Weekly updates and mini reviews of two retrospectives on the Obama years and the 2016 election: Ta-Nahesi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power and Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad.
This week I managed to finish most of what was on my reading list, excepting Dani Shapiro’s memoir on paternity, which I’ll have to check out over the weekend. I read three books on Universal Basic Income for the third week of Nonfiction November, and I also had the time to read two books on Obama’s presidency and Trump’s election, Ta-Nahesi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power and Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad, mini reviews of which can be found below.
The National Book Awards ceremony was held last night, with almost all the awards going to authors of color. I was a bit surprised that The Emissary won the NBA in Translated Literature, because of how unconventional and puzzling the novella is, but it does address many of the past few years’ most pressing concerns. Aside from Disoriental it was my favorite of the shortlist, and I’m happy to see it win.
A meditation on the history of women’s rage in America, Good and Mad charts the rise of the #MeToo movement following the election of an openly racist and sexist candidate in 2016. Journalist Rebecca Traister begins by examining the ways in which white male anger dominated the 2016 election, and she ends by considering the consequences of a social movement that takes seriously women’s anger concerning sexual assault, professional discrimination, and political marginalization. Across the book the author includes biographies of women politicians, from Shirley Chisholm to Hillary Clinton; narrates the history of women’s suffrage and second-wave feminism; and analyzes the many forms female rage takes, whether tears or marches. Traister also takes on white women’s attachment to white patriarchy, and she deconstructs how the media and male politicians trivialize women’s pain, especially that of Black women. Written in just four months, Good and Mad moves at an exhilarating pace, but the author’s arguments are thorough and wide ranging.
A collection of eight essays first published in The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power reflects on the deteriorating state of race relations in America during the Obama presidency. The subjects of the essays are wide in scope, ranging from Michelle Obama’s representation of herself on the campaign trail to the legacy of Malcolm X. In the two best essays, “The Case for Reparations” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” the author writes urgently about history, race, and politics, and he synthesizes the ideas of intellectuals and activists in accessible and lucid ways. Because these essays weren’t written with a book in mind, there is a good deal of repetition among them, and the autobiographical pieces that attempt to stitch them together fail to do so. Coates’s refusal to deal with the politics of gender also limits the depth of his analysis. Still, the strongest of the essays are full of insight and also can be found online at The Atlantic.