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Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White Paperback – May 3, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380724758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380724758
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,292,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In spare, affecting prose, Staples, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times , here recalls his hardscrabble boyhood in the mostly black world of Chester, Pa., and the pains and privileges of later joining a middle-class, whiter milieu. The oldest son among nine children, the author feared his violent alcoholic father but gained a nascent writer's sensibility from the kitchen rhythms of his mother and her friends. As if reflecting the dislocations of his 1960s youth, Staples sketches numerous fragments: his older sister slipping toward delinquency, the challenge by bullies at a new school, the untimely shooting death of his cousin. With wry hindsight he recalls his Black Power activism before he took advantage of a scholarship to a local college and won a graduate scholarship to the University of Chicago. The book ends with the first success of Staples's journalism career, which is paralleled with the death of his drug-dealing brother Blake in 1983. He observes resonantly that chance and complexity, not a simple morality tale, must be factored into any accounting for their divergent paths.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-The story of a man's journey from his childhood in a mixed-race factory town to a position on the editorial staff of The New York Times. The oldest of nine children born to a hard-drinking man and saintly woman, Staples describes how his early years were marked by frequent moves to avoid eviction, hijinks with neighborhood pals, and a keen sense of observation. In high school, although eligible for college prep courses, he elected the safer bet, commercial studies. A chance meeting with a professor at Penn Morton College, who arranged for his entry into an academic boot camp, expanded his opportunities. Employment in the predominantly white world of journalism followed his advanced degree. Students will empathize with the universal adolescent concerns and experiences, and witness Staples's anger at prejudice he encounters as well as his angst as he strives to understand the world and his place in it.
Barbara Hawkins, Oakton High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Brent Staples is so subtle at revealing himself that you hardly notice you are thinking his thoughts until something bad happens in the book and you have to put the it down and recover from the shock. He is that good.
I read this book a while ago, but I am still concerned about his little sister who was burned in a fire, I still wonder where the hairdresser ran off to, and I still see the big red tail-lights of the old American cars blasting down the highway like rockets.
The only bad thing about this book is that it ended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on April 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
Brent Staples is a fabulous writer and that about says it all. He captures Elijah Anderson's "Codes of the Street" in about as few and as colorful words as it can be done. His metaphors cover a lot of ground, leaving the reader asking for more.

Born and raised in a small industrial town near Philadelphia, into a large dirt poor family, Staples learned the hard way that his life was never entirely his own; that is to say, it never was entirely within the grasp of his own hands. "Agency" was the main missing element. Time, all at once was his enemy, his muse and his ally. For no one knows what will happen around the next bend, or the next month, or how the events of yesterday will shape life today or the future? In the ghetto. capriciousness is the "watch word:" It is "the way of the world" in America's black ghetto. There just are too many uncertainties, imponderables, too many random contingenciesand random variables, to plan. Planning is a luxury reserved for the "haves" not for the "have nots." Time, as a manipulatible variable, remains "off the table" for ghetto residents.

One has to learn how to "bob and "weave" even when one does not quite understand what it means to "bob" and "weave." That is the nature of the animal. Life moves on, and always according to a someone else's time plan, always at a different rhythm in the ghetto. You either get aboard the train or you get left at the station. There are no other options. There are no second chances, no mulligans, no appeals to higher authorities, no reruns or "do overs; its improvised life on the edge and in the raw at all times. Not to be "on yours toes" at all times is an occupational hazard in the ghetto that can get you killed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joseph T. Prock on October 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read Parallel Time because of the Chester, PA background. I was interested in the black-point-of-view. Having come from Chester roughly around the same time, I was curious about Brent's experiences.

He lived there during the latter years of decline -- `60s and `70s. Founded by William Penn, Chester's reign of white lasted for centuries. With Ukrainians, Italians, Polish, Germans, Irish, and Jews driving the machine, Chester flourished against a backdrop of manufacturing and heavy industry. After the Second World War; What Chester Makes Makes Chester gave way to social emigration, crooked politics, and economic shifts to a city predominantly populated by blacks, gangs, and drugs.

Brent's life is the flip side of what many white Chesterites refer to as their "golden memories" like: Christmas time at Stotters, parades down Edgemont Avenue, hot dogs from John's Doggie Shop, hoagies from La Spada's, the Great Leopard Skating Rink, lunch at Whelan's, Brandywine Ice Cream, Rez, Chester High, St. James dances, Riverview Beach...

Brent's memories consist of friend's who've died of drugs, beatings, poverty, a dysfunctional family, constant fear, fair weather friends, a city morphing into a toxic wasteland, and the faint promise of a future through a collegiate educational system slowly enrolling blacks into their hallowed white halls.

The most interesting parts of his book were indeed Chester -- observations, memories, and characters. I also enjoyed his college experiences in Widener College and Swarthmore College during the latter part of the `60s -- the turbulent uprisings.

When Brent left for Chicago to pursue his PHD the story seemed to drag. I found myself getting a bit board. His encounter with the pursuit of Saul Bellow was anti-climatic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By matt clark on December 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Parallel Time" was an interesting book. It told a story about Brent's life and his struggle to be a writer. The message I got out of this book was that you are your own person and that you have total control over your life. I was able to read and visualize how Brent grew up as a black child, and how hard it was. By reading this story I have a better picture of how difficult being black in America was.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By K. Webb on October 2, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very honest, well written book. The fact that I grew up in (Chester, Pa.) during the same time period as the author and am very familiar with the places and many of the people he is writing about no doubt heightened my interest and appreciation for this book. I read it when first released and am currently reading it again and enjoying it even more. Kudos to Mr. Staples.
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By Nick Danger on September 24, 2014
Format: Paperback
I bought this book many years ago and have kept it on the shelf until now. So my review is from the 1994 Hardcover edition.

In my opinion, this book is well written from the choice of words and style that seems to guide you to the completion. My hardship is that this story is sold as a race issue in exploding civil rights time of the 60's and 70's; but, from my own personal experience of growing up in like conditions, I find it to be more about poor people and how their decisions and actions effect the outcome of their lives. It certainly is not something only blacks experienced. Mr. Staples made some conscious decisions and had some help along the way from others that proved to be better choices than those made by others (i.e. his brother on the morgue slab). Reading this brought many memories of my own youth and the people that helped me escape that environment. The best line of the book for me was on page 189, near the bottom - "The only way I knew to change things was to leave them behind." I would recommend this to anyone but can't can give it a recommendation as Black History.

I do add this open letter to Mr. Staples - On page 204 you make the statements:

"I felt a surge of power: these people were mine; I could do with them as I wished. If I'd been younger, with less to lose, I'd have robbed them, and it would have been easy."

They'd made me terrifying. Now I'd show them how terrifying I could be."

How do you think we'd be telling your story if "those people" had taken you as "terrifying" as you wanted them to and acted in self defense and shot you? Or sliced you open like a fish as many in my neighborhood would have? To have "anyone" trying to intimidate like you describe only invites a reaction. Just because they didn't cower as victims like you expected doesn't mean they're racist.
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