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James McBride: American Author Challenge

75 Books Challenge for 2017

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Edited: Jul 31, 7:20pm Top

James McBride was born on September 11, 1957, in New York City. He is an American writer and musician. He is the recipient of the 2013 National Book Award for fiction for his novel The Good Lord Bird.
His father was African-American and he died of cancer at the age of 45. His mother was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, raising the boy in Brooklyn.
His memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother (1995), describes his family history and his relationship with his mother.
McBride is also a journalist, saxophonist and composer. He is currently a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University. He has three children and lives between New York City and New Jersey.

**This is part of our American Author Challenge 2017. This author will be read in July. The general discussion thread can be found right here:


Edited: Jun 29, 7:53am Top

Edited: Jun 29, 8:03am Top

I have wanted to read McBride's more famous books, for years now, but sadly I have only read Kill 'Em and Leave, his book on James Brown. It was excellent. I plan on reading The Good Lord Bird and if I get the audio from the library in time, The Color of Water too.

What will everyone else be reading? Or do you have any thoughts about his other books?

Jun 29, 8:32am Top

I am sure I have mentioned this before but the audio of The Colour of Water was so excellent. Narrated by Andre Braugher. I would listen to that man read the phone book, as the old cliché goes. But it's true. McBride's memoir was amazing, and it was a pleasure to read it. I actually own all 5 of the books you have pictured above but will read Kill 'Em and Leave for July so that I can give it to a friend afterwards. She is a rock and roll junkie and has a R&R library! Of course I'll read all the others too but not all in this one month!

Jun 29, 8:52am Top

I second the endorsement of The Color of Water which I read years ago but remember loving. Now I want to find the audio read by Andre Braugher - love him!

I am planning to read Song Yet Sung, about a runaway slave in ante-bellum Maryland.

Edited: Jun 29, 3:58pm Top

I've read The Color of Water, which was excellent, but made me wish there had been photographs in it; and Song Yet Sung, which was a bit unfocused, but made me crave fresh oysters! Miracle at St. Anna has been on my wish list, so I will try to get my hands and eyes on that one this month.

Jun 29, 9:41am Top

I plan on starting Good Lord Bird for this one. It may take me more than a month to read it. But - I plan on reading it.

Edited: Jun 29, 9:46am Top

>4 jessibud2: Sweet! This is the audio version I am waiting on from the elibrary. I should get it soon. I love Braugher as an actor. I hope you enjoy the James Brown book, as much as I did.

>5 katiekrug: >6 laytonwoman3rd: Yah, for more endorsements of The Color of Water. It looks like a terrific memoir.

>6 laytonwoman3rd: I remember when the film version of The Miracle at St. Anna came out but I never did see it.

>7 benitastrnad: Hooray for The Good Lord Bird. I plan on reading it too.

Jun 29, 10:29am Top

The only book I was able to find in the library was Song Yet Sung so I will be reading that. It should be pretty quick as the is already someone waiting for it.

Jun 29, 10:47am Top

Count me in. The Good Lord Bird is on my 2017 reading list, and July will be a good month for me to get to it.

Jun 29, 1:39pm Top

I'll be reading Kill 'em and Leave.

Jun 29, 10:43pm Top

I am first on the holds list for a library Overdrive ebook of The Color of Water.

Jun 30, 3:12am Top

I'm still enjoying my Alexie from last month, but have ordered Good Lord Bird from the library system. I had read The Colour of Water (I have a feeling it was a discovery in a diverse secondhand bookshop in Washington, but I am not sure) and enjoyed it - had no idea he also wrote fiction, so this challenge month is a happy discovery for me.

Jun 30, 3:18am Top

Great! I can finally join this challenge. I have had Miracle at Saint Anna on my TBR shelves for years. I look forward to reading this in July.

Jun 30, 6:05pm Top

I'm going to read A Song Yet Sung.

Jul 2, 12:38am Top

Some time back, warned that McBride was going to be an AAC honoree, and not knowing a thing about him, I looked for his name on books at some library sales. Got two. The Color of Water and Miracle at St. Anna. Going to start the former in a few minutes, and I'll see if I can get the latter read in July too.

Edited: Jul 2, 11:00am Top

Miracle at St. Anna is a great book! It will teach the reader much about WWII in Italy and the partisan war that paralleled much of it and continued after the war ended. The recorded version of it is very well done, so if your like recorded book and your library has that version I recommend it.

Jul 2, 2:26pm Top

I've gone back and forth a bit regarding what to read for this month. I think I'm settling on Kill 'Em and Leave, partly because it will also serve for Suz's nonfiction challenge this month (the arts and creativity). Not that I have been a stellar participant in that challenge but if I can double-dip for both, I might as well do it!

This will be my first James McBride although I have long been interested in The Color of Water.

Jul 3, 8:44am Top

I've got The Color of Water requested, but I'm tempted by others also! Oh, well, I'll start with TCOW.

Karen O.

Jul 9, 12:42pm Top

A little 10 minute Writers workshop interview with McBride:


Jul 10, 8:25am Top

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride 4.2 stars (audio)

“Whatever he believed, he believed. It didn’t matter to him whether it was really true or not. He just changed the truth till it fit him. He was a real white man.”

