Between the World and Me (Book Review)

Is this acclaimed book really worth all the hype?

Ms. Malcolm Hughes: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Do you remember still how it felt the first time you heard The College Dropout? How it was as if someone had reached into your soul and was telling your story? Not only was the feeling exhilarating, but Kanye West was actually getting the story line and emotions of your life right! He wasn’t smoothing out the edges or removing pieces to make the picture more appealing or beautiful, he was just telling the significance of your existence, and more importantly the power in your survival. Do you remember that moment, those feelings? I do, vividly, and for that reason I can tell you that what Kanye did on audio, Ta-Nehisi Coates did on paper.

On the backcover of the book is a quote from Toni Morrison, which reads “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.” If you’re like me that line automatically made you suspicious. An endorsement from Morrison is no small acknowledgement, but to also have her compare you to Baldwin is a huge accolade! Still, I wasn’t sure if I could trust it.

However, within the first seventeen pages of the book I was completely engrossed. How could someone else reflect the imprint on my soul? How could someone who grew up in a different era, on a different side of the country, have shared my same experiences and feelings? There were multiple times when I had to stop myself from crying on on the metro to and from work, while reading passages from the book.

Prior to reading the book I was fortunate to attend a lecture featuring Ta-Nehisi Coates at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. Which is special because I got to see him speak at what he calls “The Mecca.” Howard has been long known for being the gathering place of Black intellectuals, and the audience was reflective of such.

A number of things were said that undoubtedly impacted the way I read the book. During the discussion, Coates was passionate, poised, and willing to share the knowledge that he had acquired. However, what was equally, if not more impressive was his willingness to confess what he did not know. As he expresses in Between the World and Me, “The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile.” This one sentence is such a critical element of the book; the ability to question, analyze and interrogate the world in which we live.

Two things stand out to me most about the book: his command of the English language, and his love of Black people! Upon reading the book neither can be denied. Morrison was correct in comparing him to Baldwin. It is the style of Baldwin to be able to discuss issues plaguing the Black community in such an eloquent manner that anyone of every class can read it and must acknowledge the mastery of skill, even if you disagree with the message or content. The book is a literary masterpiece–it deserves every award that it has received, no doubt.

His love of Black people? Read the book, read any of his writings or attend a lecture and it will be evident. During his lecture at Howard he stated, “I sharpened my sword. I became the best at what I did then I dedicated that sword to my people. I can only be the best soldier I can be.” This is true for us all. We can only be the best that we can be, not twice as good, but Black excellence great. Because as Coates states, “I object to “twice as good” because they are not the standard. Understand that we have something all our own. Act out of yourself, own independence of spirit.” Our people continue to strive and excel despite systemic obstacles, this book is another concrete example of such.

Should you read the book? If I’ve effectively done my job as a writer, you have already stopped reading this and begun reading Between the World and Me and all of his other works.

-Ms. Malcolm Hughes


Ms. Malcolm Hughes is the editor-in-chief of For Your Black? Conscious. She is a Chicago, IL native–from the city, not the suburbs–strategizing in Washington, D.C. She loves pizza and challenges you to find her a better pie than she gets back home. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter @fybconscious.

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