Nobody Knows My Name (James Baldwin)

No, I didn’t finish this book in just one day! I was reading this alongside my last two books and happened to finish it at about the same time as Shrill. So you get two reviews in two days…Lucky you 🙂

Title – Nobody Knows My Name

Author – James Baldwin

Page count – 190

Rating* – Borrow

(*Rating system taken from Book Riot’s “Buy/Borrow/Bypass” tag)

This book is actually a collection of essays. Baldwin did write several novels, but he is perhaps even more well-known as an essayist. I picked up a few of his books after watching the Raoul Peck documentary I Am Not Your Negro (based on one of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts) and watching a few videos of speeches he gave (like this one – CW: the n-word). There’s something about his cadence when he speaks that keeps me enraptured.

I wish I could say the same thing about this whole collection. For me, these essays were kind of hit-or-miss. Some I sped through and felt like I was reading a revelation. Others just couldn’t keep my attention. The ones I would recommend picking out to read – if you don’t want/plan to read the whole thing – are “The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American,” “Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem,” “A Fly in Buttermilk,” and “Faulkner and Desegregation.” Much of Baldwin’s writing explores race – the relationship between black and white, and what it means to be a black person (especially a black man) in America. These four essays follow that theme.

The premise of “Faulkner and Desegregation” is William Faulkner’s advice that desegregation should be approached slowly and Thurgood Marshall’s alleged response, “They don’t mean go slow, they mean don’t go.” Here is the opening to that essay:

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or thought one knew…Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free…” (p. 100)

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