Apr. 11th, 2016

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This definitely helps in seeing the world differently.

Book #4: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

Even though I'd heard about Coates for a long time before reading this book, I don't think I'd read more than an article or two of his. But this just showed up too many times in a short period, and I'd read Paul Beatty's book The Sellout at the end of last year, and this looked to be short and powerful and perhaps related to that. And anyway, Between the World and Me comes to be called Required Reading, so I went for it.

The book is in the form of a long letter to Coates's teenage son, though it focuses on a large timeline across Coates's life, and also across a swath of his family, as well. There's a strong sense of Coates grappling with what to tell his son in the wake of police violence that isn't being punished, and what that means for his son's life, along what it meant for his own life. On the one hand, you have all the evidence of the antipathy towards people of color in the US, and the reminders that if you get out of line, the state - society at large - sees your body as forfeit; on the other hand, there's a frank discussion of what having to live with this knowledge leads to in the psyches of the black people that Coates has known. Nothing positive, as you may expect.

These messages are delivered powerfully and elegantly, with strong prose and thematic arcs that aren't immediately obvious, but become clear over the first section. It's hard not to think about what it means to be unsure about yourself all of the time, to watch your actions that way. How that might influence how you carry yourself, know yourself. And the format, trying to work out how best to deal with passing this kind of information on to the next generation, lends more power to Coates's approach. I'm not sure there's a good answer to the question.

It's a discomfiting book, but an important one. And it's not a long read, but it's one that will probably stick with you. It's worth the investment.

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