“He was like everybody in war. He believed God was on his side. Everybody got God on their side in a war. Problem is, God ain’t tellin’ nobody who He’s for.”

A young slave, named Henry Shackleford, is living in the Kansas territory, in 1857. It was a volatile area, in a volatile time, with slavery being the hot-button issue. Enter, John Brown, an infamous abolitionist, who ends up mistaking Henry for a girl and steals the boy away from his master, nicknaming him Little Onion.
Henry remains, in the disguise as a girl, as a safeguard and ends up traveling with Brown and his gang. Finally ending up at the fateful events at Harper's Ferry.
This novel caught me by surprise. A mix of historical figures, like Brown, Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, blended in with fictional characters. It is bold, funny, adventurous, deadly serious and highly readable. More Little Big Man than Cloudsplitter, or The Confessions of Nat Turner. Good stuff.

Jul 10, 6:37pm Top

Kill 'Em and leave: searching for James Brown and the American soul is a Citizen Kane-style search for the man behind the legend. McBride is openly and unapologetically biased on some points, but it's a very interesting read.

Jul 11, 10:19am Top

McBride has a new book coming out later this year.

Jul 11, 9:52pm Top

I have never read anything by McBride before and found Song Yet Sung a really good read. It is set in 1850 when slavery was still strong in Maryland. It was a time when the underground railway as also at work. This was a tale of escaped slaves, loyalty and retribution – very nicely done.

Jul 12, 9:34am Top

My full review:

It's Maryland in 1850 when a young runaway is caught by slave catchers. She is no ordinary runaway, she is The Dreamer who sees visions of the future. When she escapes from the slave catchers 13 other captives escape with her. The hunt is on.

McBride drops a bunch of backstabbing slave catchers amongst the watermen who are scratching out a living next to the Chesapeake. Here black ties to the gospel train are strong and no one knows who to trust. We learn of the code that the blacks use to spread the word and of loyalties that cross the colour barrier. It is a very powerful story.

Jul 12, 2:56pm Top

Thanks for sharing that Meg. Glad your first McBride was an enjoyable one. It is now on my list too.

Jul 13, 8:50pm Top

Finally got The Color of Water in at the library. That's what I'll be reading. I've heard great things about it.

Jul 13, 9:42pm Top

>24 Familyhistorian:>25 I'm glad to see this one getting some love. It is good to hear that you enjoyed it. I read Miracle at St. Anna years ago and this has been on my list for some time. I hope to get to it this year.

Jul 15, 2:45am Top

Miracle at St. Anna completed. Thanks to this group for the motivation to read this off my TBR shelves. It is the first book I have read about the contribution and treatment of the African- American soldiers in World War II. I'm giving it a 9/10.

Jul 15, 7:28pm Top

That novel was my introduction to the Partisan War that occurred in Italy alongside and after WWII. Very interesting book on many fronts.

Jul 15, 7:30pm Top

You guys reading Song Yet Sung got me with a book bullet. Last Saturday when I was at our Friends of the Library Monthly Bag sale a copy was on the shelf priced at $2.00 so I grabbed it.

I won't get to it this month, but I have it.

Jul 16, 6:26am Top

Now reading The Good Lord Bird - I've just started, but compelling stuff so far.

Jul 21, 7:04am Top

-Ruth McBride was born in Poland, in 1921.

^I am finally starting the audio of The Color of Water. I have been chomping at the bit, to start this one, my second McBride of the month.

Edited: Jul 23, 9:47pm Top

I just read The Color of Water. It was fabulous. James McBride is new to me, and I will definitely be reading more of his work. He tells this story of his mother's life and his own in an honest and loving way that is very enjoyable and easy to relate to. I especially liked his discussion of the different things it meant to him over the years, being mixed race, and how he has worked at coming to terms with that. His mother is a force of nature. The accomplishments of her children would be legendary in any family, but given the societal taboos against mixed race marriages, and the challenges she faced with the loss of two husbands, it's even more impressive.

Being mixed is like that tingling feeling you have in your nose just before you sneeze - you're waiting for it to happen but it never does. Given my black face and upbringing it was easy for me to flee into the anonymity of blackness, yet I felt frustrated to live in a world that considers the color of your face an immediate political statement whether you like it or not. It took years before I began to accept the fact that the nebulous "white man's world" wasn't as free as it looked; that class, luck, religion all factored in as well; that many white individuals' problems surpassed my own, often by a lot; that all Jews are not like my grandfather and that part of me is Jewish too. Yet the color boundary in my mind was and still is the greatest hurdle.

Another quote I loved was the mother's description of her favorite preacher:

That man was the finest preacher I've ever heard to this day. He could make a frog stand up and get happy with Jesus.

Jul 25, 9:40am Top

I, too, have just finished The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother and I loved it, too. Such a compelling story, and so well told. I loved the framework of the book: a passage from the mother's point of view, then a passage from the author's point of view, bringing us chronologically through both of their lives.

I don't know why I haven't read this before, but I'm really glad that mark included McBride in the AAC! I'll look to read more by the author in the future.

Karen O.

