Everyone has something to say about Between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. At the time of this post, just Googling the title turned up mostly book reviews and interviews with the author, all from different websites and publications. It seems that the awareness of shootings is at an all-time media high, based on my own perceptions, that paired with several high-profile deaths of young black men shot for little to no reason, Coates’ short book arrived at an opportune time for a world craving answers, or at least a dialogue about why these particular incidents were still prevalent. I heard about the book from an interview with the author on the podcast This American Life and in the episode, Coates’ friend talks with him about their drifting away from each other as Coates’ fame grew.
So, I checked out a copy from the public library and was shocked at its size–the book is a squat and thin, like a small coffee table book. However, despite its lack of size, it packs a punch. The book is actually a candid letter to his son, who is 14 I believe, about the cruelty and unfair assumptions made still today about black men. He is both reluctant and anxious to share his knowledge and direct experiences with his son, not wanting to perpetuate the cycle and hold him back with the ideas of restrictions but yet being driven to ensure that his son understands the depths of the dark side of the world and the American historical contexts as a way to explain the skewed view and violence of black boys and men today. While life today in America is better in many ways, the dark past and habits remain ever below the surface and still arise.
While the topic is difficult to read about, especially since a black father is unveiling the reality of America to his son as to what it is like to live as a black man with everyone watching you all of the time, assessing, and judging you, Coates is a wonderful storyteller which gives the book an easy flow. Do not mistake this for saying that the book is a fun, quick read. It’s neither. But that makes it an even more important and impressive work. It is emotionally charged and taxing to read at times, making it potent and forcing the reader to address the issues Coates warns his son about.
Though it is only 150+ pages, and the book is half-sized remember, I had to put it down frequently because it made me so sad to read. As a woman, I too think about my surroundings and what ifs, so on some levels his stories and incidents that he experienced resonated with me but his fears cut much deeper and consistently with sometimes constant worry, from the sounds of it, whereas mine are occasional and fleeting, situational instead of engrained. For this reason, I had to return the book after a month and could not check it out again, since everyone wanted to read it. So, I waited a few months for my turn with the eBook and made myself finish it before it expired. I am so glad that I did.
Recommended?: Yes. Everyone and I mean everyone, especially all Americans, should read this book. In fact, it should be required reading. The content is adult, as Coates do not shy away from describing the brutal, violent American treatment of black people. Some passages here and there may be too much for high schoolers but if allowed, this could be a great book for discussion, especially with today’s unfortunate current events. All adults not in high school, though, need to spend the brief time reading this book and considering their actions in the world. There are many endearing and heartwarming passages, as this is a letter to his son, and will also warm your heart with his fatherly love for and efforts to protect of his son.