Clint Smith’s “How the Word Is Passed” is about how places in the United States reckon with — or fail to reckon with — their relationship to the history of slavery. On this week’s podcast, Smith says that one thing that inspired the book was his realization that “there were more homages to enslavers than to enslaved people” in New Orleans, where he grew up.
“Symbols and names and iconography aren’t just symbols, they’re reflective of stories that people tell, and those stories shape the narratives that societies carry, and those narratives shape public policy, and public policy shapes the material conditions of people’s lives,” Smith says. “Which isn’t to say that taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee is going to erase the racial wealth gap, but it is to say that it’s part of a larger ecosystem of stories and ideas that shape how we understand what has happened to communities and what communities need or deserve.”
Julian Rubinstein visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “The Holly,” an extensively reported look at the social and historical forces that led to a 2013 shooting in Denver.
“It’s a multigenerational story, and in many ways I think it’s a story of activism and thwarted activism over the decades,” Rubinstein says, “including the connections between gangs and activism, which goes all the way back to the civil rights movement.”
Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.
Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:
“Early Work” by Andrew Martin
“The Copenhagen Trilogy” by Tove Ditlevsen
“No One Is Talking About This” by Patricia Lockwood