Cover Image: Ordinary Notes

Ordinary Notes

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Ordinary Notes is the second non-fiction I decided to read by Christina Sharpe, a few months after reading the critically acclaimed In The Wake. Once again, this book is full of insights into Black existence. It took me a while to read it because I don't think this is the kind of writing you should gulp down like popular non/fiction; Sharpe really encourages you to look into the details of your life and others' lives and develop a critical eye when it comes to approaching Blackness. Every time I read Sharpe, the impact of her words gobsmacks me; the precision of the writing (how she really dives into some words' etymology) is particularly inspiring and invites me to reflect on how I use some words and how I perceive my relations to others (especially people of colours). It is not educative; rather, they are observations. Many things struck me in this book (in a good way, I mean), and one I particularly related to was Sharpe's act of seeing beauty everywhere, of praising beauty in the most trivial thing: the colour(s) of the sky, the shape of clouds, the morning dew on flowers' petals, etc. Everything. Since then, I also took the time to capture things that I find beauty in. I take a lot of pleasure in that. 

So I would definitely recommend this book to everyone! Thank you Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the opportunity of reviewing an advance copy of this book!
Was this review helpful?
As I was reading Christina Sharpe's stunning "Ordinary Notes," I kept thinking to myself: I want to re-read this, even as I was in the middle of it. How to talk about this book? Perhaps one way I can speak of its impact is to say that I was in tears by the end of the class we discussed this in. It was not only Shapre's beautiful words that drew that from me, but the reactions she arose in others around me, the things she allowed us to say because her text held us and made space for those feelings. 

"Ordinary Notes" is part of the work towards a new vocabulary of Blackness. In Shapre's hand this vocabulary not renders visible the violence embedded in whiteness and white supremacy, and what it takes to survive it, but the acts of resistance, care, and beauty that permeate Black life in the US (and beyond) despite it. It is a work that challenges our conception of space and time. It shows that the past is still with us, and any attempts to grapple with it cannot discount the past's very presence, its heavy shadow. 

In a world where we are saturated with images of violence that are supposedly there to make us care, in a culture of museums supposedly built to make us remember, Sharpe shows the faultlines in our presumption of how time works, of how whiteness works. 

"Ordinary Notes" is also a love letter to Sharpe's mother, and in a sense a work about what it means to live through love and grief. 

A life changing book, without question.
Was this review helpful?
Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016) is one of my favorite academic books, not only for its contributions to Black studies but also for the ways Sharpe expands academic form. She is a poetic theorist, constantly insisting on personal experience not only as evidence, but as theory itself. Ordinary Notes pushes Sharpe’s methods even further, exploding genre. It is a series of 248 “notes,” none more than five pages in length. The notes are personal and familial anecdotes; pieces of history; analyses of artworks and museum exhibitions; commonplace collections of others’ words; questions and suppositions.

What is this book about? What isn’t this book about? Sharpe continues to organize her work around questions about Blackness, but there are no limits to what this encompasses, the range of philosophical questions and affective universes she covers. In Ordinary Notes, the punishing ordinariness of anti-Blackness sits alongside the imaginative pluripotency of Blackness, Black aliveness.

Sharpe unsettles master narratives of race and genre, utilizing aspects of memoir while refusing to become an instructive “race memoir.” The work echoes Citizen in places with short memories of anti-Black encounters, but exceeds it intellectually (and includes explicit critique of Claudia Rankine, among other thinkers).

The book is deeply intertextual, considering many other Black scholars and thinkers (and including some of their definitions “toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness”) as well as structures of whiteness. An incisive series probes the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and how it might reify whiteness.

Sharpe’s mother, Ida Wright Sharpe, is at the center of this book—grief over her passing (twenty-five years ago—grief never ends), the questions and ideas raised by her brilliant life.

This is the kind of book I dream of writing, so much broader and deeper than one in traditional long chapters. I also want to get a hard copy because some of the images didn’t render well in ebook form. Read Christina Sharpe. Read this book.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. In a series of 248 notes, some that are just a line or two long and some that run for several pages, the author thinks about what is to be Black at this moment in time by looking back at photographs, some artistic, some from the news and some from her family. She talks to audiences and fellow professors at readings and conferences, she goes to museums and galleries around the world and she reads. And reads and reads, nonfiction and beloved novels. For all the author’s searching through books, it is the many stories she tells of her mother that are the most beautiful and moving.
Was this review helpful?
Christina Sharpe's careful and incisive attention to the commonplace, everyday racial tones of American culture are what make her "Ordinary Notes" extraordinary. The title informs the shape of the book, as it is a collection of over 200 notes that are riffs on central themes, rooted in eight thematic sections and that expand broadly and wisely. Many notes are punctuated by photos, which helps group and distinguish certain clusters of notes, as well as present a welcome multi-media approach to what is otherwise an academic text. 

Why "notes," specifically? Everyone takes notes of some kind; everyone makes lists, or jots down thoughts that are important or worth fleshing out later. Everyone has written or received  brief sentences of love, encouragement, congratulations, gratitude, or otherwise in cards and books, on napkins and scratch pieces of paper. It is a simple and clever way to approach the subject and history of race and racism. But the notes also help collect and categorize the aspects of this text that can be considered memoir or (auto)biographical writing; the notes allow the text to take many shapes.

Many of the notes are one or two sentences, and if I had to choose a failing or missed opportunity of the book, it would be these enigmatic notes that occur throughout. They can often be connected to the notes that surround them, but I tried to treat each note as a separate thought and give it attention in its own right. If anything, having short, single notes scattered throughout gave me room to breathe and collect my own thoughts about what I had read up until that point. 

Sharpe's signature brilliance is on full display here, and I really appreciated meditating on these notes, marking several dozen to revisit and think about in greater detail. Similar to how "In the Wake" begins with Sharpe's family history, "Ordinary Notes" continues this tradition, and it's rare for an author to maintain such a tasteful balance between revealing themselves and their personal lives, while also framing their anecdotes within an academic framework.  

Readers might not click with each of the 200+ notes, but there will certainly be many that any reader can connect with and whose critical reflexes will be engaged and provoked. I'm excited for others to read and discuss this book once it comes out in April.
Was this review helpful?
This nonfiction book told in 200+ “notes” describes the author’s experience as a Black woman in contemporary society in an incredibly original and visceral way. This book has the feels of essays, memoir, diary, textbook and historical document.
Was this review helpful?
"I write these ordinary things to detail the everyday sonic and haptic vocabularies of living life under these brutal regimes." i still can't quite fathom that macmillan gave me access to one of my most anticipated reads of 2023!!! this book, written in the form of notes, is outstanding. another phd book that lets me know my project is doable, that i'm not way off. ah, what a journey. thank you, farrar, straus and giroux and netgalley, for the earc!!! aahhhhhh <3333
Was this review helpful?