Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Audible
Content Alert: swearing

I pay for an Audible account that gives me two book credits per month. In that month, I'll probably run about 250 miles, much of it by myself, and I use the books to keep myself entertained. So I tend to shop for long books. Alexander Hamilton, at more than thirty hours, was a good buy. I was loath to spend the money on Ta-Nehisi Coatses's book, Between the World and Me, since it's only 3 1/2 hours long. But within a couple of days of each other, I heard that the book won a National Book Award, and I heard an extended interview with Coates about his newfound success on This American Life, and I knew I had to part with the credit and listen to the book.

Between the World and Me, which is written as a letter from the author to his (then) fourteen-year-old son, Samori, was eye-opening. It's a book written by a black man about my own age, to his son, who is the same age as my oldest son, and while we grew up within a few hundred miles of each other, studied the same things in college and have worked at writing as a career, our worldviews could not be more different. And Coates would say that this is because he's a black man and I am a white woman. He writes poetically, emotionally, sparely about the experiences of his life. Of his loving father hitting him with a belt. Of being a teenager in Baltimore. Of having college friends shot and killed by the police for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He writes of fear and hatred. And the book left me feeling unsettled and fearful myself, finding my privilege uncomfortable and conspicuous. It's a book I'm glad I read and perspective I'm glad I understand a bit more, but not an easy read. If you read it, don't forget to listen to the This American Life piece. They stand as interesting counterpoints to each other-- showing the complexity that lies within each of us.

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