The Gentleman Recommends: Colson Whitehead

Perhaps ideally I’d only wield my immeasurable influence in service of bringing attention to lesser known writers and compelling people to mail me treats, but often a famous writer’s work will insist that I type about it instead. In this case, while Oprah and the Pulitzer committee and the world of literary critics may have done the heavy lifting, I’m here to gently tug and encourage those that have yet to read Colson Whitehead to remedy this. 

While he’s written brilliantly about elevators and zombies and poker, his novels about being Black in America have understandably elevated his profile and won him a pair of Pulitzer Prizes. **Reminder: force a terrible pun about elevators into this sentence, and failing that, somehow draw attention to the fact that, even if a pun isn’t employed, it’s heavily implied and the absence of a pun can only be evidence of the bloggist’s withered, sickly imagination.** 

Harlem Shuffle book cover

In addition to being a good way to get your books banned in failing schools, writing about race is important work. Like many (but not most) Americans, I grew up in a town in which the extent of diversity was which truck company you pledged allegiance to. And if you didn’t like trucks, you best not be displaying too many other peculiarities lest you find yourself facing the sharp end of the metaphorical thresher. Books were among the influences that brought into view the world outside of my homogeneous holler. Colson Whitehead’s work would make a great addition to the reading list of anyone, and would have additional value to the schools that would move to ban them. 

The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” are undoubtedly awesome novels and devastating reading experiences, in part because they are nearly literally true stories (unlike in the novel, there wasn’t a literal underground locomotive). “Harlem Shuffle,” in comparison, is a joyful romp. There is a bunch of comedy and action. Of course all of Whitehead’s work has those elements, even when they’re but facets of the larger, heartbreaking experience. But “Harlem Shuffle” is nowhere near as likely to make your stomach hurt during or after reading. 

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