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Fire Shut Up in My Bones Hardcover – September 23, 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 343 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a luminous memoir that digs deep into territory I've longed to read about in black men's writing: into the horror of being submerged in a vast drowning swirl of racial, spiritual, and sexual complexity, only to somehow find one's self afloat, though gasping for breath, and then, at long last and at great cost, swimming. I believe both Ancestors and Descendants will cheer."

"Some truths cannot be taught, only learned through stories - profoundly personal and startlingly honest accounts that open not only our eyes but also our hearts to painful and complicated social realities. Charles Blow's memoir tells these kinds of truths. No one who reads this book will be able to forget it. It lays bare in so many ways what is beautiful, cruel, hopeful and despairing about race, gender, class and sexuality in the American South and our nation as a whole. This book is more than a personal triumph; it is a true gift to us all."
MICHELLE ALEXANDER, author of The New Jim Crow

"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a profoundly moving memoir of Charles Blow's coming of age as a black boy in the Deep South; of the way his sensitive and gifted intelligence slowly begins to kindle, becoming ablaze with wonder at the world and his place in it. Above all, this is the story of a courageously honest man arriving at his decision to 'stop running like the river . . . and just be the ocean, vast, deep, and exactly where it was always meant to be.' Blow has written a classic memoir of a truly American childhood."

"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a heart-stopping memoir: a portrait of the artist—the exceptionally talented columnist Charles Blow—that also puts a searing face on all sorts of abstractions, like poverty, race, sexuality, and a human persistence sometimes known as courage. So particular yet gracefully timeless is this evocation of childhood that I sometimes felt as if I were reading an update of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the poor, black protagonist’s moral education destines him to endure, and prevail."
DIANE McWHORTER, author of Carry Me Home

"Page by elegant page, Charles Blow has constructed an eloquent and courageous memoir that explains why black and white is never just that—whether it comes to race or the rich, conflicted stew of childhood memory."
GWEN IFILL, moderator, Washington Week, and co-anchor, PBS NewsHour

"Brave and powerful . . . a singular look at a neglected America."
Publishers Weekly

"Powerful...so well-written."

"When you finish Charles Blow's mesmerizing memoir, you will cry. And you will better understand poverty, the south, racism, sex, fear, rage, and love. Then you will miss being in his authorial grip. Then you will start reading this stunning book again."

"Charles Blow is a fellow Louisianan. His memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, warmed and tickled my bones. The memoir takes its title from a passage from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament: 'His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.' I am supremely glad Blow can no longer hold his own story inside and has chosen to share it with us. From a small town kid growing up in extreme poverty in the segregationist Deep South to a columnist at The New York Times, Blow is an absolute treasure and his powerful story deserves to be heard."

"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a masterwork of remarkable power, authenticity and honesty. Blow writes with passion about coming of age in a rural Louisiana community suffering from the ravages of racism and poverty. His riveting memoir frankly takes on sexuality, religion and social hierarchy in the African-American community and reveals the inner soul of one of America's most intriguing public intellectuals."
DARREN WALKER, president of the Ford Foundation

"Fire Shut Up in My Bones is an instant classic of American letters. Charles Blow's eloquent memoir is haunted by surges of pain and suffering that rarely escape into the open with such searing honesty. Blow's brilliant and self-critical narrative contains truths which no American can afford to ignore, and which few black men have dared to tell. In this irresistible story of the journalist as a besieged boy and determined young man, one of the nation's foremost social critics bares his soul and speaks his mind with redemptive clarity."

"I missed him the moment I read the last word. Charles Blow's delicate, dangerously vulnerable journey from boyhood to manhood to himself, takes hold of you like a long lost friend you don't ever want to let out of your sight again. Fire Shut Up In My Bones finally, exquisitely gives voice to the complex and gloriously diverse Black American male identity. A modern memoir that reads like a great classic novel, it's the kind of masterful storytelling that divides folks into those who have read and those who have not. I am forever grateful to be among the privileged haves."

"Charles Blow has given us an enormous gift with this penetrating and honest memoir. I could not put it down, riveted by the journey, with no idea where it was taking me but deeply illuminated by the end. Blow opens up his life, growing up in the Deep South, and shines a light on the complexities and diversity of sexual identity in a way that can only help advance the march toward equality."
MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, author of Queer in America

"It takes a great deal of courage to divulge your deepest secrets to the world, but Charles Blow shares the story of his personal journey from a rare place of honesty, especially for such a celebrated public figure. In Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Blow has constructed a beautifully crafted, timeless story of coming of age in the face of betrayal, adversity, and self-doubt. I expect this memoir will not only resonate today but will also enlighten and inspire readers for years to come."

"This book is an elegant heartache. Charles Blow's story is by no means an easy one, but he tells it beautifully, a gorgeous read about a gorgeous little boy striving to become himself amidst a world discouraging him from doing so. Blow does an astonishing job of intertwining hardship with humor, pain alongside pleasure, revealing his signature talent for prose that is transcendently poetic at the same time it's grounded in microscopic details of life and insight."

