Go Tell it on the Mountain

    2 February 2006, late morning

I was in the Indigo on Bay St. a couple days ago, killing some time while waiting for some photographs to get developed. I like shopping; the problem with shopping at Indigo is that almost all their books are cheaper online. Krishna can confirm this, as I called him 3 or 4 times while in the store asking him for the prices of books online. Ultimately I left with a copy of The Tipping Point which was discounted both online and off. Before leaving, I noticed a small stand with a strange mix of books. It took me a couple seconds to clue in that the authors were all black, and that the stand had been set up in celebration of black history month. I picked up the copy of Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin, Indigo had put out: it was a crappy paperback, with newsprint paper and an ugly cover.

I have a beat up copy of Go Tell it on the Mountain that I bought at a used book sale here in Toronto. I remember going to the sale with my cousin, who was an avid fan of used book sales. I bought the book for one of two reasons, though I can’t remember which: I had either recently read Sonny’s Blues for a short stories class I took in first year (ENGL 201), or I had just finished reading Black Boy by Richard Wright. My copy of Go Tell it on the Mountain is also a dinky paperback, but since it is all beat up and warn I like to think it has some character to it. The copy of the book Indigo was selling lacked such character.

It was at this point I thought to myself, “How can they not have a hardback version of this book?” The injustice of it all. The sheer indignity that James Baldwin’s first novel, this great piece of American fiction, is only available as a supermarket paperback was just too much for me. I marched over to the section of Indigo where the Everyman’s Library books are sold. No Baldwin. No Wright for that matter! I scanned the rest of the shelves, all geared up to rail against the man for his refusal to dub Go Tell it on the Mountain a classic.

And then I calmed down. The Library of America also puts out beautiful hardcover books of great American literature. It was on the shelf with all the Library of America books that I found a copy of all of Richard Wright’s novels, neatly collected in two hardcover books. I also found James Baldwin’s non-fiction and essays in hardcover (but no sign of his fiction). Baldwin hadn’t been snubbed. Wright hadn’t been snubbed. Indigo just put out cheap books because they want people to buy them. Now, if the Library of America books were as cheap in the store as they were online, I might have bought them right then and there.

My copy of James Baldwin’s Early Novels and Stories arrived today. If you haven’t read anything by him you are really missing out. He has to be one of the best writers America has produced.

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Comments

  1. The craziest thing is comics are cheaper at indigo also. My friend bought a few spiderman comics there. All my buddha comics are like a good 10-15$ cheaper at indigo. Can’t wait to get the rest of it.

  2. I loved Sonny’s Blues, I read it in creative writing. Though for great black American writers – and for great poets of any color or creed – I have to go with my man Langston Hughes.

  3. searching for more baldwin fans out there. glad you’re another. what else have you read? i’m writing a series of letters to him based on “the fire next time”. would love to hear your comments www.bygpowis.blogspot.com. all the best. pass baldwin on.

    King James

    Go tell in on the mountain When King James was born

    Shepherd to the weak and weary Writer of the psalms

    (Oh yes)

    The scripturesíll say it plain In parables and in rhymes

    The way King James done said it Been done over a thousand times

    (Amen from the corner)

    The Bible itíll quench ya You ainít even gotta question why

    King James he done told ya No reason you canít give him a try

    (Ooooh)

    Donít be shocked, children, when he done changed you from weak to strong

    For his words become a new testament and youíll feel the Holy Spirit in his songs

    Now Iíve read my holy scriptures

    King James he done showed me the signs

    Come join us on this Zion train

    Join us, wayward traveler

    Together me, you and James are gonna ride on through

    The fire next time

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