I sleep with books. For the last two weeks, I have slept with Hilton Als. We met at my work, at a bookshop in New York. I was unpacking new releases and — Hey, White Girl! — this book’s cover hailed me down. Its back cover blurbs (“I defy you to read this book and come away with a mind unchanged,” says John Jeremiah Sullivan; “The read of the year,” says Junot Díaz) were compelling. In one first-read line — “The truth is, I have not been myself lately, and for a long time.” — I was convinced. I brought Hilton, his second collection of essays, White Girls, home, to bed, where I broke its spine, and with it, my initial interpellation.
This book is not about me. It’s maybe about some idea of my body as it’s informed minds and bodies, but Hilton knows that’s not me. In While Girls, Hilton knows we are more than, “the dreary marginal issues of race, or class, or gender” — we are those, but we are also our mothers, our lovers, our friendships, our culture: the movies we watch and the books we read. His essays capture that all. As André Leon Talley, one of Als’ subjects, might say, “this book is everything.”
This book is intimate; it gets you there: bouncing between body and mind. White Girls exposes skin — Richard Pryor’s sister’s dark skin, Malcolm X’s light dark skin, Eminem’s blonde white skin, Michael Jackson’s transitioning skin — and gets under it. What you get from Hilton Als’ gaze unto others is, like the best essayists and bed partners, a sense of his self, and his is a self — so generous, so curious, so conscientious — you’ll want to sleep with forever.