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

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Losing My Cool

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

By Thomas Chatterton Williams

Losing My Cool
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2010,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    240 pages.

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Sometimes, though, Pappy grew impatient waiting for the love of learning to take root in me. “I don’t understand,” he’d say in moments of frustration, “how you can keep walking past all these books and never stop to pick up a single one of them. My people told me not to read—don’t you know what I would have done to have all this? Don’t you ever get curious, son?” These were simple, honest questions that sometimes he put to me with a shake of the head and wry smile. Sometimes, though, he didn’t smile at all. In these latter moments, the look on his face was nothing like anger and something like pain—a sort of deep, serious pain I have only seen replicated in pictures of black faces of a certain age and demographic. It was a pain that I knew I couldn’t have caused but somehow must have mistakenly activated. I would stand there looking at him, frozen, like a deer suspended in halogen beams, and stammer some weak response.

That particular afternoon after my visit to the barbershop, Pappy let drop the subject of my rectangular head of hair and handed me my work for the day. There was no long talk and no sadness in his face that afternoon. “Memory exercises and then vocabulary, both synonyms and antonyms,” he said. “Write them all out on flashcards and then come see me.”

“OK, Babe,” I said, and went to my room carrying a pale green tachistoscope, a stack of SAT and GRE word lists, and a thick Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, glad to have dodged a confrontation. After a morning spent at the barbershop, submerged in Black Entertainment Television, speaking and thinking in my florid second tongue—Ebonics—it was time now to return to the staid and familiar language of my father.

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.

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