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2020 Book Concierge: Audie Cornish Picks 'Just Us' By Claudia Rankine

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Every year at NPR, we share with you the books we most want to remember from the past year in our Book Concierge. And for me, it was a book by Claudia Rankine called "Just Us." The title comes from a surprising place - the late Richard Pryor and his stand-up bit on the criminal justice system where he says, you go down there looking for justice, and that's what you find - just us.

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CLAUDIA RANKINE: Comedians like Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy, Wanda Sykes - you know, these people are able to hold the good and the bad of it. They're the people I go to who can both see it and hold it and move through it. And they don't abdicate. They really stay in there.

CORNISH: Claudia Rankine says this book was not just about listening to what she heard but reflecting on herself.

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RANKINE: I'm really interested in what other people say to me, but I'm also really interested in why I say the things that I say because we are all socialized inside a system that was shaped with the tenets of white supremacy. So how is that affecting my behavior? How is that affecting the amount of patience I have in conversation with you? What am I hearing when you speak to me? Why am I saying the things that I'm saying to you?

CORNISH: Now, the bestseller lists this year have seen books about how to soothe racial tensions. But if you're looking for an easy solution, Claudia Rankine told me it won't be in "Just Us."

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RANKINE: There's no strategy because I'm not interested in telling people what to do. I'm not offering a prescription. "Just Us" is a book that says, look at this. Let's see what it means to be in conversation. Let's see what it means to apprehend the same reality. When you see a man put his knee on another man's neck until he dies and has to call out for his mother, what is behind that? What allows us both to be able to hold that as part of America? You know, it would be in a different category. What are those categories - self-help books or something? It's not that. That's not - that was never my intent. My intent was to look at a thing.

CORNISH: Claudia Rankine, recent MacArthur Genius winner. She spoke to us earlier this year about her book "Just Us." And it's one of the over 350 books you can browse for all the readers in your life at the Book Concierge at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MR. SCRUFF'S "MIDNIGHT FEAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.