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White Girls

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White Girls, Hilton Als’s first book since The Women fourteen years ago, finds one of The New Yorker's boldest cultural critics deftly weaving together his brilliant analyses of literature, art, and music with fearless insights on race, gender, and history. The result is an extraordinary, complex portrait of "white girls," as Als dubs them—an expansive but precise category that encompasses figures as diverse as Truman Capote and Louise Brooks, Malcolm X and Flannery O’Connor. In pieces that hairpin between critique and meditation, fiction and nonfiction, high culture and low, the theoretical and the deeply personal, Als presents a stunning portrait of a writer by way of his subjects, and an invaluable guide to the culture of our time.

344 pages, Hardcover

First published November 5, 2013

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About the author

Hilton Als

88 books237 followers
Hilton Als is an American writer and theater critic who writes for The New Yorker magazine. Previously, he had been a staff writer for The Village Voice and editor-at-large at Vibe magazine.

His 1996 book The Women focuses on his mother, who raised him in Brooklyn, Dorothy Dean, and Owen Dodson, who was a mentor and lover of Als. In the book, Als explores his identification of the confluence of his ethnicity, gender and sexuality, moving from identifying as a "Negress" and then an "Auntie Man", a Barbadian term for homosexuals.

Als's 2013 book 'White Girls' continued to explore race, gender, identity in a series of essays about everything from the AIDS epidemic to Richard Pryor's life and work.

In 2000, Als received a Guggenheim fellowship for creative writing and the 2002–03 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. In 2004 he won the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin, which provided him half a year of free working and studying in Berlin.

Als has taught at Smith College, Wesleyan, and Yale University, and his work has also appeared in The Nation, The Believer, and the New York Review of Books.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 431 reviews
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,371 followers
February 9, 2016
This should have been two volumes. The first essay is just so completely different than the rest of the book in every way, McSweeney's really should have made it a standalone book. In fact, I'm just going to review it on its own as if that's how it had been, because I'm going to remember it that way anyhow. After that I'll do a gloss of the rest of the book, because that's what each section deserves.

"Tristes Tropiques."
This slim little 95-page flit absolutely destroyed me. Destroyed. Me. I was so dazzled and ruined I couldn't see straight.

I actually read this on a sunny wintertime beach vacation, because for some reason I was expecting Hilton to be a wry old sassy queen, dishing archly about the silly tawdriness of the world. I was not expecting this utterly gutting pathos, the yawning horror of dismay and despair in the face of mortality, the essential existential howl at the center of being alive.

1992 was the year my beloved K died from AIDS, and I spent 1990, 1991, and 1992 in a kind of couple daze. I was an I, an opera of feeling with a very small audience, a dream of love growing ever more expansive because it was impossible, especially in the gay bars I sometimes frequented, where AIDS loved everyone up the wrong way—in any case night sweats were a part of the conversation people weren't having in those bars, in any case, taking your closest friend in because he was shunned by his family was part of the conversation people weren't having, still, there was this to contend with: that friend's shirt collars getting bigger; still, there was this to contend with: his coughing and wheezing in the little room off your bedroom because TB was catching, your friends didn't want you to get it; not to mention the grief in his eyes, you didn't want to catch that; those blue eyes filled with why? causing your heart to look away, a chid's question you couldn't answer: what happened to our plans, why was the future happening so fast?


I stayed at a friend's house, it was near the bay and, at night, not sleeping, I could hear the waves, it was as Virginia Woolf corny as that, they lapped up to the shore of Mrs. Vreeland's illness, one after another, becoming myself as the world inevitably becomes yourself as you lay there in love, and your love is dying.

Love and loss and AIDS and death. Sickness and defiance and sexuality and sex. Family and intellect and twinning and grief and rage. Reading this is like being punched, repeatedly, by beauty and horror and fury and sorrow all at once. Devastating and brilliant and awful and true.

The rest of the book
Meh. These essays are all smart, but they're very rangy and often bloated and generally not that gripping. There's lit theory about Capote and McCullers and Welty and O'Connor, racial theory about Malcolm X's mother and Hilton's brother, musical theory about Eminem and Michael Jackson. There's queerness and blackness and drag and Richard Pryor. But it's all diffuse and intellectualized and rendered at a deep remove—nothing comes close to the trenchant pierce of Book 1.

