H T N o n f ic t io n Cheech Is Not My Real Name . . . but
Don’t Call Me Chong!
By Cheech Marin and John Hassan.
Mar. 2017. 272p. Grand Central, $27 (9781455592340).
The best work Cheech Marin has ever done
has come as the result of improvisation, not
only in what he and Tommy Chong did as
one of the greatest comic duos in American
history but also in the way he lived his life.
A second-generation American and son of a
30-year veteran of the LAPD, Marin joined
Muhammad Ali as a conscientious objector
to the Vietnam War and fled to Canada,
where he learned to be a potter’s apprentice, a hunter, and anything else that helped
him keep his life moving forward. Canada
is where he met Tommy Chong for the first
time, and Marin does share the story of
Cheech and Chong, the mountains of pot
they smoked, and why they’re barely speaking to one another today. But this memoir
is also a rollicking, plot-rich personal inquiry, in which Marin attempts to answer the
question he has heard like a refrain over the
nearly 70 years he’s been alive, “What the
hell are you?” A fascinating self-portrait and
social and artistic history. —Frank Tempone
A Colony in a Nation.
By Chris Hayes.
Mar. 2017. 256p. Norton, $26.95 (9780393254228).
Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice—
these are just three of many young black men
whose deaths at the hands of police officers
have brought an incendiary confluence of racial profiling and criminal injustice to the
forefront of American political discourse.
The U.S. is deeply divided on many levels,
prompting Emmy Award–winning MSNBC
news anchor and best-selling author Hayes
( Twilight of the Elites, 2012) to use the metaphor of a colony within a nation to illustrate
the tactics employed throughout our judicial
network by police, prosecutors, and politicians who further alienate black and white
citizenry from each other. Nations pursue
law and order according to principles of
democracy, Hayes posits, while colonies
are treated like occupied territories, subject
to the capricious whims of those in charge.
As a journalist and commentator, Hayes has
covered the violence that erupted in Baltimore, Ferguson, and Cleveland in the wake
of police shootings and analyzed the reasons for and reactions to police aggression
and legal indifference. Writing with clarity,
intelligence, and compassion, Hayes deftly
illuminates the complex state of affairs that
has evolved since the 1960s civil rights protests, and resulted in the current backlash.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Popular TV
host Hayes will tour the country in concert
with a vigorous multimedia marketing and
The Girl at the Baggage Claim:
Explaining the East-West Culture Gap.
By Gish Jen.
Mar. 2017. 336p. illus. Knopf, $26.95 (9781101947821).
Beloved novelist Jen (World and Town, 2010)
expands on the East-West cultural paradigm
she applied to examining art and culture in
her previous nonfiction work, Tiger Writing
(2013), to see “what it can show us about the
world.” As the U.S.-born child of Chinese immigrants, Jen “grew up with the puzzle that
was East versus West,” a challenge that has
colored her writing and her life. Jen scrutinizes
Eastern and Western concepts of self. The “
interdependent” self of “collectivistic societies”
she dubs the “flexi-self.” The “independent”
self she renames the “big pit self,” apropos of
the substantially pitted avocado. Her aim is
to close the all-too-familiar culture gap. “So
much of what mystifies us about the East,” she
writes, “need not mystify us.” What enhances
the scientific research and psychological studies, observations and anecdotes, and art lessons
and history is Jen’s afflatus. She is a consummate storyteller, even when she’s sharing other
people’s stories (no spoilers here on the titular “baggage-claim girl”). Her tale about her
mother’s manipulation of her sons will inspire
readers to hope that this astute work will be
followed by Jen’s sure-to-be-illuminating next
novel. —Terry Hong
By Patricia Smith.
Feb. 2017. 224p. TriQuarterly, paper, $18.95
(9780810134331); e-book (9780810134348). 811.54.
Smith (Gotta Go Gotta Flow, 2015), winner
of the Library of Congress’ Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize and the Phillis
Wheatley Book Award, among others, creates
“incendiary art,” and never have her meticulously structured and fully fueled poems been
more scorching than in this acutely visceral,
empathetically inhabited, and intimately detailed collection. In searing elegies, laments,
and protests, Smith presents the smoldering
facts about the killing of
black men in America and
the anguish of their mothers
with autopsy-specific attention to the battle scars of
body and soul. Emmett Till
is the book’s reigning spirit as
the poet charts the presence
of the grimly iconic photograph of his tortured young body in black
households as a warning to black boys, and
offers mordant variations titled, “Emmett Till:
Choose Your Own Adventure.” Smith investigates with excruciating sensitivity and strange
beauty the drowning of two baby black girls
by their black fathers, accidental street shootings of the innocent, and police shootings of
unarmed African Americans. With her latest
heroically unflinching poems of incandescent
clarity, Smith joins Angela Jackson and Claudia
Rankine in the tragically growing chorus of poets decrying racial violence. —Donna Seaman
Life’s Work: From the Trenches, a
Moral Argument for Choice.
By Willie Parker and Lisa Miller.
Apr. 2017. 224p. Atria/37INK, $26 (9781501151125).
Parker was happily practicing and teaching
obstetrics at the University of Hawaii when he
was surprised by his outrage that, due to a new
administration, the university hospital would
soon limit abortions. Until then, Parker’s
Christian faith (which remains strong today) inspired
him to leave abortions to his
colleagues. At this crossroads,
Parker determined that the
truly Christian thing to do
regarding unwanted pregnancy is to give women the
help they need. He became
an itinerant abortion provider, “preaching the
truth about reproductive rights,” and traveling
weekly throughout the South. The powerful story of h is past emerges, too: an African
American raised by a fierce mother in an impoverished Alabama town, he nurtured equally
abiding loves for God and science and earned
placements at college and medical school. With
strong ethical arguments and firm moral footing, Parker calls on the words of Dr. King and
the legacy of the civil rights movement to right
himself in searching times; advocates tirelessly
for women; and tells their stories here, paying
special attention to often underserved women
in poverty and women of color. Not all readers will be open to Parker and coauthor Miller’s
chronicle of women’s at-risk rights, but those
who are will find his perspective uniquely
informed, extraordinarily empathic, and faith-deepened. —Annie Bostrom
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and
Punishment in Black America.
By James Forman.
Apr. 2017. 336p. Farrar, $27 (9780374716844). 365.
Forman is a former Washington, D.C., public defender, the cofounder of a charter school
there, and the son of one of the founders of
SNCC, James Forman. He writes about the
interrelated topics of the senseless killing of
African American men by police; the shocking fact that one-third of young black men
(one-half in Washington) are under criminal-justice supervision of some sort; and the larger
but equally shocking reality that the U.S. is
the world’s biggest jailer. Before profiling individuals involved with the criminal-justice
system in Washington, from politicians and
police to accused criminals and crime victims,
he traces the history leading up to the present
crisis, noting that in the 1970s many African
American leaders favored a tougher criminal-justice system, including strict sentencing
laws, but showing how these policies have
backfired. His case-study approach, looking
closely at these sweeping problems through
the lens of one metropolitan area, offers a
powerful, gut-wrenching slant on the subject,
much like that in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy (2014). For a broader perspective, readers