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White Girls Hardcover – November 5, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. New Yorker critic Als (The Women) delivers his first book in 15 years—a mesmerizing and varied collection of essays, some previously published. His eponymous white girls include Louise Brooks, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Richard Pryor, Malcolm X, Michael Jackson, Eminem, and others. Using his subjects as a springboard to analyze literature, photography, films, music, television, performance, race, gender, sexual orientation, and history, Als offers wry insights throughout. For example, he notes how O'Connor's readers often overlooked the originality and honesty of her portrayal... of Southern whiteness as it chafed under its biggest cultural influence—Southern blackness. In his opening essay, Tristes Tropiques, Als revels in his relationship (twinship) with the unnamed SL (Sir or Lady), noting that the relationship defies categorization in an America that is nothing if not about categories: There was no context... to understand us... two colored men who were together, not lovers, not bums, not mad. Highly attuned to popular culture, Als is a writer of many moods—meditative, sardonic, haunting, funny, reflective, and unconventional. Whether agonizing over photos of black lynchings (and realizing that the true meaning of the N-word is a slow death), or constructing a critique of Virginia Woolf in the voice of Richard Pryor's sister, he proves to be a compassionate writer looking for unity—even if it can't always be found. Agent: Jeffrey Posternak, Wylie Agency. (Nov.)

From Booklist

With roots in Barbados and Brooklyn and a deep immersion in the endless identity issues attendant upon being a gay man of color, bold, versatile critic and New Yorker staff writer Als continues the inquiry he launched in his first book, The Women (1996). Here’s a clue to the layered and spiked complexities of this essay collection: one of the “white girls” Als portrays is Truman Capote, another is Michael Jackson as well as Flannery O’Connor and silent film star Louise Brooks. Jennifer Lee, Richard Pryor’s widow, appears in Als’ bristling portrait of the brilliant performer. He also portrays with fresh insight Marshall Mathers III, that is, Eminem. Als is pyrotechnic, lifting off the page in a blast of stinging light and concussive booms that somehow coalesce into profound cultural and psychological illuminations. More covertly scorching is the long, wrenching essay “Tristes Tropiques,” an exploration of love and friendship, fear and fascination during the AIDS epidemic. Whether his subject is his mother, himself, or seminal artists, Als is a fine, piercing observer and interpreter, a writer of lashing exactitude and veracity. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: McSweeney's; Second Edition edition (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936365812
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936365814
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If readers expect pat answers to issues of identity and identity politics, then WHITE GIRLS is not for them. In a series of interrelated pieces, both factual and fictional, Hilton Als explores issues of African American identity past and present. He challenges existing categorizations, especially those constructed by while liberals, and emphasizes the importance of individuals trying to get to know themselves as well as others. In a series of discrete yet interrelated pieces, Als adopts a variety of authorial voices; in the first essay, he becomes someone called "Hilton" looking back on his love-affairs, in other pieces he assumes the identity of Louise Brooks; and Richard Pryor's sister. In other pieces he takes a critical look at familiar figures; his piece on Richard Pryor is nothing short of brilliant; and there are equally suggestive essays on GONE WITH THE WIND and the actor Buddy Ebsen. WHITE GIRLS looks at how negative stereotypes of the African American have been constructed and reinforced (although few people would be prepared to admit it, there is still a stigma attached to the idea of a White woman going out with an African American), as well as challenged by celebrities such as Lily Tomlin. Her television special, broadcast in the early Seventies, when she had Richard Pryor on her show in a sketch about relationships, was a seminal moment in race relations history, even though CBS tried their best to minimize its impact. Als views such moments in television and film history as a springboard for indviduals to construct their own ideas about their identities; to reject established conceptions and experiment for themselves, while realizing at the same that such identities are nothing more than performances.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't have a lot of time at the moment, but can't leave this page without raving a little about White Girls. I've never read another book like it, not quite like it, and I will read many, perhaps all of these essays again. I say essays, but Als does things with his essays that make them original. His use of personas such as Richard Pryor's sister is..what it is, engaging, compelling, and utilitarian; with those personas we see from unique perspectives, reflecting the times of people such as Malcolm X's mother. I like the Capote essay, the O'Connor essay, Malcolm, and Pryor essays. The first essay, totally original, and the last totally compelling, but really this entire collection is original and compelling. "It Will Soon Be Here" is a masterpiece, which, I'm sure will be anthologized in years to come. I'm very curious about Diana Sands, (Beneatha in my favorite American play) and I'm curious about Als' weaving Kafka's cockroach into the Pryor essay. This book is lyrical, written by someone in love with language, and compelling, written by someone digging for truth in himself and the world, though digging's not the word I want. White Girls is author-driven, not dollar-driven. It's against stereotypes, and is intensely political, and global. It blends fact and fiction, it risks, and succeeds. Hats off to Hilton Als. Thanks for this much needed book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
He's done it, again. Excellent writing and truly a master of his subject. I have been anxiously awaiting a second book from Als. The title here had me a little concerned but when I got it, I got it!! I will anxiously await his next book. My history with him began when reading his essays in The New Yorker years ago. The Women was a fantastic eye-opening read. I gave it as a gift to many friends. I will do the same with White Girls. Bravo, Als. I am your fan and so are those I turn you on to. If you are a person who evolves reading beyond the norm, I suggest you read Hilton Als.
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Format: Kindle Edition
"White Girls" is an absorbing and astonishing collection of 13 literary essays that explore Hilton Al's personal relationships with family members, famous friends from Diana Vreeland (1903-1989), Truman Capote (1924-1984) to fashion designer Andre Leon Talley (1949-). Al's also writes in depth about Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Louise Brooks, Flannery O'Connor, and Malcolm X. Al's discusses gay culture, and the beginnings of the AID's epidemic that claimed the life of his beloved partner "K" (in 1992); also the sobering truth of the remains of early AID's victims being stuffed into black plastic trash bags, which was widely (sensationally) reported in the media, and nearly forgotten in current times. A few times throughout the book, his expletive language/commentary seemed slightly offensive/unprofessional, yet considering how great this book was; it was just as easy to overlook.

TRISTES TROPIQUES: For over three decades Al's had a close friendship with Sir or Lady (SL) who he met in 1982. SL was a graphic designer, photographer/film maker, the man he loved in friendship, emulated, accepted/understood. Al's identified with "twin-ship", his brother, the first Hilton was stillborn, he was raised by his single mother and had 4 sisters who dressed like the (1980's pop girl group) "Pointer Sister's".
After months of being away, SL would return, resuming their friendship. The white women that SL had romantic relationships, predictably got to know Al's: calling him, or hiring him to freelance/write for them, so they could critique/bash him; with jealousies over his close relationship with SL. Al's would host nice parties and they would arrive to make a scene, out of passion for SL. This played out in the same re-occurring pattern.
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