Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M Blow

My final and fortieth read of the year was Charles Blow’s debut memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Prior to reading the book, I attended Blow’s book tour stop in Baltimore. I have not attended an author event with so much energy in the room. I knew I was in for a treat from the moment I stepped into the auditorium.  

One of my favorite things about author events is hearing authors speak about those that influenced them. Blow credits his “literary fathers,” James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Ernest Gaines (to name a few), for allowing him to see himself. He emphasized the importance of diversity in literature, and all arts, because “you come to know yourself through reflection.”

And it’s always fun to know what writers are reading! What book does Blow have on his nightstand?  Encyclopedia of Black Folklore & Humor. He says it stays there. He didn’t have much growing up, so he became used to reading the same stories multiple times and still does! When asked what he wished he had included in his book but didn't, he said, "It's all in the book."

So I had high hopes for the memoir after the invigorating discussion. And it delivered. I melted right into this book. Blow’s writing is lyrical; it has a soothing effect. There were passages that I read over, and over, and over again.

So many things about this book made me smile. Starting with the way Blow got his name. His brother wanted him named Ray Charles, after the singer. His mother’s compromise was Charles McRay. This from one of the same brothers that convinced their mother to let them call their dog Son of a Bitch- its literal name. Ha!  As much as parts of this book are funny, it is equally somber and, at times, disturbing.

From recounting the days of being a boy so poor that he and his brothers ate dirt, to becoming head of the New York Times graphics department just shy of his twenty-fifth birthday, Blow entwines details from the great loves and three great betrayals of his life.

He also reveals shocking and uncomfortable details about fraternal hazing at Grambling State University, but stresses the importance and the impact of his HBCU (Historically Black College and University) experience.

If you watch CNN, you’ve recently seen Blow as an analyst for the Michael Brown and Eric Gardner events. His analysis took on a new meaning to me after reading about his tragic and humiliating encounter with the police.
The final chapter of this book is by far one of the most profound, compelling, and revelatory closings I’ve read. We’ve all heard someone say that our experiences make us who we are. But many struggle with what to do or how to deal with the bad. Blow totally gets it.

I have an electronic copy of Fire Shut Up in My Bones. But I want it on my shelf. I will purchase a hardcover this week. And if you hadn’t guessed it already, Charles Blow has made my list of authors that I hope are writing another book.

“I had to understand that there was no way to be a whole man without being an honest man."
Fire Shut Up in My Bones

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Fire Shut Up in My Bones on Amazon
Encyclopedia of Black Folklore and Humor on Amazon

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As with all reviews posted, views expressed are genuine and are in no way influenced by external sources.


Leslie said...

Thank you for this review, and congratulations on reading 40 books this year! Like you, I like it when writers share their lists of literary influences---although it makes my "to read" list that much longer- (lol!) I actually borrowed Fire Shut Up in My Bones from the public library but had to return it before I could get into it. Several borrowers were waiting for a few copies to be made available. Happy New Year!

Shannon @ Reading Has Purpose said...

I sure did add Encyclopedia of Black Folklore & Humor to my to-read list! I thought I was on pace to read 52 books earlier in the year, but 40 works. I'll come in well below that in 2015. I plan to dust of a few chunksters.

TB said...

I just finished a book and was looking foo a new book to start. Since the books I just ordered haven't arrived yet and I came across this one in my kindle. So I came over to the blog to see your review, which has convinced me to start this book. I've had success in other books that you recommended. From your review it looks like this will be a good read as well.