So the point is: buy White Girls immediately, and read "Tristes Tropiques" immediately, and cry and wail and rend your garments. And then maybe stick the book in your bathroom and dip into it once in a while when the mood strikes you, but don't expect too much of it.
Profile Image for A.
282 reviews106 followers
November 13, 2013
Probably the most insufferably pretentious book I've ever read -- and this is coming from a big Wayne Koestenbaum fan.

I love Hilton Als's writing in The New Yorker -- fascinating little queer reveries disguised as theater reviews -- and I love his public persona of a sort of curmudgeonly, erudite vamp. So I guess I'd like to meet the brilliant doctor who gave Als the full frontal lobotomy that caused him to pinch off this unreadable turd of a book. Or maybe I should blame the editor (are there editors at McSweeneys?) who let Als ramble on about graspingly obvious or uninteresting things while allowing him to only hint at his actually interesting thoughts on gender and race before drowning them in diarrhoetic torrents of abstruseness.

Child, if you're going to wait 14 years to write a book, don't bother.
Profile Image for Amanda.
54 reviews17 followers
February 2, 2014
It feels cheap to use adjectives such as "stunning," and "remarkable" to describe White Girls when Hilton Als does so much more with language in his work. The opening essay, "Tristes Tropiques," pushes language past its tipping point and creates some new, dazzling purpose with it. Simply put, this isn't how language is supposed to work, and yet it does. Readers are first thrown into an autobiographical investigation concerning Als' relationships - from friends, lovers, family, and the like - but this is no mere existential query about people's affect on one another. Als' words generate a hazy, often dream-like interpretation of the self in contemporary times, one that draws upon looming questions of race, gender, and sexuality in the late 20th century. Others have compared his style to stream-of-consciousness, but Als does much more than that; he has tight control over his meaning and purpose, deftly weaving between his memories of the past and his larger critical interpretation of those moments. It's hard to accurately articulate exactly what he does, because it defies any easy categorization. Is it autobiography? Is it cultural criticism? It's both in some remarkable format that must be experienced to be believed. From this first essay, Als moves into a series of essays revolving around cultural criticism, each one a close reading in literature, film, or another cultural medium. It's been quite some time since a book of criticism grabbed me the way Als' does; in a somewhat over-used cliche, I simply could not put the book down.
491 reviews74 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
December 9, 2014
I am just gonna have to accept that there is a certain kind of writing, a certain kind of way of making art and text, that just does not do it for me. At all. Because I don't consume media to become intimate with the creator of the media I'm consuming. I want to get into the actual media itself. I don't go, oh look at the creative person's intelligence, their emotions, their sensitivity and cleverness. I don't care. At all. I know this is at odds with the way some people, the tasteful people, prefer to consume media. For them, watching movies and TV and reading books is, on some level, enjoying the sweetness of a relationship, so the author, the auteur is important because that is the person they are having a relationship with. So they know writers' biographies! They decide to watch a director's movies without knowing what it's about beforehand! They have listened to a band's entire catalog, even the shit albums! I cannot understand this, beyond having a crush on someone's image, because come on, that is all that you are really doing, right? I notice these people also have the most difficulty with video games. ANYWAY. This book is for those people. This book is nothing but intimacy with Hilton Als! Must be like candy to them.

I didn't really care though. I actually prefer discussions on race, gender, pop culture, etc. to state their purpose and ideas explicitly, like in academic writing. Or as themes in straight forward fiction.
Profile Image for Chris Richards.
1 review5 followers
August 4, 2013
At times, this feels so good it should be illegal. Hilton Als is one of the best interpreters of our times.
Profile Image for Matt.
1,034 reviews667 followers
January 3, 2018
I'd heard a lot about Als's book through the literary buzz generated from its publication in McSweeney's in autumn of last year. The Millions mentioned it as one of the year's best reads and the stacks of blurbs on the back were hyperventilating in their approbation.

I'd read one of Als's essays before in Harper's, about gender and sexuality and it was stylistically interesting as much as it was philosophically compelling. A rare find, that.

So I got it for Xmas from my no-doubt-befuddled parents and gave it a look....

