MLA Gold Award Site

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:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 240 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


When my parents first began searching in the area, real estate brokers only wanted to show them homes in Plainfield or on the redlined black sides of town. They said families like ours tended to prefer things this way, but my father, whom we call Pappy in a nod to his Southern roots, had led a childhood that was boxed in by formal segregation in Texas, and no longer could stand to be told where to live. Out of principle he said to the brokers thank you but no thank you, and insisted on seeing all listings. Reluctantly, they caved and the four of us settled into a three-bedroom ranch on Fanwood’s decidedly white side.

It was a neighborhood of well-kept homes with yards that were flaired-up with inflatable IT’S A BOY! lawn signs, lighted holiday displays, and the occasional life-size Virgin Mary shrine. There were two main downtown areas in either direction of our house, with more pizzerias than banks or dry cleaners and, to Pappy’s lament, without a single bookstore between them. Our neighbors were what my parents called “ethnic whites,” and they tended to grow up, buy homes, have children, and die within a twenty-mile radius of where they had been born—a fact that always seemed to strike Mom and Pappy as bizarre. As a family, we did not fit in with these people, who often didn’t know what to make of us. Once when I was a very young boy, I was at the grocery store with my mother, misbehaving as little children do, when an older white woman walked by and said, “Ugh, it must be so tough adopting those kids from the ghetto.”

Despite my mother’s being white, we were a black and not an interracial family. Both of my parents stressed this distinction and the result was that, growing up, race was not so complicated an issue in our household. My brother and I were black, period. My parents adhered to a strict and unified philosophy of race, the contents of which boil down to the following: There is no such thing as being half-white, for black, they explained, is less a biological category than a social one. It is a condition of the mind that is loosely linked to certain physical features, but more than anything it is a culture, a challenge, and a discipline. We were taught from the moment we could understand spoken words that we would be treated by whites as though we were black whether we liked it or not, and so we needed to know how to move in the world as black men. And that was that.

Questions of the soul were less clear. My mother is Protestant, the daughter of an evangelical Baptist minister. My father is what he calls a Geopolitical-Existentialist-Secularist-Humanist-Realist, which really is just his way of saying he doesn’t put much stock in organized religion. Nevertheless, after very nearly being homeschooled, Clarence and I were enrolled in private Catholic schools for what my father described as “the superior levels of discipline” they offered in relation to the public schools nearby.

Another factor in the decision was the day Clarence came home from School One, about a half-block away from our front door, dazed and unable to speak. He was in the second grade and my father had given him an oxblood leather briefcase. Apparently, this made him stand out among the other boys. So did his suntanned skin, which after the long hot summer was the color of maple honey; and his hair, which was styled in a large spherical Afro and which in his childhood was light brown with strands of blond and something like sherry in it: beautiful. My mother and sometimes my father would comb my brother’s Afro in the mornings with an orange tin can of Murray’s dressing grease and a black plastic pick. “You look distinguished now, son,” Pappy would say, and smile when he was finished with him, distinguished being the rarest and highest compliment in his vocabulary.

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: Girl in the Blue Coat
    Girl in the Blue Coat
    by Monica Hesse
    Set in Amsterdam in January 1943, Monica Hesse's young adult novel, Girl in the Blue Coat, ...
  • Book Jacket: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
    Everyone Brave is Forgiven
    by Chris Cleave
    I've always been interested in the history of the Blitz, the period of intense aerial raids of ...
  • Book Jacket: Saving Montgomery Sole
    Saving Montgomery Sole
    by Mariko Tamaki
    Understanding identity is one the most important parts of adolescence. For some teenagers, those who...
Win this book!
Win The 100 Year Miracle

50 Copies to Give Away!

The 100 Year Miracle is a rich, enthralling novel, full of great characters.

Enter

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Fair Fight
by Anna Freeman

A page-turning novel set in the world of 18th century female pugilists.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
    by Phaedra Patrick

    In a poignant and sparkling debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Alaskan Laundry
    by Brendan Jones

    A fresh debut novel about a young woman who moves to Alaska and finds herself through the hard work of fishing.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I A Sign O T T

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.