Have you ever traced the history of how you got where you are? Did a minute decision that you almost missed making propel you in a direction you couldn’t have predicted? R. Eric Thomas’s new book of essays, Here for It, or, How to Save Your Soul in America, chronicles the chaotic serendipity of not only his success but the uncertain personal growth and uncomfortable discoveries around the identity of a writer anointed in the information age.
A person on the Internet
Eric got his start like any other writer: hustling for bylines while balancing other jobs, vying for lasting friendships, and finding himself in odd romances. He’s been published by Philadelphia Magazine and the Inquirer—he’s no stranger to Philly. Now, he has his own column in Elle, “Eric Reads the News.” His takes on politics and pop culture are the kind of funny that will actually make you LOL. That signature voice is present in Here for It, but in a much more chill, meditative tone.
It’s funny. But that’s not all it is.
A thirst rant about an image of President Obama and “his hot friends” went viral, garnering tens of thousands of comments, likes, and shares. A few days after the post, the site director of Elle messaged him, and the rest, is, well, browser history.
Eric’s been since crowned a “person on the Internet,” but he judiciously rewinds how he got there.
It’s about the journey
In the book, Eric is wide-open about his journey. He reveals his struggles through his sexual awakening as a gay man in gradual pieces, including a heartbreaking story involving a library, Madonna, and a girl in school he calls Elektra. He illustrates his complicated feelings about the first time a friend in elementary school called him the N-word (with the hard R, no less). And then, there was Columbia University.
He admits his inhibiting reservations about Ivy-League parties and how he wasn’t sure how to locate his Blackness. He assumed there were many kinds of Blackness, but no matter where he was, to others, there was only one kind.
It didn’t stop there. In fact, it hasn’t stopped.
Dark, twisted duality
Eric, like many Black writers and writers of color operating in largely white settings and outlets, faces battles with his own sense of duality. He compares it to the Kanye West song (metaphorically enough) “Lost In The World” on the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album. Eric claims that he lost himself in the place where “isolation and company, mistakes and self-actualization, intersect like voices layered over each other.” It’s a song about “sequestering oneself,” and how Kanye’s freedom was to exist in his own duality of extreme lows and unimaginable highs, and to revel in them.
Here for It is an exploration of that reveling. Eric has long sought balance in a swinging pendulum that can’t be caught and refuses to settle into the middle. His evolution is unlike anything else, as is anyone who is a “person on the Internet,” including you and me. Nonetheless, he’s here for it, just like we are, and that’s what makes this book of essays absorbing, calamitous, hilarious, and stirring all at once.
What, When, Where
Here for It, or, How to Save Your Soul in America. By R. Eric Thomas. Ballantine Books, February 18, 2020. 288 pages. $26.00. Hardcover. Visit here.
R. Eric Thomas’s book tour makes a stop at the Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA, on Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 7:30pm. The event is free. Find out more online.
The Free Library of Philadelphia’s central branch is wheelchair-accessible.