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Notes from No Mans Land: American Essays

by Eula Biss

Book list *Starred Review* Biss calls our attention to things so intrinsic to our lives they have become invisible, such as telephone poles and our assumptions about race. Family was the focus of her first book, The Balloonists (2002). In her second, a collection of fishhook essays, she grabs readers with compelling personal disclosures, then heads into the rapids of racial identity. Whether she is writing about white and black dolls, her whiteness within a racially mixed family, or teaching in Harlem, Biss, inquisitive and buoyant, swings back and forth between the shores of nurture and nature, asking tough questions about which aspects of race and culture we inherit and which we acquire. With nods to Didion and Baldwin, her sinuous essays dart off and zigzag, and we hold on tight. Biss compares the lesson plans for freed slaves in Reconstruction-era public schools with what is taught to today's African American students, and chronicles her experiences as a minority in black worlds, including her stint as a reporter for an African American community newspaper in San Diego. Matters of race, sense of self, and belonging involve everyone, and Biss' crossing-the-line perspective will provoke fresh analysis of our fears and expectations.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Biss is not as well known as she should be; given that writers like Sherman Alexie are praising her to the skies, it's only a matter of time, though. This essay collection won the 2008 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, which highlights outstanding literary nonfiction by a new writer. These essays are about many things, but the theme of race runs through them all. They are not "about" race, however, not in the way essays are usually "about" something. Instead of presenting her opening gambits and using the body of the essay to support her initial points, Biss finds her jumping-off point and examines her observations and experiences. Although her juxtapositions are occasionally forced, it is impossible to remain unmoved by Biss's work. These deeply personal essays should be as widely read as possible. Her examination of what it means to be American-examination, not conclusions-cannot fail to inspire reflection. Highly recommended for all collections.-Audrey Snowden, Cleveland P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Adult/High School-Expository writing should always be this compelling, provocative, and intelligent. Biss explores race in America through multiple lenses, examining common issues through uncommon situations and events. She flawlessly weaves present-day experiences with historical research to create 13 essays that combine narrative appeal with fascinating facts. In "Time and Distance Overcome," the telephone pole is used to juxtapose lynching with technological intrusions and advancements. "Back to Buxton" examines the successes, sorrows, and current implications of a racially integrated mining camp in the early 1900s. The book closes with "All Apologies," which explores both the significance and opposing insignificance of national and personal statements of apology. Biss has a talent for pointing out hypocrisy without accusations. Her ability to expose seemingly subtle inequities and injustices forces readers to analyze their own actions, decisions, and relationships. Teens will find this collection both accessible and challenging, and English and social-studies teachers will find multiple ways to use these essays to enhance instruction. Whether students examine the author's craft or analyze historical and social relationships, many will take pleasure in seeing the world through a unique and refreshing perspective.-Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

 

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