Why this book?
I read all three of these books in quick succession, and the experience of doing so was like having Baldwin, Coates, and Laymon all in the same room talking to each other.
In these books, all three writers try to unpack the question of what it means to be free as a black man in America. They examine the all ways that white supremacy destroys black bodies — through police brutality, incarceration, violence, poverty, and health disparities. “Black life is cheap,” Coates states, “but in America black bodies are a natural resource of incomparable value.” Our denial of America’s history of exploitation is at the root of what Baldwin calls our country’s “racial nightmare.” Laymon powerfully expresses this when he writes, “No one in my family—and very few folk in this nation—has any desire to reckon with the weight of where we’ve been, which means no one in my family—and very few folk in this nation—wants to be free.”
It feels devastating but urgent to read Baldwin’s observations on race and know that they remain as timely as ever. Coates’ letter to his son felt like a really powerful contemporary extension of the sentiments that Baldwin relayed in his own letter to his nephew in 1962. And I especially loved the intimacy and rawness of Laymon’s memoir, in the way that he uncovers his fraught relationship with his body and family, showing us how deeply embedded the effects of racism are in the personal sphere as they are in the political.
Aside from the searing social critique, each book provides a beautiful portrait of its respective artist. All three men reflect on the beauty, wisdom, or abundance they see as part of their black identity, and how that has helped them to not only survive, but also fuel their writing. These are among the most impactful books I’ve read this year, and I’ll be sure to revisit them often. I highly recommend prioritizing them if you haven’t read them yet!
Why this drink?
Because I think these three books are really amazing companions works, I’m pairing them with the Old Pal cocktail, which is made of only 3 ingredients, all in equal measure.
beauty wisdom abundance
1 oz rye
1 oz Campari
1 oz dry vermouth
- stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, until chilled
- strain into a chilled glass
- garnish with orange peel
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Saeed Jones’s How We Fight for Our Lives (2019)
Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!