Jul 25, 11:17am Top

My review of Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride:

This is an interesting biography of the amazing James Brown, Godfather of Soul, well-researched and dispassionately approached. Locating Brown's controversial roller-coaster career in the racial and class politics of his time, McBride presents Brown's talent and creativity through the lens of a sophisticated musical theorist and historian. Each chapter centers around one key figure in James Brown's life: one of his wives, a member of the band, a manager, a friend, and so on. This brilliant approach allows us to see the musician's humanity, to learn about him through the eyes of those who knew him best. At first it seems that McBride only chose those who loved James Brown and that is to some degree true, but the story reads as true. The consistent theme is that James Brown was difficult to know, that his self-protective armor came down for no one. It is also that he was vulnerable and afraid much of the time.

My main quibble is that McBride repeats himself. It's as if he wrote each of the chapters after interviewing that particular person in James Brown's life but didn't bother to go back and identify some of the points already adequately articulated.

My second, less vehement quibble is that McBride too often lapses into soulless lists of people, usually musicians, who illustrate a quality or a historical trend or a theme in James Brown's life. What's great about this is that the artists he names matter ~ and too many of them are poorly recognized and/or were badly treated by an industry steeped in the racism and sexism of the broader society. What's not great is that the names remain lost without more context. McBride could have spent more time making whatever case the names support; these artists' place in the story of James Brown and, indeed, the story of American culture and music is interesting! It's worth telling. I wish McBride had spent more time telling the story of the context in which James Brown's life and work changed the world and less time telling me yet again that he spent three hours after each performance having his hair done before he would be seen again in public.

Still, it's a worthwhile read and an insightful examination of the Godfather of Soul and the society in which he made his mark.

Edited: Jul 25, 5:58pm Top

The Color of Water by James McBride 4.8 stars

“You want me to talk about my family and here I have been dead to them for fifty years. Leave me alone. Don’t bother me. They don’t want no parts of me, I don’t want no parts of them. Hurry up and get the interview over with. I want to watch Dallas. … “

Ruth “Shilsky” McBride was born in Poland, in 1921. Her abusive father was a rabbi. Her family moved to the U.S. when Ruth was two years old. Ruth moved to NYC and married a black man, Andrew Dennis McBride, in 1941. Her family disowned her. Ruth went on to raise 12 children, mostly on her own, after her first two husbands died, struggling with poverty and racism. All of the children graduated from college, with several of them becoming doctors and engineers.
This beautifully written memoir, by her son James, is a true marvel. It is sad, joyful, funny and heart-breaking, told in alternating perspectives- one from James' own story of his childhood and the other in the voice of his mother, based on many reluctant interviews he had with her, over the years. I have read many fine memoirs, but this ranks right near the top.

This was also a fantastic audiobook, narrated by Andre Braugher and Lainie Kazan. I highly recommend this format.

Jul 27, 10:39pm Top

I finished Kill Em and Leave and I will admit that I was never much of a James Brown fan but chose this book because I really like James McBride as an author. Like so many show biz types, Brown's story had a lot of ups and downs, rag-to-riches and everything in between. What I was left with, though, was what a sad and tragic situation was left in his wake after his death. This book was published in 2016 and who knows when his affairs will ever truly be settled. At the time of his death in 2006, his will stated that much of his wealth be destined to the education and welfare of the poor children of his area and not a penny has benefitted any of them to date. Rather, the courts, lawyers and much of his greedy family have squandered most of it. This is just heart-breaking to me. And certainly would be to Brown, as well, if he knew. I am glad that he doesn't.

McBride did a pretty good job of speaking to Brown's inner circle of friends to flesh out the story of this reclusive man, but as Ellen mentioned in her review of this book, there were parts that included repetitions of events that could have benefitted from tighter editing. Also, name-dropping without a lot of context that went over my head, though that might be because I was not a fan; had I been, I might have recognized more of the names.

I also liked that McBride allowed his own character to come through at times in the narrative. His first non-fiction, The Colour of Water was what put him on my radar, and though this one didn't quite live up to it, I will definitely read his fiction, as well, at some point. Overall, though, a good read.

Jul 28, 12:38am Top

>38 jessibud2: Great comments, Shelley!

Aug 4, 7:09am Top

I'll be running late with this .... as per...

Aug 5, 10:38pm Top

I'm afraid I've given up on The Miracle at St. Anna. It just wasn't gripping me, and if it was going where I suspected it was going, I didn't really want to spend time on the rest of the trip.

Aug 6, 2:32pm Top

It has a very good ending. There were lots so surprises along the way with this book. I thought it was good, but war novels are often hard to take and I had quit reading many of them myself.

Aug 7, 12:33am Top

I finished The Good Lord Bird It didn't completely work for me; the slapstick elements seemed too much for me. But he is definitely a talented writer.

Aug 8, 12:17pm Top

>42 benitastrnad: You know, I almost did a thing I NEVER do, which is to skip to the last couple chapters. Maybe I should have. My imagination gave me two possible outcomes, and I didn't particularly like either of them. If I had trusted the author, perhaps I'd have been pleasantly surprised. In any case, it's gone back to the library now.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2017

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