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The 40-plus essays will span art, literature, and politics, with topics from Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin to President Obama and Boko Haram. The collection will include pre-published essays that have gone viral, like “The White Industrial Savior Complex,” first published in The Atlantic.


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The 40-plus essays will span art, literature, and politics, with topics from Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin to President Obama and Boko Haram. The collection will include pre-published essays that have gone viral, like “The White Industrial Savior Complex,” first published in The Atlantic.

30 review for Known and Strange Things: Essays

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    This book of essays by Teju Cole aren’t always essays: they might be scraps of thought, well-digested and to an immediate point. They are fiercely intelligent, opinionated, meaningful in a way that allow us to get to the heart of how another thinks. And does he think! Let’s be frank: many of us don’t do enough thinking, and Cole shows us the way it can be done in a way that educates, informs, and excites us. The work in this volume are nonfiction pieces published in a wide variety of outlets and This book of essays by Teju Cole aren’t always essays: they might be scraps of thought, well-digested and to an immediate point. They are fiercely intelligent, opinionated, meaningful in a way that allow us to get to the heart of how another thinks. And does he think! Let’s be frank: many of us don’t do enough thinking, and Cole shows us the way it can be done in a way that educates, informs, and excites us. The work in this volume are nonfiction pieces published in a wide variety of outlets and that he chose from an eight-year period of travel and almost constant writing. The emphasis in these pieces, he tells us in the Preface, is on “epiphany.” We can enjoy kernels of ideas that may have had a long gestation, but have finally burst onto the scene with a few sentences but little heavy-handedness or any of the weight of “pronouncements.” This reads like a bared heart in the midst of negotiating life, as James Baldwin says in The Fire Next Time, “as nobly as possible, for the sake of those coming after us.” Cole references Baldwin in all these pieces in his unapologetic gaze, but he does so explicitly in several pieces, notably “Black Body” in which he tells of visiting the small town in Switzerland, Leukerbad (or Loèche-les-Bains), where Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain found its final form. Cole expands on his time in Switzerland in “Far Away From Here,” which might be my favorite of these essays. Cole tells how he was given six months to write while living in Zurich and though he did precious little writing, he was totally absorbed every day, gazing at the landscape, walking the mountains, photographing the crags, trails, and lakes, thinking, unfettered. This is someone who carries all he needs in his head, and I loved that freedom as much as he. But how can I choose a favorite from among these pieces when each spoke of ways to approach a subject with which we have struggled—or haven’t yet…About race and class: “how little sense of shame [Americans] seemed to have,” he writes, looking at America from his upbringing in Lagos. Cole echoes Baldwin again in “Bad Laws” about Israel and its laws concerning the rights of Palestinians: ”The reality is that, as a Palestinian Arab, in order to defend yourself against the persecution you face, not only do you have to be an expert in Israeli law, you also have to be a Jewish Israeli and have the force of the Israeli state as your guarantor…Israel uses an extremely complex legal and bureaucratic apparatus to dispossess Palestinians of their land, hoping perhaps to forestall accusations of a brutal land grab.”Earlier Baldwin reminded us that “…few liberals have any notion of how long, how costly, and how heartbreaking a task it is to gather the evidence that one can carry into court [to prove malfeasance, official or not], or how long such court battles take.” Americans looking at Israel and Palestine should be able to discern some outline of our own justifications and methods, and vice versa. Photography is one of Cole’s special interests and he is eloquent in Section Two "Seeing Things" discussing what makes great photography as opposed to the “dispiriting stream of empty images [that the] Russians call poshlost: fake emotion, unearned nostalgia.” And then he discusses “Death in the Browser Tab,” wherein he tells us what he sees and what he knows after retracing the steps caught by the phone footage of Walter Scott, shot in the back with eight bullets from a .45-caliber Glock 21. Politics is what humans do, though “the sheer quantity of impacted bullshit in politics” is clearly not something Cole relishes. In "The Reprint" Cole admits he did not vote until sixteen years after he was eligible, and when he did vote finally, for Obama, “like a mutation that happens quietly on a genetic level and later completely alters the body’s function, I could feel my relationship to other Americans changing. I had a sense—dubious to me for so long, and therefore avoided—of common cause.” He notes that Obama was “not an angry black man, the son of slaves” but a biracial outsider who invisibly worked his way to the center of the political establishment by piggybacking the experience of American blacks -- hiding in plain sight. The night Obama won, Cole was in Harlem. “There was as exuberant and unscripted an outpouring of joy as I ever expect to see anywhere… Black presidents are no novelty for to me. About half my life, the half I lived in Nigeria, had been spent under their rule, and, in my mind, the color of the president was neither here nor there. But this is America. Race mattered.”Cole will speak out in "A Reader's War" against Obama’s “clandestine brand of justice” and his “ominous, discomfiting, illegal, and immoral use of weaponized drones against defenseless strangers…done for our sakes.” He admits that Obama believes he is trying “to keep us safe,” and writes “I am not naive…and I know our enemies are not all imaginary…I am grateful to those whose bravery keeps us safe.” It is one of the most difficult questions about political and military power that we face today and Cole wrestles the issue heroically. Not any of us have yet answered this question well, and until we do, the disconnect between justice and drone strikes will continue to plague us. We have unleashed a terrible swift sword on far away lands while we continue to suffer the brutality of a thousand cuts from our own citizens. Cosmic justice? When Cole talks about literature I experience a frisson. There is nothing quite like someone very clever and well-spoken addressing something about which one cares deeply. His insights add to my pleasure, and detract nothing. His description of the poetry of Derek Walcott remind me of the first time I encountered Walcott’s work: “This is poetry with a painterly hand, stroke by patient stroke.” I have forever thought of Walcott in this way, in color and in motion: turquoise and pale yellow, cool beige and hibiscus pink, the palest gray and an ethereal green I am not sure is water, air, or sea grass. The ocean creates tides through his work, and it seems so fresh. When Cole writes of his visit to V.S. Naipaul in “Natives on the Boat," we sense how Cole’s initial reserve is eventually won over by Naipaul’s deeply curious and wide-ranging questions. In the very next essay, “Housing Mr. Biswas,” Cole writes an ecstatic celebration of Naipaul’s accomplishment in creating the “smart and funny, but also often petulant, mean, and unsympathetic” Mr. Biswas in Trinidad, “an important island in the Caribbean but not a particularly influential one on the world stage…the times and places—the farms, the roads, the villages, the thrumming energy of the city, the mornings, afternoon, dusks, and nights—are described with profound and vigilant affection…it brings to startling fruition in twentieth century Trinidad the promise of the nineteenth century European novel.” He’s right of course. Naipaul is a beloved writer of a type of novel no longer written, and perhaps now not often read. Reading all these essays in one big gulp was a lot to digest so I am going to recommend a slower savoring. This is a book one must own and keep handy for those small moments when one wants a short, sharp shock of something wonderful. By all means read it all at once so you know where to go back to when you can dig up copies of some of the photos he talks about or want to recall how Cole manages in so few words to convey so much meaning. His is a voice thoughtful in expressing what he sees and yet so vulnerable and human I want to say—read this—this man is what’s been missing from your lives.
