If Beale Street Could Talk

Well, that was devastating.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a wonderful book with so much love in it that is nonetheless about how structural racism can ultimately affect that love. Tish and Fonny are a young couple in love, and how they became a couple is told in flashbacks to the main story, where Fonny has been jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, and their struggle to free him.

It’s James Baldwin, so the language is marvelous; it’s James Baldwin, so the racism is cuttingly accurate. But what really struck me was all of the ways that love is shown in the story – the romantic love between Tish and Fonny, but also the friendship between Fonny and Daniel and the sisterly relationship between Tish and Ernestine and the parent-child relationship between Fonny and his father as well as Tish and her parents. The story is bleak, but the relationships and the caring that exists between people in the book was what made it worth reading to me.

Highly recommended.

Memory and nostalgia

Daisy Jones & The Six is a novel written as an oral history about a band (The Six) from the 1970s that ends up collaborating with a singer (Daisy Jones). It’s a lovely story with women who are all strong and navigating a very male-dominated scene – rock n roll in the 1970s. The story and the characters are solid and rich and I enjoyed it.

I especially love the fact that it’s told as an oral history. Personally, the 1970s are a decade that it takes a certain amount of editing to make seem romantic in any way. I mean, the 1973 oil crisis, the 1979 oil crisis, the Iran hostage crisis (apparently everything was a crisis in the 1970s), the Nixon impeachment, the Me Generation… I was very young in the 1970s, but my general impression was always that they were a hot mess. Nostalgia for the 1970s has always felt very ironic to me.

But “nostalgia… is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts & recycling it for more than it’s worth.” Just like the song says.

An oral history might, in fact, have been the only way Daisy Jones and the Six works. You need that separation-through-time factor, as well as the fact that people’s memories are faulty to make a drug-fueled rise of a rock band seem appealing in what is otherwise a disaster of a decade. The distance is the way you remember only the good bits: the songs you love, your youth, your friends, what it was like to be riding a wave of success, falling in love, marriage, learning how to stand up for yourself, the birth of your first child…

And aren’t those the important things anyway? The oral history format allowed me to focus on those things and forget the general miasma that the 1970s always conjures for me.

Recommended.