Tristes Tropiques, the opening chapter, was very profound, complex and moving: a true cri de coeur as much as a structural and linguistic tour de force. Als puts his eloquent, digressive, confessional-yet-coolly-analytical style right up at you without pause or apology and the effect is almost overpowering in its uncompromising insight. It's personal, it's political, it's prosaic, it's pointed.

Als doesn't merely blur the lines between genres and topics, messing with accepted categories of knowledge, he capably and brilliantly veers in and out of them.

One minute he's talking about his ex-lover, the next it's a French novel, then it's his parents, his friend's clothes, painful memories of his youthful eczema, meeting Jean-Michel Basquiat at a party back in the day, a moment in a conversation, the look on a person's face when they watch a movie, and on and on...

I don't mean to make this sound like Als is self-indulgent or sloppy. He isn't. It's more that Als has such an enviably sure grip on his prose style that he can tack gracefully from one topic to another, one emotion to another, one insight to the next, so that he can do that he wants to get the effect he desires: disorient the reader if he wants to shake them up or to turn a memory over for it to catch the light a certain way.

And, as with all good writers, the style is substance. The form is the function. They find a way to tell the old verities and the truths of the heart by making it new.

Als wants to tell you about Otherness, hidden memories, vibrant but tattered subcultures and the discontents of being queer, black, and ultra-sensitive and deeply intelligent amid the moronic inferno. If you don't mind his unique and challenging prose style (and you shouldn't!) there is a tremendous amount of bitter wisdom, aphoristic pith, heartbreaking loss, poetic reminiscence, caustic social criticism and erudite analysis available to you.

And then there's his literary criticism...

Als's take on Flannery O'Connor was a fine appraisal, taking her seriously and not mistaking the Georgian for the trees. His take on the controversial life of Louise Brooks "whom no man will ever have" is also great. Especially his detailed case study on the life and career trajectory of the brilliant, doomed Richard Pryor and of Louise Helen Norton, the tragically muted mother of Malcolm X: 'where's HER autobiography' is a very powerful and brilliant question. As is her status as an eponymous "white girl."

Which is sort of where the problems begin.

I wasn't persuaded by his take on Eminem's ersatz blackness. It's not that I'm an essentialist when it comes to racial matters, it's more that I'm not sure that poverty, geography, musical style, or cultural environment confer the same status or experience as someone of a different race. Eminem is a very talented guy, no question, but a, so to speak, 'white'/'black' guy? Nah, not buying it...

I mean, there is a certain level of empathy, even solidarity, that Eminem might properly feel with members of other races due to being brought up in scandalously oppressive conditions, but the fact of his being white still means he's most likely able to go places and do things which other people who don't look like him cannot go and do and be. Not really. This isn't Eminem's fault, surely, but I think race can't just be delineated through a set of particular social signifiers- the world is too fucked up for it to be that simple. Or that complex.

Maybe this makes more sense: Als writes about Truman Capote's infamous, seductive, doe-eyed author photo on the back of Other Voices, Other Rooms signifying to the world "I am a woman." And then he analyzes Capote's career in that light- competition with his more macho contemporary writers like Mailer and betraying the trust of the high society dames he'd assiduously courted by novelizing their very private lives, etc...Again, not really buying this line of thought.

I mean, Capote might well have been TRYING to signify that he was a woman, or at least his own idea of one, or perhaps society's, but that doth not a female make. It would be reductive (not to say insulting to women everywhere) to suggest otherwise. Social signification only goes so far. Biology isn't destiny, but neither is semiotic performance.

I might be misreading Als here, but he does seem to lean rather hard on the idea of race and gender as being products of social signifiers, performances, codes.

Als's appraisals of Gone With The Wind and the phenomenon of Michael Jackson were interesting but not as fleshed-out as I'd hoped they would be. Maybe he didn't feel like he needed to go further, but It seemed to me that both these essays were finishing just as they were getting started.

All in all, the book is very challenging, in the best way- consistently engaging, complex, heartfelt but bitterly ironic (a particularly tricky feat to pull off, on the page especially) while packing the pages with material. Als is erudite, lyrical, provocative and pissed-off. In a word, important.

