Monday, December 20, 2010

My Los Angeles in Black & (Almost) White by Andrew Furman

Full Disclosure: You know that sitcom joke about having a work spouse? Well, Andy is my work big brother.

I confess when my friends write nonfiction it's hard not to be charmed by these visions of their childhood-selves (here it's young Andy and his homing pigeons!). But that aside... Andy's memoir is about playing high school basketball during the years of forced integration in Los Angeles, and what I found especially interesting was the way it blends memoir, history, and reflection. In his introduction, Andy acknowledges the hybrid nature of the book, specifically, chapters that detail the law cases relevant to desegregating the LA schools versus chapters that detail Andy's life as a child and teen. But I would add a third strand of hybridity--the reflective nature of the adult narrator who is trying to figure out how his life then fits into his life now, and how his belief in social justice is (and sometimes isn't) reflected in his life now. That third strand, for me, is probably what holds the hybridity together. It would be fine for the book to jump between an academic voice and a personal voice, readers can make those shifts when the content connects them, but it definitely mattered to me that there was an adult narrator who could reflect on both sections. The book then became not just a depiction of the narrator's past experiences but a quest to determine the significance of those experiences...and therefore it felt both more personal and more intellectually important. Andy has, more than once, said to me, how lucky we are to hold jobs that pay us enough to live on so that we don't have to worry about the marketability of our writing. We don't have to chase popular success, but can stick to our guns and write what we believe. And I have to agree--this book is made more original because Andy didn't have to answer to a trade publisher's fear of alienating their audience with academic talk...and as a result, this is a memoir that moves beyond navel-gazing and actually achieves social relevance.

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