Now that the campaign season has ended up where I feared it would (which isn’t the same as where I hoped it might), I am ignoring that exercise in futility, fantasy, power and cash and getting back to more fruitful endeavors. In other words, reading books and listening to music. After all, the charade of democracy we call the presidential campaign will torment, entertain and otherwise make its presence known whether we want it to or not.
The Land Shall be Deluged in Blood—Patrick Breen. Breen’s history of the Nat Turner rebellion relies on Turner’s Confessions and other established sources. Consequently, it is a researched retelling of this episode in United States history that focuses on elements not previously emphasized. Foremost of those elements is the contradictions of slave ownership and US racism. Foremost is the irony of slaveholders who feared a greater slave rebellion but also did not want to see a pogrom by other whites because it would destroy the slaveholders’ holdings, lowering their overall worth. Consequently, the slaveholders did their best to convince those without slaves that they could assuage their fears through the courts.
Despite the so-called fair justice of the courts, the truth of the matter lies in the fact that the ultimate injustice—slavery—was never questioned by the white-skinned system of law. Indeed, if anything, the decision to limit the number of rebel slaves to be prosecuted and killed proved that that system had no intention of challenging the institution. If it had, it would have tried the rebels as they would have tried white men—as free individuals acting upon their own will. Instead, the majority of the rebel slaves were considered property and treated as such by the courts.
In these days of police murders of Black men and women (and the recent reciprocal murders of police), the story of Nat Turner is worth re-examining. Doomed from the start, its meaning in history is far greater than its impact at the time of its occurrence. It wasn’t madness that drove Turner and his men to murder, but the madness of the slavers’ system. Today, it is the legacy of that system actualized in modern laws and law enforcement that drives men like the police killers in Dallas and Baton Rouge to their acts of slaughter.
Charcoal Joe—Walter Mosley. Mosley is one of America’s best popular novelists. The author of numerous books in the crime fiction genre, a few science fiction novels and even some fictional meditations on modern humanity and alienation, his best novels are those featuring his private investigator that goes by the name Easy Rawlins. Based in Los Angeles, Rawlins epitomizes the noir antihero. Existing in the netherworld of Black America, crime, respectability and a pervasive racism, Mosley’s tales reflect and reveal both the beauty and ugliness of that world. Love remains the redeeming factor that overcomes cops who kill, white people who hate, criminals whose ruthlessness is matched by their greed, and the overriding racism that defines the life of Black America.
Charcoal Joe is a gangster involved in money laundering whose son is a scientific genius falsely accused of murder. Easy Rawlins is hired by Joe to prove the son’s innocence. White gangsters connected to the Mob come out of the woodwork and involve Rawlins in a subplot of greed and rivalry. Rawlins calls on his wits, weaponry, and friends to solve the crime. In the telling of the tale, the reader is brought onto the streets of LA, replete with diners, clubs and palm trees. This is one of Mosley’s best. (In a rather synchronistic circumstance, Mosley’s Rawlins reminisces on Nat Turner because Styron’s novel about the rebellion is a bestseller at the time of this tale. Rawlins is convinced that most white men cannot understand Nat Turner’s Rebellion. I might add, most white men cannot understand the killing of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge either.)
Saladin: The Sultan Who Vanquished the Crusaders and Built an Islamic Empire—John Man. The entity known in the West as the Islamic State claims to be the soldiers of a new Caliphate. Their military astuteness has helped them claim victories in Iraq and Syria, while others claiming Islamic State membership or inspiration have unleashed acts of terror in Europe, Asia and Africa. All of this has not necessarily led to a greater desire to understand what the historical Caliphate was, nor how it was achieved. Instead, it has unleashed a new wave of anti-Islamic vitriol steeped in ignorance and prejudice, leading to even more misunderstanding and fear.
John Man’s biography of Saladin blends military and general history, biography and myth to compile a fascinating narrative of Saladin’s life and times. Neither hagiography nor its opposite, this text at its best provides some insight into the thinking of those who consider themselves the builders of a new Caliphate and at the minimum is a concise and intelligent biography of one of history’s most influential men.
Coming Home—Leon Bridges. There are debut albums…and there are debut albums. This release from Leon Bridges is one of the best collections of music I have heard in a while. His hit song, “The River” is a melodic acoustic piece about love that makes even this cynic about that human exchange reconsider his opinion. The soul tunes that make up the bulk of this disc are smooth but unpolished just enough to make one feel the temperature rise and the sweat bead up on the flesh. Think Otis Redding and the Stax catalog with some Delta Blues in the mix. Perfect music for the summer’s end.
Before the shit really hits the fan.