Posted by: HAT | November 7, 2014

Feeling air from …

image of the cover of Charles M. Blow's Fire Shut Up in My BonesHi, Gang!

I read Charles M. Blow’s book Fire Shut Up in My Bones over the past couple of days, after I bought it at Books a Million despite my self-avowed moratorium on book buying, which is supposed to stay in effect until I read the approximately 118 books I brought home from Dad’s over the course of the last several months. I felt I had to make an exception for Fire Shut Up in My Bones, because of the recommendations on the back cover by Alice Walker and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and then because of the testimonial on the inside front cover from Lawrence O’Donnell, and then because of the first chapter or rather the Prologue, which includes a paragraph that begins “I looked over at the rusting pistol on the passenger seat.” and ends “I had to convince myself that I was indeed about to use it.” And also because I recognized the literary reference in the title. (Jeremiah 20:9, “If I say ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”) So I was expecting something prophetic about race and class and region and gender and sexuality, and integrity and character and the choices that shape it, and about life in the United States. That expectation was fulfilled.

I hope still more people will read this book. (For more encouragement, see Patricia J. Williams “Putting Down the Gun”.)

Blow’s book is about a world other than my own in most of the big intersectional ways (genderraceandclass), even though the time of his memoir is a time he and I share (1970 – present), and the country of his memoir is at least officially a country he and I share (the United States). Some of the things he talks about (“tv shows of the 80s”; “things you do in school”; “something you would find at college”) are things I recognize, if from a different angle, while others are not. Different readers will no doubt fill those categories (so similar/not so similar) with different things. (I admit to feeling an acute pang of kinship when he described the way he spent time alone around the age of 9.)

It strikes me that he and I (and not just he and I, obviously) are, in a real and serious sense, part of the background world for one another. So reading the book for me was an exercise in trying to see and feel what it would be like, feel like, to experience as home, family, place the specific world and the personal experience he describes, which I would otherwise encounter mainly from a distance, as part of the scenery.

The book doesn’t make Blow’s personal world mine, but it opens it to and for sharing with complete integrity and tremendous generosity. So I feel gratitude, and respect, and admiration for Charles M. Blow and for his book and its contribution to the humanities – that is, to our collective effort to come to terms with the profound challenge of living a human life as oneself, with all that one’s world has given you in help and hindrance, in this world in which we are more often than not strangers to one another, yet at the same time related, as the creators of the background conditions of one another’s lives.

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