Michael Arceneaux finally bought some Jordans

Book Reviews

This was first published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 16, 2024

Longtime readers will be thrilled

After 12 crushing years paying off six-figure-plus-interest student-loan debt, Michael Arceneaux treated himself to something he always wanted as a kid: A pair of Jordans – the basketball shoes originally designed for Michael Jordan when he played with the Chicago Bulls.

The author of “I Can’t Date Jesus” and “I Don’t Want to Die Poor,” Arceneaux bellyflops into the pool of life beyond buying shoes in this book of essays, and things get deep.

He’s a Black, gay Millenial — and recounts the triumphs and struggles that come with those distinctions in “I Finally Bought Some Jordans” — yet his stories are relatable to anyone who has ever struggled with income or debt, has difficult family members, is embarrassed about their living conditions or shies away from talking politics with a cab driver.

In the chapter “I Get Fades to Feel Alive,” he chronicles the journey of his Harlem barber during the pandemic, who sets up a barber shop in an old school bus — which he deems the “fademobile” — and travels to his clients. (Readers will remember from previous books that Arceneaux has suffered bad haircuts and barbers, which makes his commitment to great hair more essential and funny.)

“No matter how bad things get, if I feel my hair is together, I believe more firmly that I can deal with what is thrown at me,” he writes, and readers might shout an “Amen!” to that sentiment.

Through the laugh-out-loud funny prose, Arceneaux’s voice, which points out systemic racism and oppression from daily interactions to home ownership, has only grown stronger in “Jordans.”

How he’s grown

Readers of his first two books can see how he has grown as a writer and a human. Arceneaux gives the vibe that he could sit down for a meal with anyone, in any setting, and be welcomed, yet he would not hesitate to put someone in their place politely if they made a conversational misstep. He is Southern-proud, polite and fierce, and readers will love him for it.

Michael Arceneaux

In one chapter, he slings verbal axes at “Slave Play” — nominated for 12 Tony Awards — and doesn’t mince words: “Still, I have never found slavery that funny, and I never want to be in a room of white people who are happy they were given the freedom to feel otherwise,” he writes, and readers will nod in recognition and wonder how the play was ever considered for a Tony even if they saw it.

This is the power of Arceneaux’s essay genius: He makes readers question everything they know, or have heard to be true, then backs it up with myriad facts and his own experiences. (Example: Men generally report crying five to 17 times per year compared to 30 to 64 times for women. Who knew?)

Many chapters in this book take place in and around the pandemic, as he zips from New York to his home in Houston. His love of Houston is apparent in all of his books, but this one is particularly heartbreaking, as we learn that he has lost many people in his life, even before the pandemic.

He mentions bouts of crying he had: “At some point in Houston, I told my mom about them, and she raised one of the reasons I had been crying: I was worried about her dying. For so much of my life, losing her early had been my greatest fear.”

This was foreshadowing. Readers who follow him on social media will know that his mother did die from cancer in 2023 (the book is dedicated to her), which makes parts of this book doubly heartbreaking.

Still, his ties to Houston, and the city that brought him up, keep calling. Echoing sentiments of anyone who has a complicated relationship with their hometown, Arceneaux, as always, tells it like it is: “I love home,” he writes in the chapter “I’ll Give You My Last. “But it will never be as easy to be there as I would like.”

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