To get from beginning to end of Lawrence Jackson's "Shelter," you'll probably need the following: a detailed map of Baltimore's neighborhoods, especially the ones bordering the sprawling campus of Johns Hopkins University, a dictionary to look up the occasional obscure or archaic word, and a great deal of patience.

Not quite a memoir or a typical collection of essays, Jackson's book skews biographical, its chapters adorned by heady, churchly titles ("Lent: Appraisement of Negroes at the Folly, or Dinner," or "Epiphany: Sunday Boys") and its pages filled densely with antebellum histories, reflections on race relations — some of which are self-directed and unsparing — and revelations on the trials and triumphs of homeownership as a single, Black father.

For a book with a meandering narrative, including lots of excursions by foot, boat or bus and whip-lashing digressions, a story line actually exists, thin yet compelling.

When we first meet Jackson, he has accepted a prestigious job as a professor of English and history at Johns Hopkins and is house-hunting in Baltimore, after leaving behind a failed marriage in Atlanta. He has decided against the predominantly Black neighborhood in the Northwest where his mother still lives and where he was raised. With a Realtor, he begins the search in Homewood, a neighborhood of "elegantly appointed, English-style rowhouses" near the university campus, and then makes his short way toward the predominantly white Homeland onto "a street filled with meticulous, retiring, brick or stone colonial style cottages."

Here, instinctively, Jackson puts in an offer on a "three-bay-wide, two-story, stone colonial cottage" which "bespoke an unimpeachable middle-class standing."

Ever attuned to racial undercurrents, the slipperiness of privilege, especially in the wake of Freddie Gray's shocking death, Jackson is aware of how this decision lands in his Baltimorean world — Uncle-Tommery among his old neighborhood friends and a lack of solidarity with more working-class or diverse communities which would better align with his line of work.

But he's already made his argument in the early pages of the book: Even with ancestry dating back to slavery — more specifically, the period after the Civil War when his great-grandparents owned land — he has never been the beneficiary of generational wealth. Now he wishes to mend that discontinuous cycle and pass something on to his two sons, however it defines him or his relationship with the ailing Black communities in Baltimore, some situated right by the well-endowed Johns Hopkins.

With the purchase of the Homeland house come the usual upkeep and tasks, quite a few, like lawn care, tedious and time-consuming — and Jackson takes great pride and pains in dwelling on these moments, including every bag of sod purchased or trip to Lowe's with his reluctant teenage son.

But in the end, the book's most vital and memorable moments are when Jackson redials the focus away from himself and his preoccupations, big and small, and turns outward to, yes, those ailing Black communities, whether it is to attend church with family and old friends, or pick up trash, or facilitate much-needed, difficult conversations with the university.

Angela Ajayi is a Minneapolis-based writer and critic.

Shelter: A Black Tale of Homeland, Baltimore

By: Lawrence Jackson.

Publisher: Graywolf Press, 344 pages, $17.