In March 2012, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush stood on the House floor dressed in a gray hooded sweatshirt, one month after Trayvon Martin was shot dead in a Florida suburb. “Just because someone wears a hoodie, does not make them a hoodlum,” said the Illinois Democrat. “Just because someone is a young Black male and wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum. . .” He was escorted off the floor and out of the chamber by the sergeant-in-arms for violating decorum.

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Author Alison Kinney begins her “Hood” – publishing this week — with this telling moment. Part of the publisher Bloombury’s “Object Lessons” series, “Hood” contains a definite chill as Kinney tracks the history and significance of the garment through the 15th century to the present.

“We all wear hoods,” Kinney writes, “but our hoods evoke everything from recess and the wind chill factor to executioners and cross burning.” The hood, at its core, is all about power, she writes: who has it, who lacks it and where the power originates.

Kinney tells a riveting story of the origins of the Ku Klux Klan’s hooded uniforms.  The deadly persistent terrorists of the Klan originally lacked cohesion: some members simply wore blackface to conceal their identities (and taunt their victims) and others donned horns or flour sacks. But after D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation premiered in 1905, the cinematic outfits became standard. Factories opened in Atlanta to mass-produce the regalia, outfitting some 100,000 new recruits. Kinney doesn’t editorialize here, because she doesn’t need to—the facts are eloquent.

The adoption of the “hoodie” over the past few decades as a ubiquitous part of American wardrobes reflects our need for protection from the elements. But as Kinney reports, the “only criminals don hoodies” stereotype became a convenient and covert way to discriminate against Black people. A Harlem bodega threatened trespassing charges on customers wearing hoodies; several school districts restricted hoodies as part of the dress code. “There are lots of crimes happening on Wall Street, but we don’t stop and frisk people who wear Brooks Brothers suits,” one interviewee says. “What suit was Sheldon Silver wearing? What kind was Bernie Madoff wearing?”

This examination is part of the strength of the Object Lessons series. (Other titles look at “Silence,” “Glass,” and “Dust.”) Kinney, a writer in Brooklyn, New York, knits seemingly disparate subjects — burkinis and gentrification, for example — together in such a way that the connection is instantly appreciated – and she does her work in fewer than 200 pages. It’s thought-provoking without the lecture.

In examining these small yet significant objects of daily life, we find new meaning in the world around us. Next time you get a little chilly and reach for your hoodie, thank Kinney for this history lesson.

Marlon James begins his 2-minute video on racism with the following question: “Are you ‘non’ or are you ‘anti’?”

Published by the Guardian and viewed more than 10 million times, the video asks viewers to grapple with their own sense of personal responsibility when it comes to dismantling white supremacy. James broke down his thoughts on non-racism vs. anti-racism when he spoke at the Cleveland City Club September 12. Here is a handy video recap of his point to share with friends:

As the chair of the National Book Critics Circle‘s nonfiction committee, our awards manager Karen R. Long had a steady stream of captivating titles hit her doorstep every month. This week, she partnered with Cal Zunt of the Notable Books Council of the American Library Association and Fay Walker of the City Club to lead a discussion on the best books of 2015.

For those unable to attend and hear her top picks in person, they’re presented here, with brief commentary on why each book deserves room on your bookshelf. (Click the book covers to read more in-depth reviews.)

the year of aron

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

Happy Dog owner Sean Watterson studied with Shepard, whose writing he admires as much as I do. I find myself using the fateful “M” word – “masterpiece” for Shepard’s meditation on the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, all in the voice of a child who actually sounds like a child.

 

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Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

“Eileen” is a shocking suspense novel set over one winter week in a Massachusetts town in 1964. It centers on a deeply troubled 24-year-old misfit girl who works in a juvenile prison. This debut will appeal to readers who like Poe and Shirley Jackson. Newcomer Moshfegh writes fearlessly and so, so well.

 

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Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

“Gold Fame Citrus” is a dystopic work that imagines a near-future California when nearly all the water is gone. Writing with the bite of Annie Prouxl and the western desolation of Joan Didion, Watkins adds a bit of Terry-Gilliam-like humor but is a complete original.  The story follows a young couple and a wayward toddler out into a new desert wilderness.

 

 outline

 

Outline by Rachel Cusk

“Outline” is probably my favorite book, sentence by sentence.  Rachel Cusk writes a seemingly quotidian set-up of a woman from England flying to Athens for a summer teaching fellowship. This brilliantly inventive novel consists of people speaking to her, and considers what stories we allow people to know about us, the outlines we reveal.  Engrossing.

 

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The Sellout by Paul Beatty

“The Sellout” is hilarious and deeply outrageous, a satire that Paul Beatty writes with wit and ferocity.  It centers on a black urban farmer who decides the way to get his dying town back on the map is to reinstitute plantation slavery, for which he is hauled before the Supreme Court.  EVERYBODY is skewered.

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Between the World and Me” contains the most important sentence of nonfiction written last year:  “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.” Posed as a letter to his 15-year-old son, Ta-Nehisi Coates delivers the most urgent and necessary book for grappling with current American history.

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Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

I traded sleep in order to keep reading “Dreamland,” by far the best investigation of the American opiate epidemic.  It begins, in fact, with a Columbus, Ohio, couple crushed by the loss of their beautiful son, and explains the way enterprising, once impoverished Mexican farmers turned the poppy on their mountains into a pizza-style system-of-delivery of black-tar heroin to every mid-sized American town primed by the over-prescription of pain killers.

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H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

“H is for Hawk” is the book I most frequently buy and give away – enchanted by Helen MacDonald’s wit, writing, scholarship and attempt to fly a goshawk, a predator of unbelievable lethality that she calls Mabel.  MacDonald hoped the bird would cure her grief for her father, but this hybrid story is much messier and truer than that.

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SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

“SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome” is the book from classicist Mary Beard that will bring a thrill to a topic that has undergone a revolution in the last 50 years, not to mention since Edward Gibbon wrote “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” 250 years ago.  Beard takes up topics that Gibbons never dreamed to address: class inequities, prostitution, the prevalence of gout in a culture of overeating.  Stupendous.

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     Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices and the Overpowering Urge to Help by Larissa MacFarquhar

“Strangers Drowning” is an investigation of radical goodness, which turns out to be complex and difficult and rarely pursued, despite our universal impulse to try to be good. The author profiles individuals who sacrifice deeply for strangers, and punctuates these with short chapters on the moral and philosophical considerations. In a world overrun with books on evil, “Strangers Drowning” is a fascinating corrective.

Cleveland In Print

 

Come learn more about the Cleveland that helped shape Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Harvey Pekar. Teaching Cleveland has teamed up with Literary Cleveland and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards to present “Cleveland in Print: The History and Literature of Northeast Ohio” on Thursday, January 28.

The story of Cleveland in the 20th Century is one of immigrants and migrants, racial tensions, and economic stratification. Join us as we examine three works by these three Northeast Ohio writers and explore the interplay between person, place and perspective; bring a notebook or a laptop and explore your own connections as well.

A light dinner will be served, and participants will receive a book, compliments of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.

“Here is a unique opportunity to reflect on transcendent American literature tied to the 216,” said Karen R. Long, manager of the book awards. “I have enormous respect for the work of Greg Deegan and Arin Miller-Tait as innovative educators and founders of Teaching Cleveland, and Lee Chilcote for his initiative in bringing Literary Cleveland onto the scene. This night should be worth everyone’s time.”

Register for this event here. We’ll see you on the 28th.