An uncharacteristically short newsletter about a truly great book

Learning In Public by Courtney Martin rules and I hope you read it


Usually, when I make recommendations in this space, they take at least a little bit of effort- I ask that White people spend their time with the kind of White people we’ve been taught to avoid. I ask White people to reconsider decisions we’ve made— about where we live, where we work, our relationship to money. I ask White people to wrestle with what stories about ourselves we’re not willing to give up.

This week, I’m just going to ask that you pre-order a book.

And not only that, I’m going to ask you to pre-order (and subsequently read) a book that is artfully written… critical and funny and self-aware and profound and biting and kind. It’s a book with some freaking sentences in it… sentences that made me mad for not having written them. Here! Check out some of these sentences!

“If the unofficial religion of Park Day [School] is social justice, the ultimate deity is Martin Luther King Jr. One can’t walk more than ten feet without seeing his face emblazoned somewhere— shining that beatific grin on all those terrifically loved, overwhelmingly White children.”

“I feel like a gentrifying neighborhood is like a broken Magic Eye puzzle: a series of dots that should add up to a whole if you look at it right, but it never quite comes together.”

“The tone is faux chill, unconvincingly masking the reality, which is that White and privileged people are touring and googling and spreadsheeting and LISTSERVing and sweating all the details.”

The book I’d love for you to read isn’t out yet, but it will be soon (August 3rd). You already know that it’s called Learning in Public and that it’s by Courtney Martin because I said so in the subtitle (and also there’s a big picture of it up above). I hope you pre-order it if you have the means, because pre-orders go a long way towards signaling how popular a book will be, which I’m told becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of more books being ordered, more attention given, etc. I know I know, it sounds like a lot of wizardry, but let’s go with it. And yes, I hope this book gets a lot of attention, not because I’m friends with the author (Full disclosure: I am! she’s rad! We became virtual friends during the pandemic but we finally met in person this week and we drank Tecates on a patio in a rainstorm!) but because it’s incredible and I think that more people (especially more white people) reading this book will be very good for the world.

Whoa. That’s a big statement! But I mean it! It’s a book about White people in multiracial cities and the hundreds of ways we muck things up (and what it looks like to be thoughtful about mucking it up a little bit less). It is a book about White people in predominately Black and Brown schools, but it somehow isn’t about being anybody’s savior. It’s about parenting and gentrification and activism and hypocrisy and all the moments that we (you know the “we” I’m talking to here) think that we’re fooling anybody when we pontificate about theory and praxis and the Panthers 10 Point Program and how complicated it all is before going back to our lives, changing nothing. It’s a book about Courtney and her oldest daughter and their elementary school in Oakland while also being the best book I’ve read so far about what it means to be White in America in this moment.

I’ll stop there because I’m writing about writing, which I guess Martin Mull or Frank Zappa or somebody like that would have said is like architecturing about architecture. Non-selfishly, I hope you all buy and read Learning In Public because I think you’ll love it and I think the world will be a bit better for it. Selfishly, I want to have more people to talk to about this book.

So yes, please pre-order if you can. And while you’re waiting for the book to arrive, check out Courtney’s website to learn about some of the organizations that inspired her as she was hammering out pages in a VW bus parked outside her house. If you aren’t in a financial position to buy a book right now, holler at me— I pre-ordered a few extra and I’d be happy to send you one when they arrive. And when you read it, let me know… like I said, all I want to talk about these days is the scene where Courtney goes on the tour at the private school, or the scene at the crab fundraiser, or all the scenes at the school board meetings… ok, sorry for the teasers. You get the picture. Book! It’s good!

End notes: In addition to Courtney’s book, here are a few other things that I have done or consumed in the past few weeks that I wholeheartedly recommend: (1). Buying a new winter jacket in the summer (I got a good deal). (2). Making nutella-cherry campfire pies with a cast iron pie iron (the pie irons only cost fifteen bucks a pop and they are very fun). (3). Last night’s WNBA three-point contest (I mean, since we’re talking basketball now… also the Milwaukee Bucks as a general concept, but you knew I’d say that). (4). The line in "Metal Firecracker” by Lucinda Williams where she sings about putting on ZZ Top and turning it up… real loud. (5.). The song “Just Got Paid” by ZZ Top. (6). This game my kids and I invented where they try to touch my face and I try to keep them from touching my face… it’s called “Touch Dad’s face” and it too is actually… fun. (7). The organization Integrated Schools, which I hope you get involved with as soon as you read Courtney’s book.