 These collected essays will be published August 9, 2016. I read the e-galley provided to me by Netgalley and Random House. I note that some of the essays about art or photography that were initially published in newspapers sometimes were accompanied by examples of the work he discusses. In a perfect world, these would be included in the final book, but truthfully, his writing is clear and compelling enough to not make that nicety strictly necessary. Apologies to the publisher for quoting from a galley: my excuse is that the work is previously published and therefore no surprise.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I find it difficult to rate and review a book of essays; just like short stories, some I connected with, some I skimmed. This was my first book from the Malaprops Homeward Bound subscription, and I was pleased to get it in the mail because I would have read it eventually anyway. I've read all books by this author. My favorite is still the novel Open City, I think because it gave him the opportunity to pull some of his smaller ideas together into a longer narrative. I feel like some of these essa I find it difficult to rate and review a book of essays; just like short stories, some I connected with, some I skimmed. This was my first book from the Malaprops Homeward Bound subscription, and I was pleased to get it in the mail because I would have read it eventually anyway. I've read all books by this author. My favorite is still the novel Open City, I think because it gave him the opportunity to pull some of his smaller ideas together into a longer narrative. I feel like some of these essays suffer because of a short timeline, maybe a deadline or a word limit. Some feel like just the beginning of his thoughts on a subject, and he does return to some of the ideas in multiple essays. At least three mention James Baldwin, and he even follows the path of a journey Baldwin took, continuing the journey. But because the essays are grouped by larger topic, "Reading Things," "Seeing Things," and "Being There," some of the smaller threads are dropped and picked back up again. That's okay, there are numerous ways of organizing an essay collection, but I felt like some of these writings could be expanded. That small complaint is actually more of a compliment. I like what Teju Cole does with ideas over time. Overall, Cole is a great observer - of people, of places, of art. He notices things, he remembers what he has read, and these connections strengthen his work and interactions with people. This is what I like about his fiction as well. I learned about people I'd never heard of: -Derek Walcott, Caribbean poet (mentioned in the company of a bunch of other 20th century Caribbean writers I also had not heard of: Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, Aime Cesaire, Maryse Conde, Samuel Selvon, George Lamming, C.L.R. James... I feel like I know nothing!) -Andre Aciman (I read his essay on Aciman's Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere right after finishing a novel by him, but otherwise knew nothing, so this read was timely) -Peter Sculthorpe (an Australian composer) -endless photographers (Cole has a great love of photography, and is a photographer himself... luckily this book has some reprinted that he discusses) I enjoyed his thoughts on growing up in Nigeria and the various issues associated with that background, essays on race and war, etc. The essay on Obama's first presidential win was almost too much to take this week, but even then he is able to capture his own joy, others' joy, and others' indifference, just in the journey home. And like always, there is more here about the movement of cities, something which connects all of his work, and is probably what I love most.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    1st essay. Cole goes to the same town in Switzerland that Baldwin visited. Musing on race and what it means to be black. More to follow.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    Teju Cole is a novelist, photographer, and essayist. He is an American citizen, born here but raised in Nigeria. He is the author of several of my most favorite books: Open City and Every Day is for the Thief. I was fortunate enough to see him at an exhibition of his photographs here in NYC last summer and to listen to him speak about the pictures and his process. Known and Strange Things: Essays is a collection of essays on a variety of topics. One section is devoted to photography, a subject a Teju Cole is a novelist, photographer, and essayist. He is an American citizen, born here but raised in Nigeria. He is the author of several of my most favorite books: Open City and Every Day is for the Thief. I was fortunate enough to see him at an exhibition of his photographs here in NYC last summer and to listen to him speak about the pictures and his process. Known and Strange Things: Essays is a collection of essays on a variety of topics. One section is devoted to photography, a subject about which I know only a little, but his meditations on different works, his discussions of process and his general musings on art are fascinating. In another section, Cole explores his experiences as a traveler (of which he seems to do a great deal!) and what those experiences say both about the places he visits and himself as the visitor. And then there is a section in which he examines social/political events all over the world, including Nigeria where he was raised and the United States where he is now. His essay on immigration, written several years ago, is sadly highly relevant today. He writes about the sufferings of people attempting to enter or reenter the U.S., their deaths, their separations from their families, and why they are leaving their countries (in this case, Mexico). He also looks at the role the United States has played in destabilizing governments and economies throughout the world and the moral implications and actual results of these policies. Cole's is an interesting mind to spend time with. Never dull, it's like having a conversation with a find mind and artist. Of course, it's a conversation in which you're listening and responding only with the thoughts he has provoked but in the company of such a fine writer, this was sufficient for me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This collects 55 short pieces under three headings: literature, visual arts, and travel. Part I, “Reading Things,” holds most appeal for fans of his novels. Alongside straightforward book reviews are essays in which he engages with his literary heroes. A 400-page book of disparate essays is a hard ask; even photography aficionados may struggle through the long middle section. All the same, patience is rewarded by Part III, “Being There,” in which Cole deftly blends memoir and travelogue. Again a This collects 55 short pieces under three headings: literature, visual arts, and travel. Part I, “Reading Things,” holds most appeal for fans of his novels. Alongside straightforward book reviews are essays in which he engages with his literary heroes. A 400-page book of disparate essays is a hard ask; even photography aficionados may struggle through the long middle section. All the same, patience is rewarded by Part III, “Being There,” in which Cole deftly blends memoir and travelogue. Again and again he reflects on displacement and ambiguity. Born in Michigan but raised in Nigeria, he returned to the States for college. Though erudite and wide-ranging, these essays are not quite as successful as, say, Julian Barnes’s or Geoff Dyer’s in making any and every topic interesting to laymen. Still, Cole proves himself a modern Renaissance man, interweaving experience and opinion in rigorous yet conversational pieces that illuminate the arts. See my full review on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.

  6. 4 out of 5

    But_i_thought_

    Reading Teju Cole’s essay collection is like taking a masterclass in thinking and seeing and writing. His approach is both nimble and vigilant — whether he is discussing the books he has read, the photography he has examined, or the places he has visited. In the opening essay we find Teju Cole retracing the steps of James Baldwin by visiting a rural village in Switzerland. Baldwin has spent a few weeks in Leukerbad in the 50s and published an essay on the experience of being the first black man i Reading Teju Cole’s essay collection is like taking a masterclass in thinking and seeing and writing. His approach is both nimble and vigilant — whether he is discussing the books he has read, the photography he has examined, or the places he has visited. In the opening essay we find Teju Cole retracing the steps of James Baldwin by visiting a rural village in Switzerland. Baldwin has spent a few weeks in Leukerbad in the 50s and published an essay on the experience of being the first black man in an all-white village, his tone both bemused and sorrowful. Visiting the same village some 60 years later, Cole meditates on what has changed and what hasn’t — the ways in which money and mode of dress now shield him from hostility, the ubiquity of black culture and black music, contrasted with pervading systems of callous disregard (Switzerland being a mere lens through which to re-examine the situation back home in the US). This opening essay forms the backdrop, the implied soundtrack, to the essays that follow. The weather: brooding, persuasive, stimulating. I particularly enjoyed Cole’s think pieces on photography, his area of formal expertise. Here he looks at topics such as the affirmative power of portraiture as examined through the work of West African photographers Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe; followed by Roy DeCarava’s shadowy explorations of “opacity” in visual narrative (“the right not to have to be understood on others’ terms, to be misunderstood if need be”). As someone who takes primarily “pretty” photographs of the world around me, Cole’s ideas on “patient seeing”, on reticent imaging, on the conceptual provocations found in mystery, hit me with a force — each essay a self-contained Wunderkammer of fascination. My only critique: I yearned for greater compression in the collection, particularly in the travel section. We get 55 essays, many previously published online, varying greatly in depth and subject matter. I wanted less of an “all-you-can-eat buffet” and more of a tightly curated assembly. I was also missing, at times, what Vivian Gornick calls “personal journalism” – the grounding of big ideas in the reflections of the personal (in other words: more personal context, more intimacy). That said, this collection is a formidable catalogue of hours spent thinking, seeing, sifting and sequencing. As a testament to constellational thinking and the “double take of seeing”, this atlas of musings is well worth your attention. Mood: Cerebral, analytical Rating: 8.5/10 Also on Instagran. Some of my favourite essays with links to online previews • Black Body • Portrait of Lady • Object Lesson • Saul Leiter • A True Picture of Black Skin • Gueorgui Pinkhassov • The White Saviour Industrial Complex Memorable quotes What do I believe in? Imagination, gardens, science, poetry, love, and a variety of nonviolent consolations. I suspect that in aggregate all this isn’t enough but it’s where I am for now. Photography is inescapably a memorial art. It selects, out of the flow of time, a moment to be preserved, with the moments before and after falling away like sheer cliffs. Rural landscapes can give the double illusion of being eternal and newly born. Cities, on the other hand, are marked with specific architecture from specific dates, and this architecture, built by long-vanished others for their own uses, is the shell that we, like hermit crabs, climb into.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    I am a novelist, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn't have a point. This past Saturday my wife and I viewed the Parts Unknown episode devoted to Lagos. This viewing was obviously burdened with grief. What did my mourning betray? I spent much of the weekend lodged in such contemplation but alas Saturday I watched Anthony Bourdain traipsing the frenetic streets of the Nigerian capital. He made allusions to the improvisational nature I am a novelist, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn't have a point. This past Saturday my wife and I viewed the Parts Unknown episode devoted to Lagos. This viewing was obviously burdened with grief. What did my mourning betray? I spent much of the weekend lodged in such contemplation but alas Saturday I watched Anthony Bourdain traipsing the frenetic streets of the Nigerian capital. He made allusions to the improvisational nature of the city, how it self-regulated. There was only a casual gloss to the idea that the city "policed itself". This minor point was the subject of essay late in Cole's collection. Lynching or popular justice is still somewhat common in Nigeria. Apparently it is often documented on Youtube. I told my best friend who was about to fly back from the Netherlands I wish I could unread the graphic essay. This is Cole's gift: he makes us uneasy, not expectedly like when discussing racial politics but about the reality of the fleeting human experience. Cole name-drops, but with a deadpan air. He introduces figures, like Peter Sculthorpe of whom I wasn't at all aware. He cites lines of poetry and ruminates on why in Brazil the wait staff ignore him in a restaurant. Much of this volume is on photography which offers minimal interest to me. There is also some excellent journalism. Cole went to Harlem in 2008 the night of president Obama's election. Cole looks at his unlikely origins born in Michigan, raised in Nigeria and back to the US as a plethora of challenges and opportunities. He is haunted by his own doppelgänger: W.G. Sebald. He parses Sebald's work and reflects. there is a rich vein of estrangement in his work. perhaps in my own life. Maybe that's why even when in deep disagreement with the author, Teju Cole feels like home.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    Again rather a mixed bag for me. Teju Cole caught my attention last year with his fabulous Open City, an original walk through New York, to which his Nigerian roots in particular added an extra dimension. This book is something completely different: a series of previously published essays, a colorful collection of indeed "known and strange things". I was - of course - most charmed by his reflections on writers such as James Baldwin and W.G. Sebald. Cole shows quite a bit of erudition, and what i Again rather a mixed bag for me. Teju Cole caught my attention last year with his fabulous Open City, an original walk through New York, to which his Nigerian roots in particular added an extra dimension. This book is something completely different: a series of previously published essays, a colorful collection of indeed "known and strange things". I was - of course - most charmed by his reflections on writers such as James Baldwin and W.G. Sebald. Cole shows quite a bit of erudition, and what is striking again is how easily he jumps from the Western "higher" culture to the African and back. This American of Nigerian origin clearly profiles himself as "trans-identical", although he continues to maintain a special sensitivity to the inherent American racism against blacks. The entire middle section, which mainly focuses on his passion for photography, appealed to me much less, not only because I have little affinity with it, but especially because the photos discussed were not printed themselves (you will find a small selection at the end of the book). But then there is the last third of the book, where Cole taps into the most diverse topics. This part is sometimes very political in focus, very radical indeed. In particular former president Barack Obama is the culprit of Cole: for Cole he is not a true African American, just part of a villain political system and Cole calls him a downright mass murderer, due to the massive deployment of drones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, killing thousands of innocent civilians. Cole is vehemently kicking against the idealized image of Obama with the (left-wing) West European intelligentsia and the "liberals" in the States. Also the entire "Cony" discussion is being revived: Cole caused quite a stir in 2012 when in a few tweets he criticized the outrage over the documentary about the brutal Ugandan children's army leader. In a kind of apologetic essay he tries to explain exactly what he meant then, namely puncturing the "White Saviour Industrial Complex". In short: Cole certainly has an own, radical voice that is worth hearing, but I wasn't really blown away by this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    An impressive collection of elegantly written essays! I have read a couple of fiction books by Teju Cole and was interesting in reading his essay collection to see if his nonfiction writing would shed light on his fiction writing. Not only did I gain a new appreciation for his fiction writing but was treated to a thoughtful contemplative journey of timely and informative issues. While this enthralling collection covers a diverse range of subjects it is the sincere honesty in the writing that had m An impressive collection of elegantly written essays! I have read a couple of fiction books by Teju Cole and was interesting in reading his essay collection to see if his nonfiction writing would shed light on his fiction writing. Not only did I gain a new appreciation for his fiction writing but was treated to a thoughtful contemplative journey of timely and informative issues. While this enthralling collection covers a diverse range of subjects it is the sincere honesty in the writing that had me in a thoughtful mood after each essay. I highly recommend this collection to readers looking for an intelligent thought-provoking read

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    3 to 5 stars (depending on the essay). After reading Cole's novel Open City a few years ago, I decided I didn't like it. But the novel wouldn't let me go, staying with me for days and weeks and even now, years later. So I revised my opinion. Any book that makes me think, that guides me towards viewing life differently, is invaluable. That's what Cole does in this collection of essays. The first section, Reading Things, is a selection of reviews on literature and poetry. The 2nd section, Seeing T 3 to 5 stars (depending on the essay). After reading Cole's novel Open City a few years ago, I decided I didn't like it. But the novel wouldn't let me go, staying with me for days and weeks and even now, years later. So I revised my opinion. Any book that makes me think, that guides me towards viewing life differently, is invaluable. That's what Cole does in this collection of essays. The first section, Reading Things, is a selection of reviews on literature and poetry. The 2nd section, Seeing Things, consists of photography reviews or thoughts about the landscapes he has visited. Just as I was getting used to a cerebral zone, with the neurons in my brain forming thoughts they hadn't considered before, Cole changed gears in the third section, Being There, and hit me hard, right in the heart.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    I feel so smart reading his essays. The reader gets coles education and world view pretty much rammed down the throat but it IS fun and educational.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Khush

    I just get to know this writer a few days ago. It seems to me that he is very popular among university students. This book deals with a range of essays. So no matter what is your taste, you will find something interesting in this book. I particularly liked his essays on James Baldwin, Naipaul, but the one that I really enjoyed reading is titled 'Bad Laws.' In this essay, he writes about what happens to (or being done to) Palestinian people in the name of Law. Even though my understanding of that I just get to know this writer a few days ago. It seems to me that he is very popular among university students. This book deals with a range of essays. So no matter what is your taste, you will find something interesting in this book. I particularly liked his essays on James Baldwin, Naipaul, but the one that I really enjoyed reading is titled 'Bad Laws.' In this essay, he writes about what happens to (or being done to) Palestinian people in the name of Law. Even though my understanding of that part of the world is limited, what I see in the essay that how Laws, so often, irrespective time and place, are used against the weak. His essay on Baldwin about race in parts reads as if, by default, he is 'essentializing' ideas about race. This is very often the case especially in the case of black writers, (except for Toni Morrison). Most Black writers about race in ways that further add on to the already existing knowledge banks that keep the Blacks firmly in their place. So I do not want to rewrite Cole's well-intentioned words here. These essays on race also read as if he were saying what the 'white men' want him to say. There are too many essays on Photography. Since I am not so keen on them, I skipped them. The book is an easy read even though it is a long book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shirleen R

    Nov 15 2017 tba _____________ nov 9 2017 i am determined to finish this book by Dec. 31, 2017!! i abandoned it in 2016. the essays in the final third appeal to me much more strongly. or maybe i needes a rest from art and literary reviews one after another thus far these politically edged essays hook me in, they are more streamlined. like Cole's night in NYC at 125th and ACP Blvd 7th Ave on Nov 4 2008 night Obama won the presidency. or reasons he sees Obama as a more representative of late 20 c immi Nov 15 2017 tba _____________ nov 9 2017 i am determined to finish this book by Dec. 31, 2017!! i abandoned it in 2016. the essays in the final third appeal to me much more strongly. or maybe i needes a rest from art and literary reviews one after another thus far these politically edged essays hook me in, they are more streamlined. like Cole's night in NYC at 125th and ACP Blvd 7th Ave on Nov 4 2008 night Obama won the presidency. or reasons he sees Obama as a more representative of late 20 c immigrant story presidency than first African American . or Ebola, Nigerian government.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    Might be kind of in love with Teju Cole now. A beautifully engaging and readable collection of essays, spanning so many subjects (and so many that I am so delighted by: W.G. Sebald, Anne Carson, Virginia Woolf, just to name a few). His style and logic worked on me in a powerful way. I feel kind of like a fangirl?? Like I might drive an unreasonable distance just to hear him speak for an hour??

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bukola

    Teju Cole is master of his crafts. His extensive knowledge, deep understanding, and detailed explanation of them are startling. In this collection of essays, Cole discusses topics ranging from literature to photography to art, music, travel, the Black Lives Matter movement, world politics, social media, Boko Haram, mob lynchings, and so much more. Reading this book felt like fine dining, or like a journey around the world. The places he takes you may be breathtaking or unexpectedly ramshackle, b Teju Cole is master of his crafts. His extensive knowledge, deep understanding, and detailed explanation of them are startling. In this collection of essays, Cole discusses topics ranging from literature to photography to art, music, travel, the Black Lives Matter movement, world politics, social media, Boko Haram, mob lynchings, and so much more. Reading this book felt like fine dining, or like a journey around the world. The places he takes you may be breathtaking or unexpectedly ramshackle, but rest assured that the view is worth the journey. The end result will be a sound education of the mind and an awakening (poking and proding at the least) of your conscience. This book had me deeply in thought, smiling, and sometimes even giggling. Not everyone will enjoy it as much as I did, but I recommend that everyone at least pick it up and read, if only for the beautiful, beautiful writing.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mika

    A hit and miss kind of collection. Teju Cole writes beautifully and bracingly about Baldwin, Obama, Naipaul and immigration, but less so about photography and visual arts. The essays on these two subjects seem to function more as summaries, collating the history of photography into a succession of 3 page condensations. I dragged through this section of the book, even though I work closely with photographers and photography as a curator and am obsessed with the nuanced spaces that photographs tak A hit and miss kind of collection. Teju Cole writes beautifully and bracingly about Baldwin, Obama, Naipaul and immigration, but less so about photography and visual arts. The essays on these two subjects seem to function more as summaries, collating the history of photography into a succession of 3 page condensations. I dragged through this section of the book, even though I work closely with photographers and photography as a curator and am obsessed with the nuanced spaces that photographs take up in the world. It took me months to get through this section. The selection is strange given the better essays on photography that he has published elsewhere. The last 160 page section of the book, titled “Being There”, I breezed through in 3 days. This section is filled with challenging essays and arguments, a reminder why I bought this book in the first place.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Roger DeBlanck

    With great compassion and intelligence, Teju Cole’s essays engage a wide range of subjects. The book’s first section shines a bright lens on the work of literary giants, such as Baldwin, Transtromer, Walcott, Naipaul, and Sebald. Cole nicely blends his own experiences into his literary examinations. In section two, his passion is the art of photography. It is joyful to read how he discusses famous photographs with the keen eye of a poet. By the book’s third section, Cole turns his attention into With great compassion and intelligence, Teju Cole’s essays engage a wide range of subjects. The book’s first section shines a bright lens on the work of literary giants, such as Baldwin, Transtromer, Walcott, Naipaul, and Sebald. Cole nicely blends his own experiences into his literary examinations. In section two, his passion is the art of photography. It is joyful to read how he discusses famous photographs with the keen eye of a poet. By the book’s third section, Cole turns his attention into that of an activist, as he bears witness to the politics and turmoil around the globe. Startling and frightening pieces, such as “A Reader’s War,” address the horror of drone strikes and what these attacks say about our moral stature. In another powerful piece called “In Alabama,” Cole reminds us that “no generation is free of the demands of conscience,” as he links the bloodshed of the Civil Rights movement to the modern epidemic of young black men murdered by police. Another piece such as “Bad Laws” offers an incisive look at the ongoing crisis between the unjustly-treated Palestinians and the law-enforcing Israelis. Some of the shorter pieces pack just as much intensity. Cole addresses torture in South Africa during apartheid in one piece and the demolition of ancient statues by the Taliban in another. He recounts heartbreaking stories of mob violence in Nigeria, and he concludes the book with the sorrowful fates of immigrants and migrant workers trying to cross the U.S. border. After reading Known and Strange Things, I’m compelled to give deeper reflection to the world at large. The beauty of Cole’s words and the depth of his ideas are at once inspiring and empowering.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    This book was a bit difficult for me to rate. As is often the case with essay collection not every essay clicked with me but some were really outstanding. Especially the first part dragged for me. Here Teju Cole writes about a bit about fiction and mostly about poetry. And I like poetry - but this is one area where me not being a native speaker really is a problem. I enjoy German poetry an awful lot but for some reason English poetry doesn't quite work for me. I can understand intellectually tha This book was a bit difficult for me to rate. As is often the case with essay collection not every essay clicked with me but some were really outstanding. Especially the first part dragged for me. Here Teju Cole writes about a bit about fiction and mostly about poetry. And I like poetry - but this is one area where me not being a native speaker really is a problem. I enjoy German poetry an awful lot but for some reason English poetry doesn't quite work for me. I can understand intellectually that these essays were very well done and presumably super interesting for people more familiar with the subject matter. This was also true for the second part, where Cole talks about his other passion - photography. While I really enjoyed reading essays by someone so clearly passionate about something, sometimes I wished the photographs were depicted alongside the essay discussing them. Because this again is not really an area I know a lot about. The last part on the other hand I loved; here Cole talks about traveling in a truly unique way. I absolutely would have loved more of those essays. I most enjoyed his essays when they were political in some sense. Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot and I certainly learned new things while reading it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nuzhat Shaikh

    "Rich-Read" provoking prose, heavy on arts, fiercely opinionated, comprises a large section on photography, American prejudice, racial struggles and global wars. Each mention of Pakistan warmed my heart, particularly Faiz's poetry in Nayyara Noor's voice - Cole knows how to invoke literary feels... "Rich-Read" provoking prose, heavy on arts, fiercely opinionated, comprises a large section on photography, American prejudice, racial struggles and global wars. Each mention of Pakistan warmed my heart, particularly Faiz's poetry in Nayyara Noor's voice - Cole knows how to invoke literary feels...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steven Felicelli

    I'm a fan, but the insights on photography are often pedestrian and there are too many of them and he comes off as elitist (often in the takedown of elitism) and a little self-impressed at times. His other work is critical, but not the work of a critic. This feels like a critic's book. I'm a fan, but the insights on photography are often pedestrian and there are too many of them and he comes off as elitist (often in the takedown of elitism) and a little self-impressed at times. His other work is critical, but not the work of a critic. This feels like a critic's book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    Teju Cole had a really great article in the NYT shortly after the election. I had seen his name floating around and thought he would make for a good read. The dude is educated, urbane, cosmopolitan, and seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of “high culture.” These people are often impressive, highly polished, and conform their personalities to certain absolutes through sheer force of unrelenting will. But they can come across as tedious; I found this collection to be quite tedious. There were s Teju Cole had a really great article in the NYT shortly after the election. I had seen his name floating around and thought he would make for a good read. The dude is educated, urbane, cosmopolitan, and seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of “high culture.” These people are often impressive, highly polished, and conform their personalities to certain absolutes through sheer force of unrelenting will. But they can come across as tedious; I found this collection to be quite tedious. There were some good essays—he describes election night 2008 so well! His feelings about the almost magical geologic improbability of Rio de Janeiro mirror my own!—but there were a ton of clunkers, too, often which seemed to be forced, or without anything particularly important or profound to say. I can’t knock him for my own disinterest, but I found the essays on photography to be the blandest, and gave up halfway through that portion of the book. But he seems like a cool guy. If I saw him around Brooklyn, I’d definitely say what’s up.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Another very excellent and thoughtful book from Teju Cole (author of “Open City”). This book is filled with intellectually curious essays on the problems of history and society, as well as the joys of film, photography, and travel. Some of my favorite essays included “Black Body”, “Natives on the Boat”, “Tomas Transtromer”, “Age, Actually”, “Memories of Things Unseen”, and “Death in the Browser Tab”. A few passages: “But when the photograph outlives the body—when people die, scenes change, trees Another very excellent and thoughtful book from Teju Cole (author of “Open City”). This book is filled with intellectually curious essays on the problems of history and society, as well as the joys of film, photography, and travel. Some of my favorite essays included “Black Body”, “Natives on the Boat”, “Tomas Transtromer”, “Age, Actually”, “Memories of Things Unseen”, and “Death in the Browser Tab”. A few passages: “But when the photograph outlives the body—when people die, scenes change, trees grow or are chopped down—it becomes a memorial. And when the thing photographed is a work of art or architecture that has been destroyed, this effect is amplified even further. A painting, sculpture, or temple, as a record of both human skill and emotion, is already a site of memory; when its only remaining trace is a photograph, that photograph becomes a memorial to a memory. Such a photograph is shadowed by its vanished ancestor.” “American racism has many moving parts, and has had enough centuries in which to evolve an impressive camouflage. It can hoard its malice in great stillness for a long time, all the while pretending to look the other way. Like misogyny, it is atmospheric. You don’t see it at first. But understanding comes.” “I have no doubt that he has a good heart. Listening to him on the radio, I began to think we could iron the whole thing out over a couple of beers. But that, precisely, is what worries me. That is what made me compare American sentimentality to a “wounded hippo.” His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees is hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can.” “The question then is whether Amour is one of those films that one urges everyone to see. I don’t think so. It’s difficult to place it as a product; it’s too troubling and bruising to be a nice night out at the movies. You wouldn’t want to watch it after dinner, nor would you want to go to dinner after watching it. But it is undoubtedly the kind of film that will find its viewers, and that will long continue to trouble them in the right ways. For hours after I saw it and, intermittently, for days afterward, I could not shake the world and truths it conveyed.” — Known and Strange Things: Essays by Teju Cole https://a.co/8TKwnAr

