Ben Smithgall

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Bit pusher at Spotify. Previously Interactive News at the New York Times, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





The Sellout

By Paul Beatty

Finished reading on April 11, 2018

This book is a tough read but it is full of meaningful barbs and jabs at contemporary American “post-racial” culture. Individual sentences and words do tremendous work in service of a broader satire. Small moments in the rolling adventure provide serious critiques: a career day at the high school to demonstrate the “tens” of careers available to minority students in America, the physical re-painting of boundary lines of the city of Dickens.

There are a lot interesting things to ponder: what does it mean for the City of Dickens to be eliminated entirely, and consequently what does it mean to bring it back? What is the actual thing lost along with it? Towards the end of the book, a white couple is jeered out of an open mic, told that this is “ours.” Beatty asks the question in this scene, and then throughout the books, what is “this” in the context. It is an interesting and provocative question, especially in 21st century America.