Skip to content

Harlem is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts (thoughts)

June 6, 2011

I requested this from Netgalley based on the summary “Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts untangles the myth and meaning of Harlem’s legacy.” It turned out to be much more personal than that implies, more like a memoir that weaves literary and historical figures into Rhodes-Pitts’ own move to and life in Harlem. Her writing is strong, especially her descriptive abilities (both places and people); I felt like I was exploring the neighbourhood with her. My favourite bits were when she focused on books; whether describing her Harlem library, comparing experiences of literary characters in Harlem to her own, or extolling the virtues of Harlem authors, I loved it all. I devoured the first half but found my interest waning a bit in the second. The focus became a bit too scattered for my tastes; I think I expected more big picture Harlem stuff and found it difficult to readjust (also, I’m more of a straight up nonfiction than memoir girl). This is Rhodes-Pitts’ debut, and I’ll definitely give her next book a go. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys literary memoirs or travelogues with culture thrown in.

Suggested Companion Reads (linked to my thoughts)

19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2011 6:39 am

    The term “literary memoir” caught my eye, so despite the weaker second half, I may pick this up.

  2. June 6, 2011 6:51 am

    Oh drats, I am also more of a nonfiction gal than a memoir gal and this as straight bigger picture nonfiction would be fantastic wouldn’t it? Oh well, still sounds interesting.

  3. June 6, 2011 7:15 am

    Let me recommend The Warmth of Other Suns, about the migration of blacks from the south to the north? It’s a wonderful book.

  4. June 6, 2011 8:43 am

    This sounds amazing. Something I might’ve passed over on a cursory glance because I did soooo much with Harlem Renaissance writers in grad school, but this is something very different. Love the sounds of it!

  5. June 6, 2011 9:16 am

    C.J. and I wondered through most of Harlem last summer accidentally. We were on our way to Demolition Depot, an amazing architectural salvage store, a picked a route that included a walk down 125th street past the Apollo Theatre and through the heart of Harlem. We found a wonderful, colorful, vibrant neighborhood. It turned out to be one of the best afternoons we had on that trip.

    If you’re ever in NYC, I strongly recommend a visit.

  6. June 6, 2011 9:38 am

    Hi! I am glad to see you back around!! If you are ever feeling up to it, I have been looking for novella recommendations. For some reason shorter fiction is what I am in the mood for lately… If it is asking too much, though, I understand. :)

    As to this book, it does sound interesting. I stopped using NetGalley because I was really bad about reading the books. I should at least glance at the website from time to time, though!

    • June 10, 2011 11:10 pm

      Hi Kelly! I hope your computer gets fixed soon (saw Marg’s post on your blog). :) Here are some novella recs off the top of my head (assuming you saw my post telling everyone to go read The Translator, which is quite slim):
      anything by Jacqueline Woodson or Colette
      We Have Always Lived in the Castle
      Song for the Night
      The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
      The Icarus Girl

      And here are some more now that I’ve reviewed my books read lists:
      Fire on the Mountain
      Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast (look! a Canadian! hehe)
      Tail of the Blue Bird
      The Pursuit of Love (not my fave, but I think I was ruined by the BBC miniseries; lots of bloggers are Nancy Mitford fans)
      Season of Migration to the North
      Looking for Bapu
      Hunger by Lan Samantha Chang
      Ethan Frome
      The Ladies from St. Petersburg
      The Turn of the Screw
      Ruins by Achy Obejas
      Sir Gawain and the Green Knight trans. by Simon Armitage
      Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (or Lucy, which I recently read and loved; I bet you won’t go wrong with any of her stuff)
      The Girl Who Played Go
      The Girl with the Golden Shoes
      Where We Once Belonged
      Little Star of Bela Lua
      Chronicle of a Death Foretold
      Disquiet by Julia Leigh
      Angels & Insects by A.S. Byatt
      I’m Not Dead by Niccolo Ammaniti
      Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece (graphic novel)
      “Wit” by Margaret Edson (a play but soooooo good, even if you don’t usually read plays)
      Lucy the Giant
      Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
      Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
      Franny and Zooey
      Burmese Days by George Orwell
      The Children of Green Knowe (the first in a series; they’re all marvelous)
      Gilgamesh, trans. by Stephen Mitchell
      “Silk” by Alessandro Baricco
      Dreams of My Russian Summer
      Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
      “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad
      Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
      Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
      The Warden by Anthony Trollope
      “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett
      Train to Pakistan by Kushwant Singh
      The Kitchen Boy
      The House on Mango Street
      Embers by Sandor Marai

      Note that these are all titles that I remember being very short; I’m not sure how many of them are actually novellas, or what page count you’re looking at. But hopefully there’s enough here for your to find some appealing ones! All the ones I’ve reviewed will be in my directories, if you’re curious to see my thoughts, but I only included four and five star reads. :) And I didn’t include short nonfiction, since you said fiction, but if you want some leads on that, I can copy & paste some more! hehe

      • June 21, 2011 1:50 pm

        Wow, this is awesome, Eva! I wasn’t thinking when I posted, but I do read non-fiction, too. I can’t wait to look the ones up that I haven’t read yet! Thank you sooo much!!

  7. June 6, 2011 9:59 am

    I like a memoir, but not really a place-memoir. I thought this would be much more of a sociological history, which would be marvelous. This sounds interesting but not as interesting as what I thought it would be.

  8. June 6, 2011 11:53 am

    Memoirs, with rare exceptions, just aren’t my cup of tea either. I second the recommendation of Nella Larsen’s Passing. (It’s so nice to see you blogging and tweeting again.)

  9. June 6, 2011 1:43 pm

    Welcome back Eva. I tend to agree with you about memoirs vs. straight non-fiction. I read a bunch of memoirs a few months back and tired of them pretty quickly.

  10. June 6, 2011 1:53 pm

    Though it sounds a little bit flawed (and what isn’t, right?) this looks really interesting. I’m a big fan of travelogues though I’m not so hot on memoirs, most of the time. Looks like I should give it a shot, regardless.

  11. June 6, 2011 2:36 pm

    I’m more of a memoirs girl, so this actually appeals to me a lot. I’ll have to see if the library has it (or is going to order it).

  12. June 6, 2011 3:15 pm

    I do love literary memoirs, so this sounds appealing to me.

  13. June 6, 2011 3:30 pm

    I think that this one sounds really interesting…I don’t read a lot of memoirs but I like keeping track of ones that I want to read. I’m weird like that :) Thanks for the suggested companion reads…I really enjoyed this part of your review!

  14. June 6, 2011 7:03 pm

    I requested this from NetGalley as well and got it today, so now I really want to pick it up to see how my experience compares. I also like the companion reads suggestions!

  15. June 8, 2011 7:04 am

    I read a bit of this book as well and had a similar “More history, less memoir, please!” reaction. I did still think it was beautifully written–and would probably be a great non-fiction read for folks who don’t usually enjoy non-fiction.

  16. June 10, 2011 5:08 pm

    I’d love to give this book a go. I’m fascinated with the different areas and the diversities of race and class in America. I don’t mind a memoir so I think I’d enjoy it. :)


  1. Quicksand by Nella Larsen (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: