Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Audiobook Review: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

From Goodreads:
Claudia Rankine's bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named "post-race" society.
Writing
Beautifully written, but I feel like some of the quality was lost in an audio recording.  I've read many reviews about the poetry here, but it's particularly hard for me to appreciate poetry when I'm not seeing it on the page.  That said, I did find the book to be well-composed, utilizing a unique voice to bring up the small scale and large scale racial aggressions seen and experienced in day to day life, both personally and from the media.

Entertainment Value
This one flew by - only a little bit over two hours on audio - so I'm assuming that it would also be a quick read in print.  It really packs a punch though.  I think it's so important right now for people of all races to be listening to each other's stories.  You can hear a lecture on racism or read an article about it, but what's really going to make a difference in the way you see the world is hearing a person's story - how they feel when certain phrases are used, how media reactions affect their day to day lives, etc.  This book completely fit that bill for me.  It gave me a glimpse into the casual racism that, being white and privileged, I'd most likely never pick up on.

Narration
The narrator does a great job, but I found myself getting lost a few times, particularly during portions that are more poetic in format.  I think I would have enjoyed this more if I read it in print and will be making an effort to find a print copy.

Overall
I don't think anyone of any political persuasion would deny that the last year has been a difficult one for our country in terms of race relations.  And as I mentioned above, I think the key to combating racism (or gender inequality or sexual orientation or religious differences or any other) is to sit down and listen to what a person on the other side has to say about their own experiences.  Hearing "this hurts me because" or "this makes me furious because" from another human being will always make more of an impact than hearing a list of arbitrary reasons.  I think that Rankine does an excellent job here of using various forms of literature, from essay to poetry, to convey her personal story.  I highly recommend this book to everyone - it's so important to do the hard work and think the hard thoughts that will help us make a difference in the ways we relate to each other.

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