Thomas Chatterton Williams: Wrestling with Race and Culture Part Two

Part Two: Self-Portrait in Black and White



Yesterday, after a somewhat defensive introduction dealing with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday and my Black History Month reading, I offered some thoughts on Losing My Cool by Thomas Chatterton Williams.

Now, obviously, the world is a very different place in 2021 than in 2010. And I am not really in a position to engage in the arguments about hip-hop and black culture. But for me, the beauty was the love between a son and a father and the determination of that father to mold his son despite some very powerful countervailing pressures in the wider world.

Thomas Chatterton Williams and Wrestling with Race and Culture

With this as background, I want to move on to Self-Portrait in Black and White, which is a very different book.

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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).



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 versus 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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Trump, he loves this. He loves the bile, the wrath, the mockery. It’s a well-done steak to him, with extra ketchup. But Hawley and Cruz? I bet they are befuddled and mystified. How could it possibly have come to this? They are, then, our own Stepan Trofimoviches. It was all a game to them, until it wasn’t. They are, like him, utterly frivolous. If they had any dignity, any moral backbone, they would resign their offices. But the very frivolity that led them, and us, to this pass is the vice that will prevent them from acting honorably. I hope I am wrong, but I expect they will go to their graves thinking How could we have known?

Frivolity – Alan Jacobs

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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100 books in 2020, Big Books in 2021

My big picture reading goal in 2020 was to finally crack the 100 books in a year mark which I have been approaching for a few years. I was able to accomplish that and so look for a different approach in The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty-One.

Side note: I always feel a little guilty about counting graphic novels, novellas and other forms of very short books in my books I have read count. But this is in tension with my desire to read 100 books and to track every book I have read. And to be fair, I listened to a number of audio courses which are equal to quite large books given the number of hours involved. So I will call it even.

I will admit to sometimes being put off by very large books for two reasons. 1) hard to get to 100 if you are reading large tomes 2) I struggle to stay engaged and get a lot out of large books because I don’t always have the large blocks of time required to read such books well. I started thinking about this even as I was on track to read 100 books in 2020.

But as a way to challenge myself and read some books that I have had on my TBR pile for some time and have had recommended to me multiple times, I decided to declare 2021 the year of big books.

I also want to attempt to focus on some key interest areas in my reading: classics, books on conservatism, books on writing and books on faith and/or theology.

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The Future of Collected Miscellany

Once more into the breach…

As the one or two people who read this blog with any regularity know, I have been struggling with whether to keep going. Traffic has gone down year by year. No one leaves a comment or links to this blog. On occasion a publisher might retweet or tweet a review or an author might say thank you for a review, but for the most part this site is visited by those led here from Google searches with a small trickle from social media.

My motivation and energy for posting, let alone quality posting, had all but disappeared. Largely because of the above. I admit, I struggle when I get no feedback or interaction; when it seems like no one is listening. I was hanging on mostly because I still like getting books from publishers and having a website where you post reviews helps with that.

As the end of 2020 approached, I thought it presented a good opportunity to make a clean break one way or the other. So I began to think about what I wanted to do.

The biggest motivation for me to keep this site going is the realization that social media and other distractions had undermined my ability to concentrate and focus on writing. And in 2021 I want to prove to myself that I can do the hard work necessary to write engaging and thought provoking book reviews and cultural criticism.

I also felt frustrated that I had read a great many books without coming away with much insight, opinion, or reaction. I was too passive. Writing is one way to force yourself to pay attention and get more out of reading.

The question was then whether I had the time and energy to make it work and how I would go about setting myself up to succeed. I decided that I owed it to myself to try. I didn’t want all the years CM has been around to simply disappear with a whimper.

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