  23. 4 out of 5

    Noah

    Special and worthwhile without managing to coast on goodness, or perhaps even excellence, for very long. Like life in that way. He is most clearly limited when trying to discourse about statehood, violence, power, and Obama. He, evidently, worked with a discourse that was limited in its access to these things, one inflected by American mass media. I was adolescent until 2016, and so I don’t really know if media has improved or just my thought, but Teju Cole seems to have spent a lot of time with Special and worthwhile without managing to coast on goodness, or perhaps even excellence, for very long. Like life in that way. He is most clearly limited when trying to discourse about statehood, violence, power, and Obama. He, evidently, worked with a discourse that was limited in its access to these things, one inflected by American mass media. I was adolescent until 2016, and so I don’t really know if media has improved or just my thought, but Teju Cole seems to have spent a lot of time with thought that isn’t worthy of his attention? His aesthetics do not plumb very deeply into consciousness, its limits and habits (philosophy is the comparison point here— it should be and is). Some genealogy of photography was nice. Some complication of writing and its place was nice, although he mostly bounces off of vulgarities instead of fitting himself out in the ontic. I needed “Unnamed Lake,” a writing accompanied by Derrida and dreams; “Natives on the boat,” a writing with Naipaul and Conrad and lives; “Poetry of the Disregarded” and “Always Returning” with Sebald; “The Island” somewhere; “A Piece of the Wall” in Arizona and Mexico. He is least limited in (re)producing melancholy. He mourns enough, but maybe struggles to find better life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    A big collection of Cole's essays, spanning criticism, politics, photography and everything else that takes his fancy. This would be better read in dribs and drabs I think - I binged it all down because it's due back at the library, but a bit more space between some of the essays would have given me more time to process them. As it was, some of the essays on art especially kind of ran into each other. He's a wonderful writer though - clear and engaging but super smart. The essay on the disappoin A big collection of Cole's essays, spanning criticism, politics, photography and everything else that takes his fancy. This would be better read in dribs and drabs I think - I binged it all down because it's due back at the library, but a bit more space between some of the essays would have given me more time to process them. As it was, some of the essays on art especially kind of ran into each other. He's a wonderful writer though - clear and engaging but super smart. The essay on the disappointments of Obama and the idea of literature as a humanising force will stick with me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    musa b-n

    I finished this on the ride home from the airport, so even though I didn't slide this one in 2019, I still finished it before the 'holiday' was over, which was my overall goal! Gotta be honest, the first half of the book was hard to get through. I appreciated Cole's appreciation for beauty, and I was glad of what I read, but after a long period of reading the book I just was never seeming to look forward to the next bite. His words, messages, and storytelling were all good - but very complete in I finished this on the ride home from the airport, so even though I didn't slide this one in 2019, I still finished it before the 'holiday' was over, which was my overall goal! Gotta be honest, the first half of the book was hard to get through. I appreciated Cole's appreciation for beauty, and I was glad of what I read, but after a long period of reading the book I just was never seeming to look forward to the next bite. His words, messages, and storytelling were all good - but very complete in themselves, and uncompelling in their urge to read more. But by the second half of the book, I was way more engaged. I think part of it was that I needed to get used to Cole, himself, and the space he occupies in the stories he tells. He intentionally, self-consciously, fills up the spaces in his narratives with himself because that is how he sees stories, and I think that is incredibly admirable, as well as just effective - in both narration and photography. But it did mean that I needed to spend some time getting to like Cole himself, which is not a way that I naturally feel towards most authors. The later essays, though, were extremely entrancing. The ones about photography were not the most interesting to me, as someone who isn't particularly moved by that medium, but even still I was charmed by Cole's exploration of the craft, ruminations on art, and poetic deconstructions. And I was so taken in by the essays on politics, especially as they provided a window into a different time, different moment, different space than I could ever hope to understand inhabiting, and in the come-up to this fucking election, a lot of it was really heartening to read (surprisingly). It was comforting to hold the hand of someone speaking from 8, 10, 12 years ago, dealing with pressing, scary issues and learning how to live through them. The reflections on torture, imperialism, and genocide were truly some of the best writing on the subject I've ever encountered. Heartbreaking, validating, inspiring. One of the best things Cole does is hold out grief in his hands and make you wonder at how the weight of it feels. Two quick notes - as a Gay, wasn't quite convinced that he really knew what he was talking about when it came time for him to talk about LGBT+ people. There was a use of the word "tr*nsvest*te," which was totally unnecessary, and flattening. I think he only had the best of intentions, but it was one aspect that alienated me just slightly.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    For some reason I shelved this halfway through around two years ago, only to now stumble upon it again on my bookshelf to finish it. It’s lovely. In Jon Fosse’s book The Other Name (which I also just finished), the narrator, a painter, says that painting allows one to “see something you’ve seen before in a new way, see something as if for the first time...see it afresh and understand it, and that’s the same thing in a way.” This is what Cole does for us in this book: in writing about photography For some reason I shelved this halfway through around two years ago, only to now stumble upon it again on my bookshelf to finish it. It’s lovely. In Jon Fosse’s book The Other Name (which I also just finished), the narrator, a painter, says that painting allows one to “see something you’ve seen before in a new way, see something as if for the first time...see it afresh and understand it, and that’s the same thing in a way.” This is what Cole does for us in this book: in writing about photography, art, literature, current events, he gives us a new glimpse at what we’ve seen or heard about before but brings us to greater understanding of these things.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Oni

