be no foreign influence to be found, and he can wallow in the sameness. At his behest, the group falls into gender-segregated tasks, with the women cooking foraged food and the men “hunting.” We learn more about Silvie’s everyday life, with her father looming over with painful control. The patriarchy is strong in this one – the men eventually build a “ghost wall” after something ancient Britons apparently did. Silvie’s father is also drawn to sacrificial practices, and is locked in a past of his own design. Moss explores the thread of violence connecting women in all spans of time. Walls may not be new, but they seem to speak to the dangerous sensibilities of assault and subjugation in any period.

Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay – Phoebe Robinson


Phoebe Robinson is a true delight. Whether she’s writing about reality TV, the art Bono has made for her, or intersectional feminism, she is both exacting in her cultural criticism and unfiltered in comedic interludes. Robinson is squarely in the camp of more-is-more, but my mind is an underwater cave full of junk, so I’m right there with her with any tangent she wants to go on or any crazy connection she wants to make. I would like Robinson to please crank out at least a book a year so I know what she thinks about absolutely everything. All the trash. And whatever she’s got going on with Bono. Bono-nus: Ilana Glazer wrote the introduction.

Circe – Madeline Miller


Miller tells the story of Circe – heretofore known to me as a plot strand in The Odyssey – through a more feminist lens. A daughter of the sun god Helios, Circe is more drawn to mortals than more celestial beings. She gradually discovers she’s a witch, Harriet, and patriarchal power (Zeus) goes crazy and banishes her to an island. Her island sounds pretty great – she hones her witchcraft, tames animals, and gets to live in a beautiful setting away from the gods’ antics. (In Miller’s telling, they are all petty jerks.) She does have to weather visitors, and that’s where most of the plotlines kick in.

This is a mythical page-turner. I couldn’t put this book down. Even though if I were Circe, I’d want to take over the island and just mess around with my witchery and ban any randos from interrupting, that wouldn’t make for much of a story. Though the story threads are familiar – the Minotaur, Odysseus, etc. – Miller keeps the pacing at a good clip and conjures up beefier characters than in the versions of these myths I knew. It reminded me of the books I loved as a kid, with a fantasy or historical element and a keep-you-up-all-night power – A Great and Terrible Beauty, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Mists of Avalon, etc.

The drawback, though, is that as Miller seems to aim for a lofty tone reminiscent of classic storytelling, she hits somewhere in the no man’s land (heh) between weird translation and bad romance novel. That style got a bit cloying, but I kept turning the pages anyway.

Red Card: How the US Blew the Whistle on the World’s Biggest Sports Scandal – Ken Bensinger


Bensiger outlines how various officials around the world used FIFA as a front to enrich themselves. I’m a casual soccer fan and was inspired to dig further after reading this article on how Manchester City is trying to take over the world., but I took a step wrong here. Why did I read this entire book? This should have stayed an article and not ballooned to 300-plus pages consisting mostly of glowing fanboy praise of various IRS and FBI men valiantly spreadsheeting through tax documents and following the money. Bensinger fixates on one IRS agent in California who loves tracking bad soccer people’s bank activity worldwide and turns him into a vaunted figure. Listen – corruption is bad, and work like this is important, but the mad focus on the men in the far-reaching investigation, and rare mention of any women involved (and there is only the most fleeting evidence of them as they author portrays it, though they were certainly key players, too) was glaring. The most I got out of this was that maybe it should be a different set of people who get book deals to investigate power structures. This was a perpetuation of patterns that lead to such abuses of power in the first place.


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