Black History and the Heart of America’s Gothic Soul
When we last voted on Nonfiction Book Club books, we were truly looking to diversify our reading. When one of the book club members put this book forth for consideration, we were all most intrigued.
From the publisher marketing:
Leila Taylor takes us into the dark heart of the American gothic, analyzing the ways it relates to race in America in the twenty-first century.
Haunted houses, bitter revenants and muffled heartbeats under floorboards — the American gothic is a macabre tale based on a true story.
Part memoir and part cultural critique, Darkly: Blackness and America’s Gothic Soul explores American culture’s inevitable gothicity in the traces left from chattel slavery. The persistence of white supremacy and the ubiquity of Black death feeds a national culture of terror and a perpetual undercurrent of mourning.
If the gothic narrative is metabolized fear, if the goth aesthetic is romanticized melancholy, what does that look and sound like in Black America?
We had a very interesting book club discussion this past week. While I was reading, I was struggling to wrap my head around how we were going to talk about it. Eventually I landed on the thought that a book can be important and worth discussing, but I could still find ways to critique without discrediting. What resulted, was a very good discussion and despite my own thoughts, I wholeheartedly recommend it for any book clubs looking for a discussion.
To start, I would have infinitely preferred this to be an essay collection. There was no coherent cohesive thesis statement, no clear common thread connecting chapter to chapter and we found the structure to be unnecessarily muddled. While Taylor ties together gothic and goth culture somewhat effectively, the thread doesn’t appear until three quarters of the way through the book. However, had they been essays, I feel she would have had time to put forth multiple arguments and wrap them up in a more contained manner.
Additionally, it was clear to all of us that we were not the intended audience for the book as we all lacked a significant amount of background knowledge that Taylor presumes we have in order to follow and comprehend her points. While our members of younger generations knew the pop culture references, we lacked knowledge of how society functioned over the decades that older members of book club knew, but they were unaware of most of the pop culture references.
While I recognize the importance of Darkly as a cultural critique, it reads far more like a masters or doctoral thesis, written for readers already intimately familiar with the subject matter. For the average layperson, I don’t know that I would be able to recommend this book in a similar manner to how I could recommend So You Want to Talk About Race and Me and White Supremacy.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.