I’m starting a new blog series in which I spotlight backlist books I love. My book club just finished reading and discussing Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, so I decided to kick off this series by giving Baldwin’s stunning first novel a little love. Let’s dive in!
- Publication date: May 18, 1953
- Genre: Classic literary fiction
- Setting: Harlem, New York City
- Themes: Identity, religious belief and formation, family secrets, racism
- Summary: On John Grimes’s fourteenth birthday, he experiences a powerful religious awakening as family history, trauma, and secrets come to light.
Why You Should Read This Book
Go Tell It on the Mountain was the first James Baldwin book I read, and after I finished it, I knew I wanted to read everything he’s ever written because I found his writing so profound. In addition to novels and nonfiction, Baldwin also wrote some poetry and drama. His sentence structure and metaphors reveal a poet’s sensitivity to words, and the dynamic scenes he describes would be at home in any theater.
A vivid setting is important to me as a reader, and Baldwin delivers, whether he’s describing John’s walk down 5th Avenue, the tension in the family’s living room, or a conversion taking place in a raucous Harlem church service. Most readers probably wouldn’t describe this novel as a page-turner, but there are moments when Baldwin exposes a truth or has a character confront another that are as gripping as any thriller.
“For he had no words when he knelt before the throne. And he feared to make a vow before Heaven until he had the strength to keep it. And yet he knew that until he made the vow he would never find the strength.”
“But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place.”
If you like or want to read Go Tell It on the Mountain, you might also enjoy:
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- The Mothers by Brit Bennett
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison