Book Review: Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power


We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy
Ta-Nehisi Coates

A collection of Coates journalistic pieces and other writings, most of which first appeared in the Atlantic, and many of which I’d read before. The pieces are organized chronologically, and importantly, tied to each year of the Obama presidency. Coates writes a thoughtful introduction to each piece which serves as a reflective (sometimes self critical) look back at who he was as a writer, and who we were as a country, at the time of the writing of the piece.

 

Coates is a gifted writer and one of the most important intellectuals in modern America. I read everything he writes, and was happy to re-read many of these pieces. But at the center of this book is one of his articles “The Case for Reparations” that I think may be one of the most important pieces published anywhere in the last decade. It cogently and carefully makes the case for reparations to the African American community in America and it lays out its case with a combination of narrative brilliance and airtight logic that is hard to ignore.

 

If you pick up this book and just read the Case for Reparations, it will be well worth the price of admission, but there’s so much more in here to remember and reflect on. As I often say, well worth the time.

 

Recommended.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

 

Top Ten Book Reviews

I’ve written over 100 book reviews for this site and plan to write many, many more. Here’s a list of the ten most popular reviews:

  1. Tani and Sera’s False Nationalism / False Internationalism

  2. Coates’s Between the World and Me

  3. Mandel’s Station Eleven

  4. Fink’s Five Days at Memorial

  5. Martin’s Game of Thrones

  6. Chopra’s Shapeshifter

  7. Levitin’s The Organized Mind

  8. Kraus’s I Love Dick

  9. Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building

  10. Jurek’s Eat and Run

2015: My Year In Books

I set two reading goals for 2015 – to read fifty two books for the year and to have fifty percent of those books be by women. Unlike most of the other goals I set this year, I actually accomplished both of these.I’m pretty happy with that.

Now that I’m a dad who almost never goes out, and a commuter to midtown, reading fifty two books didn’t seem that hard. Neither did reading twenty six books by women. That said, making an effort to read women was something new this year. I am so glad I did it. Without that goal, I doubt I would have read my favorite book of the year, the Argonauts. Nor do I think I would have read my favorite fiction book of the year, Station Eleven.
Also new this year was a resolution to write a short review of every book I read. The theory is, if it is worth reading, its worth jotting down at least 100 words about it. So this year, I did that. The links in this post point to those reviews.

Before we get to the super boring list, here’s some slightly less boring highlights and lowlights:

Best Non-Fiction Book: Tied between The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson and Coates’s Between the World and Me.  Honestly, if you want to be able to think about race in this country today, you need to read Between the World and Me. And if you want to think deeply about love, or gender, or family, or theory, or any combination thereof, you should read the Argonauts. Both books are about 200 pages. You can read both. Get to work.

Best Fiction Book: There were a number of contenders for this title this, but the book the haunted me the most after finishing it, the book that got me talking and thinking the most was Mantel’s Station Eleven. It gets the crown. This was billed as an SF novel. And that it is. But its so much more. If you’re interested in quality fiction, its worth a look. 

Worst Fiction Book / Worst Non-Fiction Book: Usually, I read at least a couple of books which i hated. This year, not so much. If forced, I’d say Kaplan’s Jewish Meditation isn’t very good,  but its not THAT bad. All in all, I picked really well this year.

Some statistics worth noting:
•As discussed above 26 of the 52 books I read were by women, but a pathetic two books were written by African American writers. A single book by a South Asian Indian writer and not a single book by a Latino, East Asian, or Native American. That is embarrassing. I don’t know how far into quotas I want to go with my reading, but I’ll definitely be making some efforts to change those stats in the coming year.

20 of the 52 books (or about 38%) were fiction. That’s less than pervious years, not that I noticed, but perhaps this is a start of trend?

Interested in what I have planned for 2016? Check it out here.

Below is a complete list of the books with my annotation of whether I recommend it for the general reader, recommend it for the enthusiast interested in the subject matter, or if I think you shouldn’t bother at all. Remember, I have no taste.

1. The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin – Recommended for the enthusiast.

2. Thrown, Kerry Howley – Recommended

3. A Spy Among Friends, Ben Macintyre – Recommended for the enthusiast.

4. Eat And Run, Scott Jurek – Recommended for the enthusiast.

5. Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert – Recommended

6. Jewish Meditation, Aryeh Kaplan – Not Recommended

7. Wild, Cheryl Strayed – Recommended for the enthusiast.

8. Critique of Criminal Reason, Michael Gregorio – Recommended for the enthusiast.

9. Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman – Recommended for the enthusiast.

