Four star review, originally posted here on March 5, 2019.
A beautiful and thought-provoking work. I saw someone else that this- I listened to the audiobook, which was perfect because you can hear the author’s true tone, but I also wish I’d had a print copy on hand because I was constantly wanting to highlight various passages.
After reading through some of the other reviews, I think that one’s appreciation or lack thereof regarding this book has a lot to do with our expectations of this book and what it should be. It seems that the publicity materials for this book may have lead people astray, because the contents don’t necessarily match what is inside. Some folks complain that Coates never provides guidance for movement forwards, which he never does. Others complain about his narrow view of the world in earlier chapters.
I read this book as a very personal codification of one very specific person’s very specific emotions in response to one’s own personal experiences and life’s journey. In other words, it’s a (eloquent and poetic) memoir. Nothing more than that. For example, early in the book he talks about his upbringing in the mean streets of inner-city Baltimore, equates this to the black experience, and suggests that the outside world comprises entirely of privileged white suburbanites with white picket fences. If you stopped reading there, you might judge Coates as myopic. Clearly the world is a much more nuanced gradient than poor black inner-city versus rich white suburbanites, right? But as Coates continues his tale about his life, he learns that the world, and his role within it, is bigger than that. He grows and learns, and will continue to grow and learn long after this book is published. I also didn’t agree with every opinion shared by Coates, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. Whether or not I agreed with everything, I still appreciated hearing his viewpoint.
Deeply personal and deeply enlightening. Highly recommend.