Find it at your library!

There are books I put off reading because I’m intimidated by them. Some seem too literary or academic, others broach topics I’m not comfortable reading about, and a few scare me off because I’m not sure I’m the intended audience. Check, check, and check: The Sellout manages to hit triple cherries on that list, but the other day I guess I got to feeling cocky and decided to give it a whirl. Maybe I had seen one too many reviewers compare Paul Beatty’s humor to Dave Chappelle’s and could no longer resist the siren song.

Based on interviews of Beatty I’ve read and Chappelle’s recent turn as host of Saturday Night Live, I’d say the two share a sort of bemused frustration with this country and the racism rampant in it. Their humor is similarly sharp-edged, too, I suspect because it has to be. Both of them make me think of the phrase “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” though that might just be me, as a sheltered, well-meaning white girl who still has the capacity to be surprised by racism (though that’s going away, the more I read and learn).

So yes, a novel about a black man owning a slave and reinstituting segregation was uncomfortable to read, and it’s uncomfortable to write about. But once I shouldered past my discomfort and relaxed into the narrative, I saw that The Sellout is at least two other things besides uncomfortable: hilarious, and surprisingly accessible. It’s not dense or hard to follow, even in audio. There are tons of snappy one-liners and I laughed out loud many times. It gave me a lot to think about and reflect on, and if you have a really brave and ballsy book club, you’d have no shortage of stuff to talk about with this book.

Despite its triple-cherry intimidation factor, I’m glad I decided to nut up and read The Sellout.

Find it at your library!

Back in January, I got bitten by the New Year's Resolution bug and decided to try jogging. It was one of those decisions made in a hasty blur of good intentions, and in stubborn denial of all existing evidence against it. Evidence like the fact that running makes me furious, and I hate it.

Not to toot my own horn, but I actually stuck with it for about two weeks. What ended my short-lived attempt at fitness glory? I ran a full mile without stopping, promptly hurt my ankle, and limped my way back to the car, sweat dripping down into my sports bra along with my dreams of 13.1 stickers and social media self-congratulation. Running is best left to the experts, people like my handsome husband and Olympians. I'll stick to walking and the occasional yoga DVD.

By the time I came to my senses, however, I'd already signed up for an Audible subscription. Audiobooks are expensive, after all, and not to hate on my beloved public library, but their audio collection at the moment consists mostly of CDs, to which all I can say is, holy antique technology, Batman. (Hey, the budget only goes so far. I get it.) Back when I pictured myself prancing merrily down the street several times a week, I thought audiobooks would be great because that way I wouldn't sacrifice any reading time. And they would have been, had I actually continued with my running plan past, I don't know, chapter three.

So anyway, it took me two months to listen to How to be Black, but that's my fault, not the book's, because the book is hilarious and thought-provoking and challenging. Thurston is, among other things, a writer for The Onion, and he has the rare and valuable ability to be simultaneously entertaining and sharply observant. I laughed even as I cringed in recognition of my own biases and assumptions.

With chapter titles like “How Black Are You?” and “How to Be the Black Friend,” Thurston explores his own experience as a black man in America, but he also broadens the scope by interviewing a panel of other witty, insightful people. A perk of the audio version is that it's narrated by Thurston himself, plus the audio from his interviews is included, so we get to hear each person's answers in his or her own voice. That added a lot for me.

It's clear from just a quick glance through my shelves that I don't read much non-fiction. When I do, I gravitate towards writing like this: personal, honest, funny, and illuminating. How to Be Black is a lot more than a book-length joke; it's humorous, sure, but it's also concrete proof that you can crack people up and make a point at the same time.

My jogging experiment may have failed, but at least I got this book out of the deal.