No book has rocked my world in recent times more than Sarah Schulman’s “The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination.” Schulman borrows from urban housing development the concept of gentrification — in which complicated, racially and culturally mixed, financially marginal neighborhoods are eradicated and replaced by areas that are more bland, sterile, upscale, and/or culturally homogenous — to explore the impact of AIDS on the gay world and by extension on American life. The book lays out how difficult, messy, tragic truths have been replaced by falsehoods that are convenient or flattering to the dominant culture.
Schulman is the kind of brave writer and thinker who’s not afraid to exaggerate at the risk of going off the rails, so she does sometimes. But I respect her commitment to writing the way she wants others to. Early on, she lets readers know how she’d like us to consume “The Gentrification of the Mind”: “As a reader myself, I have always most enjoyed books that I can be interactive with. I like to fiercely agree with one idea — and fiercely disagree with the next. That kind of dynamic relationship requires a lot of ideas coming at once, from which the reader can pick and choose. Nothing bores me more than the one-long-slow-idea book, and I promise to never write one.” If you’re not arguing with her, you’re not reading the book right.
To read my review in its entirety on CultureVulture.net, click here.