Friday, December 18, 2015

365 True Things: 264/Books

A book I ordered on-line, the claim
being it was in "good" condition
Usually when I read a book I have no hesitation about underlining, dog-earing, margin-writing. I do not, however, and never have, not even in college with textbooks, highlighted. I find highlighting abhorrent. I mean, how can you read what's under all that gaudy yellow, pink, and green?

That said, I just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, the 152-page hardback. And I found myself wishing, not for a highlighter, but for a Kindle, with its "virtual" highlighting feature. Because there were so many passages that went on and on lyrically, beautifully, passionately, angrily, hopefully, and all sorts of emotionally and intelligently, that I wanted to keep, somewhere, somehow, so I could reread them and continue to learn from them.

Instead, I flagged. Which is a poor substitute, signaling an instance, not an expanse. But I didn't want to mark up this lovely book. A straight-in flag for short bits; an angled flag to signify "this page, and the next, and probably the next as well: just keep reading, it's all amazing."

Maybe when it comes out I'll buy the paperback version and mark it up. Because I'm damn sure going to read this one again. And again.

Here's one passage from near the end:
That was a moment, a joyous moment, beyond the Dream [of those who think they are white]—a moment imbued by a power more gorgeous than any voting rights bill. This power, this black power, originates in a view of the American galaxy taken from a dark and essential planet. Black power is the dungeon-side view of Monticello—which is to say, the view taken in struggle. And black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers—lost in their great reverie—feel it, for it is Billie they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley they hum in love, and Dre they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here. We have taken the one-drop rules of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people. Here at The Mecca, under pain of selection, we have made a home. As do black people on summer blocks marked with needles, vials, and hopscotch squares. As do black people dancing it out at rent parties, as do black people at family reunions where we are regarded like the survivors of catastrophe. As do black people toasting their cognac and German beers, passing their blunts and debating MCs. As do all of us who have voyaged through death, to life upon these shores. (149)
Or this:
At this moment, the phrase "police reform" has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is a real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country's criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs. (78–79)
Or this:
Here is how I take the measure of my progress in life: I imagine myself as I was, back there in West Baltimore, dodging North and Pulaski, ducking Murphy Homes, fearful of the schools and the streets, and I imagine showing that lost boy a portrait of my present life and asking him what he would make of it. . . . I write you at the precipice of my fortieth year, having come to a point in my life—not of great prominence—but far beyond anything that boy could have even imagined. I did not master the streets, because I could not read the body language quick enough. I did not master the schools, because I could not see where any of it could possibly lead. But I did not fall. I have my family. I have my work. I no longer feel it necessary to hang my head at parties and tell people that I am "trying to be a writer." And godless though I am, the fact of being human, the fact of possessing the gift of study, and thus being remarkable among all the matter floating through the cosmos, still awes me. (114–115)
And so many more. Sometimes when I might have flagged, I was too engrossed and just kept reading. The entire book could bristle with flags, easily.

I love and admire this book and its author. Thank you, Mr. Coates.


  1. I listened to this on audio as I walked the taro fields of Hanalei Valley conducting a bird survey. Somehow, it was the perfect setting. As for the reading, the author, Mr. Coates, narrated. Loved that.

  2. looking forward to reading this