Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Between the World and Me

Title:  Between the World and Me
Author:  Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publication Information:  Spiegel & Grau. 2015. 176 pages.
ISBN:  0812993543 / 978-0812993547

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "Son, Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body."

Favorite Quote:  "This is the core of so much hatred - hate gives identity. The ...., the ..., the ... [insert some hateful words here] illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, and by naming them we are confirmed within the consensus."

The back cover copy of this book poses a question. "What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?" In a letter to his teenage son, Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to describe an answer. An answer with centuries of history. An answer with questions and reflections for all of us. An answer that has me rushing through the book and at the same time pausing to re-read so that I can fully absorb what is being said.

I finished reading this book in a day. Immediately, I turn back to the beginning and start reading again. That is the power and emotion captured in these words. It leaves a lasting impression.

Ta-Nehisi Coates was born and raised in a segregated Baltimore. He grew up with family and love but also surrounded by and constantly aware of violence. Education brought him to Howard University, which he refers to as "the Mecca." He has since developed quite a reputation for his writing and journalism.

More than history, this book is a book of philosophy and a reflection on life. As such, the writing has a poetic, lyrical quality to it rather than a barrage of facts. The writing is meditative rather than an outright statement as to views, events, and policies. Are the facts there? Some but definitely not all. The book assumes a knowledge of events - current and historical, and it presents his views and interpretations on those events. Are the emotions there? Yes, absolutely. The book captures and presents them in a powerful way.

Several themes repeat throughout the book:
  • The Body - The idea of losing the body or being unable to protect the body. It reinforces the idea of a physical fear. This approach also makes the thoughts intensely personal and simultaneously universal. What can possibly be more precious than our own bodies, and yet, "the body" can refer to any and all people.
  • The Dream - The white picket fence and the house in the suburbs that is the epitome of America. The dream also symbolizes an idealism or a naivete that does not give recognition to the harsh reality of our world.
  • People who believe they are white -  The idea that awareness of race grows out of racism and a need to differentiate ourselves from others rather than the other way around. Physical differences do not create racism; people and ideologies create racism.
His ultimate advice to his son:  "This is your country, ... this is your world, ... this is your body, and you must find some way to live with all of it."

Mr. Coates acknowledges these words to be his reality. His views unapologetic and strongly stated. "My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own." Toni Morrison has deemed this book "required reading." This book will assuredly garner strong opinions - both from those who agree and disagree with the ideas presented. Therein too lies the power of the ideas. Whether you agree with his words or not, this book will leave you thinking.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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