Book Review: Between the World and Me

If you read one new book this year, make it Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Goodreads tells us this book has won the National Book Award for Nonfiction (2015), the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction (2015), the Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction (2015), and the Alex Award (2016).

Let me tell you why. This year, at NCTE, I attended/presented at High School Matters. As usual, Carol Jago had her bookmark with her recommendations. Usually, she puts this bookmark together a few weeks before, and by the time the conference rolls around, many of her choices are award-winners. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, Between the World and Me was one of the books she recommended.

I attended the conference with a colleague, and she immediately procured the book, began reading it, and was profoundly moved. After we returned home, I bought a copy as well. I found myself wanting to underline every sentence in the book. I dog-eared pages, I underlined sections, I photocopied paragraphs. This book captures an important issue in brilliant writing. He writes in epistolary form–a letter to his son. The basic claim he makes is that black people don’t own their bodies.

Here are some compelling passages:

  • “The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”
  • “You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”
  • “I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”
  • “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”
  • “So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.”

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I’ve already passed this book along to colleagues, and now I’m handing it to students.  It addresses important issues we’re talking about in our classroom–representation, the American Dream, power and oppression.   So if you’re looking for a new non-fiction book to read, to share, to teach, consider Between the World and Me.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

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Book Review: Between the World and Me

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