When I pick-up a collection of essays, it’s always with the intention of wanting to go steady. I guess I’ve been spoiled because of my love for books like The Price of the Ticket (2012) by James Baldwin and In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (2003) by Alice Walker. Being a poet, I’ve often felt that people who wrote essays had more to say or maybe was just smarter than me. They had opinions on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Lately, the memoir has become my mistress, but I still like to be seduced by a good book of essays now and then.
My introduction to the work of Clifford Thompson started when I read “Judgment,” his short story in Terry McMillan’s anthology Breaking Ice (1990). Before that, I didn’t know that while Thompson was running for vice president of the student council at Richardson Elementary School in Washington D.C., I was across town working at Howard University, directing the African American Resource Center. The years that separate us in age doesn’t keep us apart in terms of what we both enjoy. Thompson is a jazz man. His love for the music is evident throughtout his wonderful book Love For Sale.
A number of the essays in this book are reprinted from The Threepenny Review, a journal based in Berkeley, California. Where Thompson work has been published (The Iowa Review, Film Quarterly) might be a reason why this collection is important. This man deserves a larger audience. Thompson write about what he loves: jazz, literature and movies. He permits the personal to chaperone his work. I feel I got to know Thompson after reading “Three Funerals and A Wedding” and “The Other Me.” He reminds me of that young LeRoi Jones when he was married to Hettie Cohen and living in Greenwich Village. Thompson’s Love For Sale could be a silhouette for Black Music (by Jones), which was published in 1968. Thompson writes with ear and intellect when the topic is jazz. His knowledge of the music comes from what he has listened to as well as what he has read.
Thompson’s eyes follows his ears. The man loves movies and once wrote for Cineaste.
I’ve have a box of back issues in my resource center at Howard University. This was an amazing publication for the high-brow movie goer. I like the intellectual honesty Thompson shares when talking about film:
The fact that I am fluent in exactly one language can’t help but affect my response to a film; subtitles are available, of course, but many are (or so I’m told) crude approximations of what characters are saying in their own languages, and, anyway, an understanding of tone and inflection is essential to grasping the full meaning of a line delivered by an actor.
The one problem I have with Love For Sale it’s that the essays in this book are too short. This is what happens when the blog comes to the dinner table or social media friends are invited over to a formal dinner wearing sneakers. The fifth section of Thompson’s book is placed under the heading of “dispatches from TELLCLIFF.COM.” It consists of 12 shorts. Most revealing is “Who’s Afraid of Toure?” Here, Thompson offers a good insight and review of Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now (2011). But wait, maybe like Whitman, I should contradict myself. I’m happy that Thompson didn’t go off on a long solo about Touré’s book. The post-black and post-racial discussions only seem to fill black balloons.
Love For Sale should be attractive to readers who enjoy the work of Paul Beatty, Colson Whitehead, and Zadie Smith. Thompson’s review of their work provides the type of literary service more contemporary African-American writers should be doing. There is a need to review and make sense out of what is happening in the black world...