White People Books

Not unserious filler in between the usual posts, not too tongue-in-cheek response to Ta-Nehisi Coates . . . and not this book.  Books about White People that are on the same level and importance to knowing what American culture is as Invisible Man, and are also pure pleasures to read:

A Fan’s Notes by Frederic Exley and Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski: important novels about work and alienation in American economic culture.  Let’s face it, the dominating value in this country is the dollar, and people are judged by how well, or not, they fit into money producing society.  Not everyone fits in, many who don’t try to and fail in a variety of ways.  I really can’t conceive of any way to understand modern American society without reading this books, and anyone who watches “Mad Men” owes it to themselves to read Exley.

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler: one of the things Chandler’s novels are about is the romantic self-image of the American male, the kind of person we fantasize ourselves to be in this society.  One way to see Marlowe is as a Knight, trying to hang onto a sense of right and wrong amidst a debased, material society.  This is Chandler’s best book (see also The Natural by Bernard Malamud and The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe).

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick: look at all the crazy, paranoid white people in ties screaming in the newspapers and on TV . . .

Fear And Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson and Miami And The Siege of Chicago by Norman Mailer: with these two, you will have no better guide to understanding those crazy, screaming men in the newspapers and on TV.  Seriously, these books are brilliant in the extreme.

Christ In Concrete by Pietro DiDonato: the American experience is the immigrant experience, and as Charles Mingus said about Charlie Mariano, “he’s not White, he’s Italian.”

Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner: the story of this country.  Whites and Blacks were cleaved by violence and commerce, and can never be torn apart.  The part of the country that can’t accept this physical fact votes Republican.

Updated: Almost forgot to list Snow Blind by Robert Sabbag.  Criminal enterprise is an integral part of the American story, and white criminals used to be cool.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.

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  • she’s blonde she came along the sidewalk leave a trail of blue and black up to you fighting back steel chains a noose of charms on our necks i find nothing when we talk and sit blue heart passion and watch the set easy to fall part of your skull starts to break away a cheaters walk down the block behind this evil street she’s a white girl i’m living with a white girl nineteen missing her man for an old girl drain every beer left over at home and listen to ghosts in the other room why not you’re alone inside his keeping i’ll replace your drunk old man sit in the parking lot and hold your hand easy to fall part of your skull starts to break away drugged and in love out at a club pulling me outside

    (if you take my meaning, Cutie: Moar Chix, Pls)

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