The fact that the book was worshipfully embraced by white critics everywhere isn't, I think, a statement on the depth of literary white guilt as much as a testament to the power and the skill which Als brings to every intricate, lyrical, castigating sentence.
Profile Image for Steve.
737 reviews12 followers
December 18, 2013
Extraordinary, genre-bending cultural criticism. Along with Packer's The Unwinding, the best non-fiction book of 2013. This is a masterpiece gorgeous,
mind-expanding prose.
Profile Image for Megan.
Author 16 books478 followers
March 15, 2014
I want to write a fullblown review of this book, I think...found it utterly absorbing and provocative. Als uses the figure of the white girl (loosely defined to include, for instance, Malcolm X's "white" mother as well as fashionable young white women like those on the cover) as a way to enter into discussions of race, sexuality, gender, identity and identity politics, interpersonal relationships, literature, film, writing. The first essay, on the Als's experience of "twinning" with a loved one is my favorite; though I was pretty stunned by essays on Eminem and Richard Pryor, as well as Michael Jackson...I was stunned by most of the book, I suppose.

Some interesting similarities to Kate Zambreno's Heroines, in the kind of channeling it occasionally enacts. Definitely my favorite nonfiction read since Heroines, in any case.

Profile Image for Adam Schlesinger.
157 reviews4 followers
August 22, 2014
This is the type of book that you'd probably really like if you were really into deconstructions of race/gender/sexuality/class but didn't want another "standard" deconstructions of those things. Instead of a "here's the critical theory background we all have let's look at these people" he bounces around subjects and attacks them from a bunch of different intellectual angles. So like, I get what Als is doing and why its appealing to highbrow cultural critics but it doesn't appeal to me.

Part of the issue is that the work is so personal and so you spend a lot of time in Als' viewpoint, but the dude seems like he'd be zero fun to hang out with; in his writing he comes off totally self-serious. Like, the only time he'd express that he found something humorous is to give a wry grin at a clever turn of phrase or an unintentional irony, but he'd never like, actually laugh at a joke. Again, that's mostly me and my preference for essays.

Another reason that is that i simply lack a lot of the background of the subjects he's writing on so a lot of it is lost on me--it's very pretentious in the sense that a lot of the essays are founded on the pretense that you've read stuff about these people already and are already part of the conversation. I'd probably like the book more if he wrote an essay on figures more relevant to my pop culture experience.

So yeah, this book would probably be good for a person who likes the above-mentioned things, but it was a real slog for me.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
212 reviews26 followers
October 10, 2015
To say that White Girls was challenging feels like somehow missing the point. The more I slowed down, took a breath, and plunged into the next sentence, the more I could feel myself sinking into the vicarious experience of something a little more sophisticated than stream of consciousness - you know, those moments where you are very aware of your physical self, in the way in which you take up space, and how the loudness of your breath seems in direct contradiction of the smallness you feel?

Maybe that's just me.

There are continuities in that this is a book about race, gender, queerness, and how black men can be white women and how white men can be black men too and the ways these shifting identifies inform our modern Oedipal complex (because black/white men can be 'wuzbands' to their mothers, too). It's biography of pop culture figures that have been steeped in their own myth. It is a book about the arresting effect of a voice sounding from a room that has been obscured in plain sight. It is all of these things, sometimes at once, sometimes not.

It is nebulous, trying to determine White Girls' I; and in moments where the join is as breathtaking as this, it doesn't even matter: "For some time before we were known as an 'Oh, you two!' I felt SL was my corny and ancient 'other half.' Nearly from the first I wanted to 'grow into one' with him, as Aristophanes sort of has it in Plato's Symposium. We are not lovers. It's almost as if I dreamed him - my lovely twin, the same as me, only different."

That said, this is not an accessible read, and at times it felt less like a walk through a dazzling snowscape than it did like sloughing through that hard, dirt and gravel mixed sludge that forms when the ice can't decide whether to melt or harden. That doesn't strike me as an unintentional effect. When I finished, I didn't feel as though I gave White Girls all that I could - and as such, I can only have an opinion that is uninformed. I felt that it was tender and sharp and abasing in turns, and also, at times, incomprehensible.

