Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015), narrated by the author

In this award-winning book about race, Ta-Nehisi Coates interweaves stories about his life with American history and commentary about being black in the United States, all told in the form of a letter to his son. I feel like the last person who has gotten around to reading this book, and it's very short so there's just no excuse not to. But I picked it up once and started reading and realized that it is basically a very long essay, which somehow was a huge stumbling block for me. Then I heard that the audiobook was very good, so I downloaded it and had no problem listening to the whole thing.

This is a big departure from my usual fare, and definitely different from what I listen to on audio. It's not a story, though it does contain stories. The book grew out of many things, perhaps most significantly the reaction of Coates's son to the Trayvon Martin verdict. Coates is also haunted by the memory of his friend Prince Jones, a fellow student at Howard University who was shot by the police. He also recounts his childhood in a rough neighborhood, traveling to Europe for the first time, and other important parts of his life.

Coates talks about race as a falsehood, and refers to white people as "people who believe themselves white." He compares his youth to that of his son, who has grown up with a black president. He focuses on the body, frequently saying "my body" where others would say "me," emphasizing the way he is being judged by his skin. He describes injustices ranging from wary glances to police brutality.

I'll admit I sometimes lost the thread a bit because so much of it was about concepts rather than a story (it really is a long essay), but then Coates would recount a specific event or time in his life and that always brought me back on track. I was most surprised by how poetic this book is - the writing itself is almost lyrical in parts, but he reads it with such passion I couldn't help but be swept up in it. He was absolutely the only narrator for this book. If you're thinking of picking it up, I highly recommend the audio version.

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