10. Last Spymaster, Gayle Lynds – Not recommended

11. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard – Recommended

12. In the Woods, Tana French – Recommended

13. In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides – Recommended

14. All the Old Knives, Olen Steinhauer – Recommended

15. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel – Recommended

16. You Are An Ironman, Jacques Steinberg – Recommended for the enthusiast

17. Between You & Me, Mary Norris – Recommended

18. Spring Chicken, Bill Gifford – Recommended for the enthusiast.

19. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett – Recommended for the enthusiast.

20. Just City, Jo Walton – Recommended for the enthusiast.

21. Hellhound On My Trail, Hampton Sides – Recommended

22. The Whites, Richard Price – Recommended

23. God Help The Child, Toni Morrison – Recommended

24. I’ll Have What She’s Having, Rebecca Harrington – Recommended for the enthusiast.

25. Manhunt, James Swanson – Recommended

26. The Miernik Dossier, Charles McCarry – Recommended for the enthusiast.

27. Natural Born Heroes, Chris McDonald – Recommended for the enthusiast.

28. Savage Harvest, Carl Hoffman – Recommended

29. Seveneves, Neil Stephenson – Recommended for the enthusiast

30. Book of Numbers, Joshua Cohen – Recommended for the enthusiast

31. Goddess Pose, Michelle Goldberg – Recommended for the enthusiast

32. Broken Monsters, Lauren Buekes – Recommended

33. Iron War, Matt Fitzgerald – Recommended for the enthusiast

34. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates – Recommended

35. The Longest Race, Ed Ayers  – Recommended for the enthusiast

36. Night Film, Marisha Pessl – Recommended for the enthusiast

37. The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson – Recommended

38. Vegan Before Six, Mark Bittman – Recommended

39. In the Freud Archives, Janet Malcolm – Recommended

40. Classics: A Very Short Introduction, Mary Beard and John Henderson – Recommended for the enthusiast.

41. Dept of Speculation, Jennifer Offill – Recommended for the enthusiast.

42. Martial Bliss, Margaretta Barton Colt – Recommended for the enthusiast.

43. Confronting the Classics, Mary Beard – Recommended for the enthusiast.

44. Riddle in the Labyrinth, Margalit Fox – Recommended for the enthusiasts.

45. The Magicians, Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D.– Recommended for the enthusiast

46. Just Kids, Patti Smith – Recommended

47. I Love Dick, Chris Kraus – Recommended

48. Shapeshifter, Samir Chopra – Recommended

49. Power of the Dog, Don Winslow – Recommended

50. Blue Zones, Dan Buettner – Recommended

51. The Cartel, Don Winslow – Recommended

52. The Big Short, Michael Lewis – Recommended

Review: Coates’s Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates

How does one review a book like Between You a Me? Especially when one is me – an educated, white, straight, middle class dude.

What can I possibly say?

I can say that it deeply affected me.

That even now, over a week after finishing the book, it is still at the front of my mind. I can say how visceral and immediate the writing is, even when it is repetitive, in fact, perhaps most when it is repetitive. I can say how I’ve struggled all week with Coates recollections of his father’s beatings. Struggled specifically with the phrase “I beat him or the police”. I can say that the recollections of the casual humiliation Coates suffered repeatedly, here in my own beloved city, brought me to tears.

I can say that you really have to read this book.

Coates is almost my exact contemporary. Our cultural references are all the same. The same hip hop groups, the same games, the same football players. But our lives could not have been more different. My father never felt he had to beat me to protect me from a world out to kill me and I will (almost surely) never have to worry about my son being murdered by the state because of the color of his skin.

The book, as you probably know is written as a letter to Coates’s son. In that letter are many things – stories of Coates’s youth, praise for his son’s mother, ruminations on education and life, but mainly it’s a warning that no matter your privilege, education, or opportunity, if you’re a black man in America the state can kill you with impunity. That’s can be a hard thing to read, especially when it is put as bluntly as Coates puts it in this book.

It is also inarguably true.

Some have criticized this book for lacking hope, or for failing to provide an answer to racist nightmare that is America. But providing hope, or answers, isn’t Coates job. I’m not even sure he believes there is an answer, or a hope. Demanding Coates provide us with a happy ending really misses the point of the book.

This book isn’t a prescription for change – it’s a warning about reality.

Recommended.