Friday, May 12, 2017

#Friday Reads : Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published by Spiegel & Grau
July 14, 2015

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Readers of his work in The Atlantic and elsewhere know Ta-Nehisi Coates for his thoughtful and influential writing on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his teenaged son, his new memoir, Between the World and Me, walks us through the course of his life, from the tough neighborhoods of Baltimore in his youth, to Howard University—which Coates dubs “The Mecca” for its revelatory community of black students and teachers—to the broader Meccas of New York and Paris. Coates describes his observations and the evolution of his thinking on race, from Malcolm X to his conclusion that race itself is a fabrication, elemental to the concept of American (white) exceptionalism. Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and South Carolina are not bumps on the road of progress and harmony, but the results of a systemized, ubiquitous threat to “black bodies” in the form of slavery, police brutality, and mass incarceration. Coates is direct and, as usual, uncommonly insightful and original. There are no wasted words. This is a powerful and exceptional book. -- Jon Foro

I hadn't read too far into the book before I started to see a similarity to James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, in content and in style. Both utilize letters to tell their story and both take a hard look at racism and bigotry. And both are well worth reading, especially now as the United States is seeing more outbreaks of racism and bigotry in action.

On my blog, It's Not All Gravy, I wrote about how Baldwin's books opened my eyes about what it is like to grow up Black in a society controlled by Whites. That was in the early '60s, when the Civil Rights Movement was getting off the ground, and I did my part as best I could.

Ever since then, I have had a deep interest in the issue of racism, which is how it became a theme in the Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. I think understanding is something that comes with learning all we can about people we consider "other," and  Between The World And Me, is a great textbook. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 


  1. I always enjoy when Coates is on TV, usually on Chris Hayes's show on MSNBC. He's a commanding presence, and his views are always grounded in logic and sanity. Great book review, Maryann.

    1. I have not seen Coates on TV, but I am sure he is great. He is so centered and articulate in the book, I'm sure he is a great interview subject.

  2. Not only is this an excellent review, Maryann, it couldn't be more timely. Racial inequality is one of the major issues tearing our society apart. A voice of reason that points toward a way forward that dignifies all people is a welcome change from the violence and discontent rocking our streets and campuses today. Kudos to Mr. Coates for his visionary book and to you for the review that brings it to our attention.

    1. His book is a good starting point for discussion, that's for sure, Linda, but we need more prominent Whites to take the rest of the White Power to task. We have smiled and nodded and let them have their way for too long.

  3. We can't let the all the progress we have made backslide. The trend is troubling to say the least. I have to believe there are more of us who care than those who don't. We just have to be more active than passive. Otherwise, we are no better than those we label enemy.

  4. This sounds fascinating, and deals with a subject close to my heart. It is not easy to walk the race line, and to respect the boundaries while supporting the efforts so many are engaging in to make change. I believe the children and I will be reading this book in the near future. Thank you for sharing your insights concerning it.


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