Profile Image for hannah.
105 reviews2 followers
May 15, 2015
reading this book was an exercise in humility for me. i had no idea what i was getting into when i picked it up before heading on vacation, other than that junot diaz and roxane gay liked it.

hilton als does something with the essay form that i can't put into words. the fluidity of perspective, of fact and fiction - i recognize that it's incredible, and sometimes i would have these breakthroughs in understanding and i'd get to enjoy it, too. but mostly it was *hard*. maybe i'll come back to it someday after i've read, like, the entire western canon, and then i'll be able to really get it. until then, i'll accept that i nerd out on social science rather than humanities, i'll forgive myself, and i'll move on.
Profile Image for Kareem Reid.
6 reviews11 followers
August 20, 2014
his intersections are fresh, relevant, nuanced and challenging. als writes with such assuredness and respect, with the pure intention of human understanding and creates strong emotional links between taboo cultural pairings (most often white women and black men) - an exploration of how the oppressed and marginalized across privileges and cultures can illuminate or expand our perception of a broader (and more terrifying) contemporary cultural landscape. junot diaz called it "the read of the year", i don't disagree.
Profile Image for Leslie.
105 reviews20 followers
December 4, 2015
The first essay "Tristes Tropiques"--an ode to complex, romantic friendship--was so gorgeous and arresting; it's one of the best things I've read all year. The remaining essays were uneven for me, though I found the ones on Flannery O'Connor, Eminem, Louise Brooks, and Richard Pryor particularly compelling.
Profile Image for Rhea.
981 reviews39 followers
May 19, 2015
The best book I've read all year. This book changed my brain. It is a challenging read, in the best possible way. It got me thinking about race and culture and my place in the world and how I'm perceived in a way that no other work has been able to capture. An absolute must-read: and please talk to me about it when you do read it!
Profile Image for Jake Goretzki.
746 reviews116 followers
April 23, 2015

Highly original and covering a range of subjects which on their own inspire plenty of curiosity (Richard Pryor is a fascinating character; Louise Brooks another one to read up more on). As many have said, I've never read anything quite like this, blending as it does essay, memoir, polemic and fiction. It’s incredibly idiosyncratic.

Sadly, for the most part, it's so abstruse and non sequitur as to be unreadable. Sentence upon sentence of opaque, clause-heavy wooliness. I wanted to pummel the man with a copy of George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. I normally turn down the corners of books when I come to something insightful. Here I was turning down corners where I found sentences of enraging abstruseness.

Take this one:

“Regardless of where many of us believe we land - in that field encumbered by not too much baggage or entirely too much - we all come from the same place, which is a road rutted by experience so banal, nearly remarkable that memory tricks us into remembrance of it again and again , as if experience alone where not enough. What are we to do with such a life, one in which we are not left alone to events - love, shopping and so forth - but to the holocaust of feeling that memory, misremembered or not, imposes on us”.

Que? What was he saying? Who is the ‘we’? Can you rephrase that? It sounds clever. What is a ‘holocaust of feeling’? What is ‘not too much baggage or entirely too much’ - could you phrase that more decisively? Etc.

I don’t know. In the postscript, he thanks the editors “...who said the word that every writer needs to hear: Yes’. The book would have far greater reach and meaning if they’d instead said “Yes, but…” - and perhaps done a bit of that ‘editing’ thing.
1,066 reviews17 followers
October 30, 2013
This essay collection is a piece-by-piece, often focused on celebrities, dense treatise on identity. Als deals with famous figures (Eminem, Michael Jackson, Malcolm X, Truman Capote, and most in-depthly, Richard Pryor) through the lens of gender, sexuality and race - most often using each lens to draw a further microscopic view on the other. His views are often contrary to popular opinion, or introduce new ways of looking at figures that have already been intensely scrutinized, and his voice exists in a pre-sensitive place: Als says what he wants. The title, an eye-catcher for sure, reflects on his ability (as a gay black man) to relate to white girls (it's a lot more complicated than that), and this in turn parallels a lot of the collections themes: Eminem as black; Truman Capote as a woman, etc. The star of this show is the two essays on Richard Pryor, however, one from the perspective of his sister. Sprawling masterworks that paint a vivid picture on a sociological, psychological, political, artistic, and anthropological level. I feel smarter for having read this book.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,492 reviews378 followers
January 18, 2020
Wonderfully written, provocative, thoughtful literary memoir/essay collection. Als writes about issues primarily through the lens of individual characters such as Richard Pryor (an especially strong look at the performer both as an individual and at his political commentary). I loved the essay about Louise Brooks, the silent screen actress who starred in Pandora's Box. Als captured her spirit (at least the popular conception of her as demonstrated through her performances, public persona, and memoir) through rhythmic prose and first person monologue. Als has a sharp eye for detail and a powerful presence on the page.