    Divided in four parts - Reading Things, Seeing Things, Being There, and Epilogue - Known and Strange Things groups together over fifty essays by Teju Cole. In clear, precise prose, he writes about literature. About photography and art, African and Western. About politics and history and our global context. About justice and race identity. On all subjects Cole's ideas are fresh and the links and connections, the interplay that he uncovers between different fields and topics are intriguing, intell Divided in four parts - Reading Things, Seeing Things, Being There, and Epilogue - Known and Strange Things groups together over fifty essays by Teju Cole. In clear, precise prose, he writes about literature. About photography and art, African and Western. About politics and history and our global context. About justice and race identity. On all subjects Cole's ideas are fresh and the links and connections, the interplay that he uncovers between different fields and topics are intriguing, intelligent, and often, highly affecting. I wholeheartedly recommend the entire collection but I must say that his essays on photography are particularly stunning. Beautifully written, contemplative and erudite, permeated by a heightened sensibility and an intense gaze. But if I'd have to describe them in only one word, I would say they are generous. Or large-hearted, to borrow one of his descriptions of Derek Walcott's poetry. Because in each of them Teju Cole opens up a world that you may not have known or seen before. He not only places photography in a historical context, he also opens doors and windows, lets readers in on a secret, on minute traits and blazing details. The light that falls there. That beautiful shadow in the corner. Those tangents around an invisible circle that recreate the shape of the circle itself. "The perpetual ideal is astonishment" writes Derek Walcott in White Egrets. And Teju Cole attains it and shares it with his readers on every page of Known and Strange Things.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Grady

    This book is divided into three sections: essays about literature; about photography; and about politics and travel. Teju Cole is a rarity, an artist intellectual, in the best sense - his breadth reminds me of Edmund Wilson's work in the 1930s. Cole's essays on literature are solid. Those on politics and travel are powerful, providing keen insight from a perspective that is underrepresented in American letters: a writer of color with an internationalist identity and a deep affiliation with the W This book is divided into three sections: essays about literature; about photography; and about politics and travel. Teju Cole is a rarity, an artist intellectual, in the best sense - his breadth reminds me of Edmund Wilson's work in the 1930s. Cole's essays on literature are solid. Those on politics and travel are powerful, providing keen insight from a perspective that is underrepresented in American letters: a writer of color with an internationalist identity and a deep affiliation with the Western cultural tradition. Cole's essays on oppression in different contexts - social interactions in Brazil; American drone strikes around the world; the apartheid-era prison of Robben Island, in South Africa - are both passionate and lucid. Where the collection really shines is the second section, on photography. Virtually every essay in this section has something interesting to say about the history or aesthetics of photography, and reading them all together offers a minor education in the field. The epilogue discusses an unexpected threat to Cole's vision; it's a sobering ending, underlining Cole's unique skill at articulating and explaining visual experiences in the rest of the collection.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I read almost every chance I get, and this includes lunch time. Getting out of the office, rolling a drive-thru, and reading gets me through my day. I enjoyed reading Cole's essays over lunch for several weeks. The essays discuss literature he has read, travel, commentary on subjects like illegal immigration and violence and a section of essays on photography. All his offerings are excellent reading. Cole is a gifted writer who sees the world from the perspective of a man raised in Africa but bo I read almost every chance I get, and this includes lunch time. Getting out of the office, rolling a drive-thru, and reading gets me through my day. I enjoyed reading Cole's essays over lunch for several weeks. The essays discuss literature he has read, travel, commentary on subjects like illegal immigration and violence and a section of essays on photography. All his offerings are excellent reading. Cole is a gifted writer who sees the world from the perspective of a man raised in Africa but born and educated in the United States.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    A strong book of essays on diverse topics mostly tangentially connected to art. I struggled through the first part but it picked up in the second section, which was all about photography. Cole really hits his stride in the third section about travel and place. He has a great eye for the telling details that transform an otherwise unremarkable anecdote or interaction into a powerful insight into human nature. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews! A strong book of essays on diverse topics mostly tangentially connected to art. I struggled through the first part but it picked up in the second section, which was all about photography. Cole really hits his stride in the third section about travel and place. He has a great eye for the telling details that transform an otherwise unremarkable anecdote or interaction into a powerful insight into human nature. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews!

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