Excerpt from Losing My Cool by Thomas Chatterton Williams, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Losing My Cool

How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture

By Thomas Chatterton Williams

Losing My Cool
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Apr 2010,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    240 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


If Pappy was a tyrant, he was a gentle and conflicted one, who did not relish the role. He yearned for a time when he would cease having to be one at all. What he hoped was that if he could somehow just make reading and studying appealing enough to his boys, eventually we wouldn’t need his prodding anymore and we’d simply do it on our own. To that end, he made sure not just to dangle punishment over our heads, Sword of Damocles–style, and leave it at that. He went out of his way to be fair. If we just did what he asked without too much complaint, he would do us some real solids in return, such as paying us generously for our time (“Studying is your job, and an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay”), intervening on our behalf when our mother doled out chores (“Studying is their only job”), and tolerating a slew of hair, clothing, and dating choices that were in flagrant violation of his personal tastes.

Despite these enticements, Clarence would always find it difficult to take to long periods of study, and he went through fits of resistance routinely. Being the younger brother, I had the advantage of learning from his mistakes and avoiding most of his battles. I was what Pappy called a “dutiful son.” Most of the time this dutifulness of mine sufficed. We were rarely in open conflict with each other, and he was almost always patient and playfully encouraging with me.

“Thomas Chatterton,” he’d say, addressing me by my middle name as I sped through his study on my way to the kitchen, oblivious to my surroundings. “Do you know you wear the name of a brilliant poet, son?” he’d call from the other room.

“Yeah, of course, Babe,” I’d say, poking my head into the refrigerator, looking for something sweet.

“And do you know they call him the Marvelous Boy, his poetry was so fine?” he’d say, still talking to me from the other room.

“Uh-uh,” I’d say with my mouth full.

“Well, they do. His poetry was so fine, in fact, and he was so young when he wrote it, that the adults couldn’t even believe the work was his own. They all accused him of copying someone else, someone much older.”

“They did?”

“They sure did. And do you know that he became so distraught by this, he became so discouraged, that he killed himself when he was only seventeen years old? He decided he couldn’t live with the dishonor.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yes it is, son. Life is not fair. But now you’re going to bring honor to his name, aren’t you? It’s very important that you do that, son.”

“But I don’t know how to, Babe,” I’d say, returning to the study with a bowl of ice cream or a glass of soda in my hand.

”Well, you don’t have to be a poet, son. You can be a great philosopher, for example—pull up a seat.”

“A philosopher?” I’d say, and sit down.

“Yes, in fact, you’re a philosopher already, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think so,” I’d say, my cheeks flushing.

“Well, yes you are, son. Think about it: Do you question the things around you? Do you reflect on their meaning? Are you interested in the truth?”

“Yeah.”

“Then you’re a philosopher, son,” he would tell me, and I would laugh, embarrassed because I didn’t feel at all like a philosopher, whatever that was I could only imagine. I felt ignorant, which is what I confessed to him. And he would tell me that ignorance is the beginning of knowledge and talk of men named Socrates and Confucius. He revered these two men perhaps above all other men, Socrates for his edict to know thyself and Confucius for his devotion to learning and personal excellence, he said. I would sit there at Pappy’s desk, exhausting whatever sugary collation I had brought with me from the kitchen, and listen to him talk. “Well, I’ve told you enough,” he’d eventually say. “Now, you tell me—how am I going to grow up and be smart like you?” We’d laugh and I’d try to come up with some reply. These questioning talks I had with Pappy were so frequent in my childhood that to this day the name Socrates remains mingled in my mind with the image of my balding and bearded father seated in his study. I cannot think of one without inadvertently conjuring the other.

Excerpted from Losing My Cool by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Copyright © 2010 by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  A Beginner's Guide to Hip-hop

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Shotgun Lovesongs
    by Nickolas Butler
    Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, follows five life-long friends, now in their mid-...
  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...
  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  254Cartwheel:
    Jennifer duBois
  2.  170The Weight of Blood:
    Laura McHugh

All Discussions

Who Said...

Information is the currency of democracy

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.