Profile Image for Vanessa.
612 reviews7 followers
January 4, 2014
A diamond - sparkling, cold, cutting glass, piercing your heart with its beauty and intelligence. Wear it on your finger to clear the way before you.
Profile Image for Michelle.
592 reviews170 followers
April 22, 2016
"White Girls" is an absorbing and astonishing collection of 13 literary essays that explore Hilton Al's personal relationships with family members, famous friends from Diana Vreeland (1903-1989), Truman Capote (1924-1984) to fashion designer Andre Leon Talley (1949-). Al's also writes in depth about Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Louise Brooks, Flannery O'Connor, and Malcolm X. Al's discusses gay culture, and the beginnings of the AID's epidemic that claimed the life of his beloved partner "K" in 1992.

TRISTES TROPIQUES: For over three decades Al's had a close friendship with Sir or Lady (SL) who he met in 1982. SL was a graphic designer, photographer/film maker, the man he loved in friendship, emulated, accepted/understood. Al's identified with "twin-ship", his brother, the first Hilton was stillborn, he was raised by his single mother and had 4 sisters who dressed like the (1980's pop girl group) "Pointer Sister's".
After months of being away, SL would return, resuming their friendship. The white women that SL had romantic relationships, predictably got to know Al's: calling him, or hiring him to freelance/write for them, so they could critique/bash him; with jealousies over his close relationship with SL. Al's would host nice parties and they would arrive to make a scene, out of passion for SL. This played out in the same re-occurring pattern.
Al's loved SL more then grief, he used SL's women to maintain their dramatic friendship "play". Al's felt a "sisterhood" connection to black female writers, and "brotherhood" with gay male artists.

THE WOMEN: The exciting 1966 release of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" was a turning point for this author, further defining his place in the establishment of cultural "literary masculinity" then held by (Jewish) writers: Philip Roth, William S. Paley, and Norman Mailer. Capote, an openly gay man, with his effeminate high voice, gestures/mannerisms, took his palace with these manly-men as a literary icon.
Flannery O'Conner (1925-1964) hardly wrote about her Irish-Catholic religion in her Southern Gothic portrayals, and was critical of Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers clichéd "Southerness" imagery.

GWTW: The photography of the southern black lynchings are highly disturbing. Al's writes of his hyper awareness of walking away from white women as to not offend them, lest he be accused of rape, being slammed against a wall by 4-5 policemen in a case of mistaken identity, being accosted on his way to school accused of truancy, and his fear of being accidently killed as the writer/poet Henry Dumas (1934-1968).

PHILOSOPHER OR DOG? Writers of color wear the "mask of piety", just as often their voice is compromised, as the quality, thought, of the writing without having to deal with the face behind the mask.
The powerful story of Malcolm X (MX) is covered: how MX was favored by his father because of his lighter skin, and held in lower regard for the same reason by his mother. Al's discusses MX mother's West Indie's cultural beliefs in ghosts: how ghosts were a part of consciousness, appearing in dreams, with signs and warnings. After the murder of MX father, his mother was held in a Kalamazoo, MI state mental asylum for over 26 years.

WHITE NOISE: The start of Marshall Mathers III/Eminem (1972-) career often included a "trash tongue" explosive flow of rage against poverty, his mother, LGBT persons, and authority figures. In recent times, his lyrics highlight political issues, individualism, recovery, and a variety of other themes. Raised in Warren MI a suburb of Detroit- outside the "Arsenal of Democracy", his life was defined by poverty, abuse and neglect. He dropped out of school in the 9th grade, unable to continue with the torment, bullying, violence. Unlike other whites, Eminem never realized the privilege/birthright of his race. The fact hat he had survived in such a harsh environment was similar to that of a black man. Eminem's would articulate his life experience through his love of music, expressed through the rap/hip-hop genre of black music and culture. Eminem is a multi-platinum selling recording artist and hip-hop icon.

