Julie Christine's Reviews > Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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bookshelves: bio-autobio-memoir, social-political-commentary, read-2015

I write this review with very conflicted feelings. I started to say that I acknowledge this book was not written for me, it was written as a letter from a father to a son. From one man to another, almost-man. From a black American to another. But then I realized that of course, it is for me, because it is out there, in the world, in libraries, bookstores, written by a journalist-writer-poet who has just received a MacArthur "Genius" grant, who is interviewed, speaks out, a voice that wants to be heard, read, discussed. And then I realize that of all the people who should read Between the World and Me, it is those who think this book isn't for them; i.e. white people.

So, Between the World and Me belongs to all of us now, regardless of gender, race, family status. It arrives at a delicate, urgent, complicated time when race is again part of our national conversation, somehow having fallen away over the years until it became clear that the only people who stopped talking about race were those who'd be happier pretending it just doesn't matter. But then the voices of Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, of Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson come along, fresh, ringing loudly, or we start to notice the voices that have long been there, like Claudia Rankine and Yusef Komunyakaa, and we are captivated.

After reading James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, Coates was inspired to write a similar "open letter" to his son, a conversation about the expression of racism in American, from the 17th century slave trade to the 21st century killings of unarmed black men that galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement.

To me it seemed that Between the World and Me is Part One of that conversation, a rhetorical litany of circumstances without a prescriptive mission. In his work with The Atlantic magazine, Coates has written so definitively about reparations for slavery, about mass incarceration, redlining, structural racism, the myth of colorblindness and "post-racial" America, that my expectations of Between the World and Me fell along similar lines. Unfairly, perhaps. But I often felt almost mired in the beauty of Coates's prose that I lost the urgency of his message.
It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered. The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in the moments we lose. It is the last bottle of wine that you have just uncorked but do not have time to drink. It is the second kiss that you do not have time to share, before she walks out of your life. It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three-hour days for us.

But perhaps setting aside my expectations and once again, learning (over and over I have to be reminded of this) that what I must do is listen, rather than searching for the answers, the fix, is the point. It's not up to Coates, or any other voice of color, to find answers, to change things. That's between the world and me.
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Reading Progress

July 23, 2015 – Shelved
July 23, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
October 6, 2015 – Started Reading
October 6, 2015 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
October 6, 2015 – Shelved as: social-political-commentary
October 7, 2015 –
page 76
50.0% ""You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairly tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine.""
October 8, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2015
October 8, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Naia (new) - added it

Naia Another great review, Julie. I always appreciate your perspective and the thoughtful and honest way you express it. I've heard so much about this book and can't wait to read it.


Julie Christine Naia wrote: "Another great review, Julie. I always appreciate your perspective and the thoughtful and honest way you express it. I've heard so much about this book and can't wait to read it."

Naia, thank you so much. I'm thrilled Coates was awarded the MacArthur grant. I've learned so much from his work in the Atlantic. His voice is vital.


message 3: by Carol (new)

Carol 5 star review Julie.


Julie Christine Carol wrote: "5 star review Julie."
Thank you, my friend.


Iris P Julie, I found your review candid, humble and thought-provoking. Considering the topic, that is very refreshing...

I was speaking with a friend this weekend (she's white) and mentioned that it wasn't until I came to live in the United States that race became such a difficult topic to address.

Of course, as a Latina of mixed race, I don't share the same historical, cultural and sociological backgrounds that African Americans have, but even after living in this country for almost 25 years I am still surprised by how uncomfortable and awkward this "national conversation" can feel for most Americans.

Like you, I've been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's influential and provocative essays via The Atlantic Magazine for a few years now, but I must confessed that what you described as "a rhetorical litany of circumstances without a prescriptive mission" is exactly what has held me back from jumping to read this sooner.

Because I have sons, including a 19 year-old who is starting college this fall, perhaps I am hesitant to read Coates's letter to his own son for fear of finding more reasons to despair than answers and encouragement. Then again, maybe I am just burying my head in the sand...

Thank you for providing us with a stimulating and honest review.


message 6: by Julie Christine (last edited Oct 12, 2015 06:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julie Christine Iris wrote: "Julie, I found your review candid, humble and thought-provoking. Considering the topic, that is very refreshing...

I was speaking with a friend this weekend (she's white) and mentioned that it wa..."


This is so fascinating, Iris. I am so grateful for your perspective. I doubt very much that you are turning away from any reality your son must endure as a young man of color. Coates really is focused on issues specific to black America, but there is some universality of experience of what it means to live in white America.

I think some of Coates's African-American contemporaries have taken him to task for painting such a bleak picture of race relations in the US, but I wonder why it's on his shoulders to provide the answers? Perhaps because his journalistic work has been so definitive. I know he's spending the year in Paris with his family-I don't blame him for taking time away to get some perspective and a chance to breathe different philosophical air.

I feel like the nation is just now waking up to systemic, institutional racism, or rather, white America is just now waking up to it, and there is so much resistance, and embarrassment, and spluttering denial. And it all comes from a place of fear. That's what I don't understand. What are we so afraid of?


message 7: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee Wonderful and important insights.


Julie Christine Jaidee wrote: "Wonderful and important insights."
Thank you so much- I'm thrilled to see this book garnering so much attention and acclaim.


Carol Another superb review, Julie of what must be a powerful and thought-provoking work. I've added this to my queue.


Julie Christine Carol wrote: "Another superb review, Julie of what must be a powerful and thought-provoking work. I've added this to my queue." Thank you, Carol. Coates is a powerful, important voice.


Iris P Julie wrote: "Iris wrote: "Julie, I found your review candid, humble and thought-provoking. Considering the topic, that is very refreshing...

I was speaking with a friend this weekend (she's white) and mention..."


Julie, when we had this exchange a couple of weeks ago, I assumed that last question had been a rhetorical one (Hope I was right, otherwise I am two weeks late in getting back to you!).

In any case, here's a link to my own review of Between the World and Me. I hope you read it when you get a chance, thanks!


Julie Christine Iris wrote: "Julie wrote: "Iris wrote: "Julie, I found your review candid, humble and thought-provoking. Considering the topic, that is very refreshing...

I was speaking with a friend this weekend (she's whit..."


Smile. Yes, definitely rhetorical. Your review is just beautiful!


Iris P Julie wrote: "Iris wrote: "Julie wrote: "Iris wrote: "Julie, I found your review candid, humble and thought-provoking. Considering the topic, that is very refreshing...

I was speaking with a friend this weeken..."

Grinning** Thanks dear Julie


message 14: by Bernadette (new) - added it

Bernadette Excellent review Julie


Julie Christine Bernadette wrote: "Excellent review Julie"

Thank you, Bernadette!


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