Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My name is Baratunde Thurston, and I've been black for over thirty years

When I read the review for Baratunde Thurston's book How To Be Black over at Buried in Print I knew I wanted to read this book. I'm a sucker for legitimately funny books, and as Dan O'Brien at Cracked point out, funny books can be difficult to find.* Plus it's Black History Month so this seems to be a good time to read a book titled How To Be Black. It's what Thurston expects:
"The odds are high that you acquired this book during the nationally sanctioned season for purchasing black cultural objects, also known as Black History Month. That's part of the reason I chose February as the publication date. If you're like most people, you buy one piece of black culture per year during this month, and I'm banking on this book jumping out at you from the bookshelf or screen". 
How well you know me, sir.

The book is partially a memoir of Thurston's life growing up and experiences being black: being the black friend in a predominately white school (Sidwell Friends for middle/high school and later Harvard), being the black guy in the office and in general being black in America. Thurston has also assembled a Black Panel, people who "do blackness well", plus the author of Stuff White People Like to establish a control group and defend against arguments against reverse discrimination. They help weigh in on important topics such as "How to Be The Black Friend" and" How to Speak for All Black People" as well as answer questions such as "Can You Swim?" and "How's That Post-Racial Thing Working Out for Ya?" (All of those are also chapter titles, hence the capitalization.)  This book chronicles the experiences and search for identity of a single person. Don't expect this to be a general discussion of what it is to be black. I'm not sure a book like that could actually exist, even if another book may claim to do just that. I mean obviously this book is claiming that but this book is a satire.

Race is a difficult thing to talk about and humor is a great way to confront uncomfortable topics. And the book is hilarious. Not only that but it can get the conversation started. It may not be a happy conversation, but without it there is no progress. May as well laugh during the conversation.

Obviously I spend a lot of time here recommending books, but I don't do it too much in real life. Not with this book. I've been insisting a friend of mine read this as well as shoving my copy into Boyfriend's hands. Let that be part of my insistence that you also check this out. I mean, if you are going to buy just one piece of black culture this month, no reason it can't be hilarious.

Separate, sort of unrelated to the book over all, but this is my blog so I wanted to write about this quote:
"My mother and I tried to visit Northeastern University but couldn't find it for the longest time. In the search process, we came across the intersection of Tremont Street and Tremont Street. I'm not kidding. If you wonder why Boston drivers are so famously terrible, consider that they have to navigate space-time paradoxes like this, and cut them some slack."
1. Here is an example of the tone of the book and Thurston's sense of humor.
2. I went to Northeastern so WOOO for the mention, even if it's the fact that he couldn't find it. It's right near the Symphony and the Museum of Fine Arts if you want to sound fancy. Or near Mission Hill, if you want to be less fancy.
3. I have stood at that intersection of Tremont St and Tremont St going "Oh Boston, you magnificent idiot. What is this?" Nexus of the universe and what not. So he's not just making this up to make fun of Boston. Boston roads just make that little sense.
4. Boston drivers are as bad as you have heard and then some. And then a little more.

*This article got him a free copy of Christopher Moore's new book Sacre Bleu which makes me hella jealous. And I also feel a little stalkerish knowing that, but it's not my fault I happen to follow them both on Twitter.

Title quote from location 208

Thurston, Baratunde. How To Be Black. Harper, 2012. Kindle edition.