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Document Type

Book Review

Abstract

Recently a student, Sara, approached me and said, “This spring I am graduating. I am sorry I didn’t take any of your classes, but I am told that you will not hold that against me; and [you will] be helpful. I am going to Chicago with my boyfriend after graduation. He has a job in the city, so we want to live in the city; therefore, I will need to get a job with the Chicago Public Schools. What do you recommend that I read so that I will become a good teacher?” I gave her my copy of Brian’s book--the one he autographed for me--and told her that it would be insightful and illuminating, and said to her, “You can do it, this author did it; hang in there and enjoy.” I also said, “It is a rare book, and you may keep it if you promise to read it several times and send me an email to let me know how you are doing.” (May 15, 2008)

The definitions of a rare book on the web include these: “When few copies of a book are known to exist, it is called rare”; and/or it may also refer to “Unusual, old books that are considered valuable due to unique qualities.” While I am not interested in having an argument with those who provide computer information for the web, it is, nonetheless, necessary to offer another definition of a rare book that I think deserves to be included: “A rare book is one that includes valuable content or narrative not frequently found in other books of the same genre.” I make this argument because much of the writing about urban Black life by scholars and popular press reporters for most of the twentieth century portrays African American children and families as pathologically and culturally deficient. It was the rare book of the twentieth century, such as those by Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison and a few others, that depicted African Americans “in terms of living tissue and texture of daily consciousness” (Ellison, 1947, p.12) and did not adhere to the “motive of expediency” that Wright (1993, p. 12) described. Although writing about American novelists, Ralph Ellison’s statement in his introduction to Invisible Man (1947) has much to offer educators doing work in urban areas. He commented that, “I felt that one of the ever-present challenges facing the American novelist was that of endowing his inarticulate characters, scenes and social processes with eloquence. For it is by such attempts that he fulfills his social responsibility as an American artist” (p. xx). I contend that the rich, textured descriptions of African Americans, found in fiction and nonfiction books, are often included in the syllabus of some high school and college literature classes. However, education texts, by and large, unfortunately lack an informed insight into the varied, distinctive, wealth, and complex pattern of Black life.

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