"Charles Blow is one of the most astute literary voices we have in America today. His is an eye that sees inside our communities, inside our world, inside himself, in a way that not only makes us think, but permits us to feel, to be, to change."

"Boldness shines through."
—Shreveport Times

Book Description

HMH hardcover, 2014, 978-0-544-22804-7
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; F First Edition edition (September 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544228049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544228047
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (343 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nathan Webster TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A memoir's job is to bring the lifestyle, upbringing and choices made by the author into stark focus for unfamiliar readers. Without melodrama or sentimentality, Charles Blow's memoir succeeds - working as an anti-nostalgic look at the 1970s, and a look at how events in our youth make us the adults we become.

I read this book because of, not despite, a few negative reviews. I think those readers expected the light, maudlin nature that many memoirs fall victim to. I understand the desire for levity and laughs, but not all stories can contain them. Here, Blow gives a tour through Louisiana not-quite-full-poverty, with a family struggling along. It's hard and isolating, and when the young Blow is targeted by a predatory cousin, it's not funny at all.

What I appreciated most was Blow's blunt, honest tone - he doesn't rely on frilly adjectives to try to force meaning, but lets the events do the job. His newspaper background is clearly the root of his strong writing. One of my peeves is melodrama, and I didn't find much of that here (except the first few pages, actually). Lots of dramatic events, but I never felt I was being preached to (except the very ending, but that works as a powerful conclusion). Even during the most brutal accounts of his fraternity hazing, he doesn't make any false stretches for overwrought "I felt my childhood fading away" conclusions. The scenes make the point all by themselves.

Here's an example of what I mean. A lesser writer would have overwritten this until it lost all effect (though it may lack impact out of context): "All I knew was that in my heart, in my bones, I no longer believed. I figured that she had probably placed a safe bet after a bad one, and maybe after the fact she had thought better of it.
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Format: Hardcover
What a glorious memoir! It is as exquisitely beautiful as it is devastatingly raw in certain places. The vivid picture of life as it is lived in the rural south as painted by Mr. Blow is one that readers will at once recognize as universal and familiar in certain aspects, but also see as very distinct and unique in others.

Those among us who, like Mr. Blow, were victimized as children, are certain to identify with the devastating trials and tribulations that follow sexual abuse. Charles methodically takes us through the stages of self-blame, shame, anger and social withdrawal. But then, Charles' unique combination of gifts, in the form of precocious wisdom, intellectual curiosity, and the drive to apply lessons learned pull him through life experiences that have devastated many a child. The reader is guided from stage to stage in Mr. Blow's path to self-discovery and healing.

My first reading focused on the sexual abuse and hazing. The second reading was for the pure joy of Mr. Blow's exquisite writing, the vivid scenery and rich cultural tapestry of a Deep South I just didn't know.

I will read this book at least twice more.

As a long time fan of Mr. Blow's work at The New York Times, I've always appreciated his very nuanced approach to race.and race relations and wondered about his experience as a person of color. His first person account on race relations in this memoir gives the reader a full appreciation of Mr. Blow's thoughtful nature, innate sense of fairness and generosity of spirit, as well as a very honest look at how segregation is practiced.

I will read again for the purpose of discussing this book with my teen. We are reading Mr. Blow's memoir as a family and plan on discussing it as a family.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've always respected Charles Blow for being able to give us a different perspective of the world through his columns and television commentaries, but after reading his book FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES I have respect for him just being himself.

All great things have a beginning, and for Charles his family and his faith played amazing roles in his life. He chronicles how he was able to not just channel his gifts (drawing and basketball) but use them to better understand who he was and to find what he wanted in life. There were struggles that he faced as we all do growing up, but using his understanding of scripture he tried to find his way--and that in itself caused its own misadventures.

I think what most people will get from FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES is the realization and the importance of always walking in your own truth, regardless what we think others might think or say. For Charles I think that discovery has led him to be as bold as he is today in sharing his thoughts. He realizes that we are a whole being, and that no one thing should be what we judge ourselves by or judge anyone by.The important thing is to believe in oneself.

Definitely a book that speaks to how greatness is grown and cultivated, Blow's memoir is a great example of what all of us can accomplish when we choose to trust ourselves.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones" by Charles M. Blow is a memoir of a painful childhood filled abuse, racial hatred, scenes and stories of the old South, a fear of white men so strong he had a fear of Santa Claus, and brutal fraternity hazing Blow emerges as a re-invention of himself. This is a memoir filled with strong images told with lyrical, emotion filled prose. The words flow with a distinct rhythm that echoed the author's troubled life and profound transformation.

A story of pain and trauma but also a story of hope, dreams, choices, and chances. This is a story of a life in which a boy was reduced to ash. Then like a Phoenix, he rose from those ashes as a strong man with a powerful voice.

A powerful and inspiring memoir that will not be forgotten.
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