One of the things I love about Popsugar’s Reading Challenge is how vague, and open to interpretation, its categories can be. There’s “A book about a difficult topic”, for instance. Does that mean a topic that’s difficult for me, or difficult for society in general? Does that mean emotionally difficult, as in a story of abuse, or difficult to comprehend, as in a book about quantum physics? I tend to over think some of these categories, but that’s actually part of the fun.
I put several books on my “For Later” library shelf for this category, unable to decide in which direction I wanted to go. I finally decided to go for a topic that’s emotionally difficult for me, and also (I hope) society in general. Maybe it will be difficult for some people to comprehend.
The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, was first published in 1963. I downloaded it from the library and read it on my phone.
The book consists of two essays. The first essay is titled: “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.”
James Baldwin wrote this letter to offer hope and encouragement to his nephew – on both a personal and national level.
“I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.)”
He makes a point that every civil rights struggle is simultaneously unique and shared. He urges his nephew to be strong and recognize that there are those who will insist that he isn’t being oppressed – which is an act of oppression.
The second essay is titled: “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind.”
In this essay, James Baldwin tells about growing up in Harlem, and getting assaulted by the police at the age of 10, on his was to the library. He tells about finding Christianity at the age of 14. He wrote at length about “the Negro problem”.
“Negroes in this country – and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other – are taught to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. The world is white and they are black.”
He tells about his early Christian faith, and what it meant to him. He tells about what he thought Christianity should be, versus the way it was being used.
He turned to Islam for answers. Although he didn’t agree with everything the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam were saying, they did, at least, treat him better than the Christians. And yet, he writes, he didn’t consider himself Muslim, and he didn’t consider himself Christian.
The Fire Next Time is a powerful, thoughtful, and difficult book. Its two essays are filled with anger, pain, love, hope, beauty, history, politics, and humanity. It is a book about problems, solutions, and the problems with solutions.
It is a book about how flawed the United States of America is.
- A book about a difficult topic