All the essays were outstanding, it would be hard to highlight each piece for this review. I was fascinated by Al's insight on Andre Leon Talley's inability to love or form romantic attachments, his observations of the life times of Michael Jackson (1958-2009), also comic genius Richard Pryor (1940-2005), of Pryor's family members, and his former wife Jennifer Lee, who wrote the book "Tarnished Angel".
"An actress is a liar!" Al's declares. They are paid to play a role, desperate, as they attempt to seduce male writers, directors, etc. Unable to stop acting, or love anyone as they love themselves.
The wide and high "field of memory" are closing observations in his final essay. A "holocaust" of feeling and emotion what is either remembered, forgotten, or even misremembered to accommodate the high wall of acceptance.

Profile Image for Jeff Golick.
60 reviews24 followers
February 23, 2015
Felt like a book Als needed to write, if also not the book I was hoping he'd write. Great on popular culture icons such as Louise Brooks and Richard Pryor, but off-puttingly insular and coded when dealing with more personal and (presumably) autobiographical material.

And here I'll turn it over to Roxane Gay, whose review quote was the one I turned to when other folks asked me about the book: "These essays defy categorization. They are unwieldy, and meandering and as self-indulgent as they are intriguing.... The prose is both intelligent and inscrutable.... This was a book I hated as much as I loved it for the incisive cultural criticism that has made me question nearly everything."
Profile Image for Sherrie Hui.
7 reviews1 follower
April 30, 2014
Virtuosic and wholly unique, many of these essays are impressionistic studies of identity, not meant to be neatly unpacked. Als' works feels like a poetic personal meditation as much as cultural criticism.
Profile Image for Carolynne.
409 reviews1 follower
August 19, 2014
This book seemed like senseless rambling to me. As with other first person narratives I've read lately, the author demands that the reader care about the characters of his story without bothering to write characters they could care about.
Profile Image for Liza.
258 reviews27 followers
August 11, 2014
This book made me have a lot of thoughts and feelings! I'm not even sure what all of them are!
Profile Image for Aria.
84 reviews9 followers
March 12, 2021
I'll come back to this I'd just like to experience happiness atm
Profile Image for tttttt ssssss.
118 reviews27 followers
July 6, 2020
I do wish that more reviews, whether on here or elsewhere, would really dissect what Hilton Als meant by white girl here. The designation is purposefully vague and conceptual, but that is part of the great fun of the book. Als treats these pages as acres of wide open land to conceptualize whatever the heck he wants, leading to awesome revelations about concepts of whiteness and femininity, idolized or ignominious. There are a few duds, or a few carefully woven threads left untethered by the end of some of these essays, though I think the experimental conceptualization is more the point than anything here.

I find this sentence impossible to memorize, but the book ends with this absolutely stunning and trenchant sentence that I feel as though I can not NOT share:

Our recourse in reinventing the love affair with no love, or a surfeit of it, the memory misremembered or tossed altogether, is learning how to write our name-- in blood or whatever-- on that clean and wide and high wall which only learning to admit oneself to one's home, recumbent with memory, can destroy.
March 6, 2021
I breezed through the rest of these essays after the long winded effort it took to finish “Tristes Tropiques.” Demanding, disorienting, honest, heart wrenching—I wanted it to be a standalone memoir. This was the piece that I shamefully extended my library hold over and over for only to, upon turning the final page, immediately go and purchase a copy. (From Reparations Club, LA people!) I should have figured, knowing Als as such an unpredictable commentator and astute observer, that I would need to keep this one close.

In an interview for Fader, Als poses: “What if we inverted black maleness? Would we see white femaleness, or would we see something else?” He introduces the white girl as a device as well as a literal subject; he bends categories, ruminates on her (their/our/my) excruciating toxicity and occasional allure, and creates a lasting collection of cultural criticism that expanded me in all directions and, assuredly, will continue to do so.
87 reviews7 followers
February 16, 2021
when it's good it's amazing, when it's confusing, it's baffling
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Author 5 books462 followers
April 14, 2016
A fun read. At times it was a bit abstract and I had trouble following the thread, but overall it was very enjoyable. Als starts the collection by talking about his friend who he calls Sir or Lady, and who is a kindred soul who shares Als' belief that black maleness in America is, in part, a little bit Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby He doesn't really explain the claim, but while reading the collection you feel that it somehow does seem right. Overall, White Girls is heavy on identity politics as cultural criticism. If that's your thing this one is for you. If not, you might find yourself rolling your eyes frequently.

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