"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A look at reviews of BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

Feeling unequipped or not up-to-the-task of reviewing Ta-Nehisi Coates 2015 National Book Award winning Between the World and Me, a letter written from a black father to his fifteen-year-old son, I decided to do a review of the reviews. Perhaps, if you are deciding where to start, this is a good spot. Check out the reviews yourself by clicking on the hyperlinks.

New York Times Book Review by Michelle Alexander (August 17, 2015). Here Ms. Alexander, a black woman, compares Between the World and Me to James Baldwin's essay, "The Fire Next Time" which was published in 1963 and written to his nephew. This work "galvanized the nation and gave a passionate voice for the civil rights movement." In the first few pages of the essay Baldwin urges his nephew to embrace his own dignity. Coates, on the other hand, urges "his son to awaken to his own power, Coates emphasizes over and over the apparent permanence of racial injustice in America, the foolishness of believing that one person can make a change, and the dangers of believing in the American Dream."  Neither the essay or the book are written with a white audience in mind. Ms. Alexander read through Coates' book twice, admitting that she felt exasperation after she finished it the first time, but had more understanding after the second. I was relieved that I was not the only one who was left wanting something after completing the book, but I didn't read it again, so I was glad for her insights.

"The Radical Chic of Ta-Nehisi Coates," Washington Post by Carlos Lozada (July 9, 2015). Instead of a book review, I'd say this is more an author review. Mr. Lozada talks about Between the World and Me as the Liberals must-read book and Coates as the liberal elites must-read author. He quotes praise from other book critics, which is kind of the opposite of what Coates says in the book about how the media never pays attention to black folks. Racism is not new, nor are efforts by some people to rid the country of it, but Lozada finds irony in the publisher pushing up the publication date from September to July because of the immediacy of some riot or racial problem of the day. This review gives a nice counter-balance to other reviews.

"Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates---a now exalted writer and spokesman for Black America," The Guardian by Sukhdev Sandhu (October 8, 2015) The subtitle of the article says "a prominent journalist has issued a passionate call for change. But where are the discussions of class and is he guilty of parochialism?" So I guess you can tell which direction this review is going. I hadn't realized (I admit, I've done no other research) that Coates was (is) a journalist writing for the Atlantic. His editor challenged him to write something in the style of James Baldwin and so he did, using the aforementioned essay as his guide. So was Between the World and Me more about writing than it was about advice to his son? Hmm? Mr. Sandhu also picks apart the prose, saying "Coates doesn’t write like a father so much as an apprentice theologian or a sophomoric logician. Sentences begin with 'Thus', 'I propose', 'This leads us to another equally important ideal.' The tone is consistently one of aspirational gravitas..." Ouch. Sandhu also introduced me to a new term, which he accuses Coates of in this book: "Afro-pessimism." So now I understand why I felt so pessimistic after reading the book.

"Coates' Latest Book Brilliant with One Glaring Omission," The Baltimore Sun by Karsonya Wise Whitehead (July 18, 2015). Ms. Whitehead sings the praises of Between the World and Me and this coming from Coates' hometown newspaper. What he talks about in the book is still happening today on the streets of Baltimore. What Ms. Whitehead takes exception to is how the book focuses exclusively on the black male experience without mentioning black females. She says, 
"This oversight drew me back, time and time again, to Zora Neale Hurston's observation about black women being the mules of the world. Perhaps my desire to want to see the perspective of black women lifted up and included obfuscates what Coates intended to do with his letter. It is for his son and, by extension, for all black fathers and their boys. It is an affirmation, an explanation of Coates' struggle to learn how to 'live within a black body,' and his discovery that the pursuit of these larger questions (of who he is and what that means) is the answer." 
I am glad that Ms. Whitehead brought up the need for females to be included in the discussion of race relations. 

I could go on but I won't. I found help in understanding the book and my feelings about Between the World and Me from these four reviews. The book is important and should be read but don't even think for a minute that it is easy or comfortable to do so.


  1. He was on Finding your Roots, and then I found a random video of him speaking French. (he went to an immersion school) He seems like a fascinating guy. The book was tough to read though, yes?

  2. It is so important for us to read books that are uncomfortable since that is how we learn about the world and ourselves. I am on a district committee that is tasked with writing our new ethnic studies course. We've been meeting for 3 months and have yet to begin writing the curriculum! The discussions we've had have been powerful and necessary in order to begin the actual "work."


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