Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates.


This book is a letter addressed by the author to his 15-year-old son: Samori. 

Ta Nehisi Coates relates the fears of his youth while growing up in West Baltimore. “When I was your age the only people I knew were black, and all of them were powerfully, adamantly, dangerously afraid..… The fear was there in the extravagant boys of my neighborhood, in their large rings and medallions, their big puffy coats… which was their armor against their world. “

Everybody knew someone who had lost a child or adult life violence, jail, or drugs. “I saw it (fear) in my own father, who loves you.” But if the young Coates got in trouble, which he often said he did, his father would crack the belt, “which he applied with more anxiety than anger. “

Coates tells his son that “fear ruled everything around me, and I knew, as all black people do, that this fear was connected to the Dream out there, to the unworried boys, to pie and pot roast, to the white fences and green lawns nightly beamed into a television sets. “

The author explains that the law did not protect the Black community. “And now in your time, the law has become an excuse for stopping in frisking you, which is to say, for furthering the assault on your body. “

Coates repeats several times in his letter that he had been a curious boy. His mother taught him to read and write when he was very young. His father was a research librarian at Howard University; his father loved and owned many books by and about Blacks.

Coates suffered at the hands of both the streets and the schools. He believed the schools “were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance…. When the elders presented school to us, they did not present it as a place of high learning, but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing. Schools did not reveal truths, they can concealed them. “

Ta-Nehisi questioned the need for school: “Their are laws were aimed at something distant and vague.” It was not the classroom but the library that he loved. “The library was open, unending, free. “

Coates wants his son to ask many of the same questions as mother had put to him: “Why did I feel the need to talk at the same time as my teacher; why did I not believe that my teacher was entitled to respect; how would I want someone to behave while I was talking?” author goes on to state that his mother’s assignments did not curb his behavior, but because these were the earliest acts of interrogation, of drawing myself into consciousness… she was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing— myself. “

It was later at Howard University and especially The Mecca, that Ta-Nehisi he was formed and shaped. 

The Mecca: A machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body… 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, violence, and hopscotch squares. As do black people dancing it out at rent parties, as do black people at their family reunions where we are regarded like the survivors of catastrophe.

—Lauri Jones 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

A family moves from its home in Arizona to a farm in southern Appalachia and, by trial and error, build a new life reflecting on the age old saying: “We are what we eat.” Throughout this work are detailed accounts of the art of growing vegetables, fruit trees, and raising animals for human consumption. Barbara Kingsolver asks:

Will North Americans ever have a food culture to call our own? Can we find or make up a set of rituals, recipes, ethics, and buying habits that will let us love our food and eat it too? Some signs point to “yes.” Better food – more local, more healthy, more sensible – is a powerful new topic of the American conversation.” … 

This book tells the story of what we learned or didn’t, what we ate, or couldn’t, and how our family was changed by one year of deliberately eating food produced in the same place where we worked, loved our neighbors, drink the water, and breathe the air.

Daughter Camille and husband Steven L.  Hopp contribute throughout the text with collaborating essays and mouthwatering recipes. Some of Kingsolver’s discourses surround controversy all topics such as global climate change;  CAFO’s, or concentrated animal feeding operations, commonly known as factory farms; genetic modification, currently known as GMO, or genetically modified organisms: fair trade: and pesticides , to name a few. Kingsolver’s emphasis is on growing our own produce in our backyard and becoming regular customers a farmers’ markets, whose vendors sell local and organic produce.

One section of the book is devoted almost exclusively to the authors’ curiosity and eventual observing and caring for the family’s Bourbon Red turkeys and their offspring, which is quite comical and interesting. Several chapters give accounts of the family’s endeavors of seed saving, harvesting, and freezing are canning items when the season has passed.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is filled with helpful anecdotes, such as what to eat when the food is out of season. It is not preachy, but commonsensical and witty. There is an extensive references and resource section at the back of the book for additional research. And the authors have added a handy online site with recipes specific to the four seasons. Check it out here.

—Laurie Jones

A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

If one had visited urban India circa 1975 for even a month, the careful reading of A Fine Balance would be more credible than that of an armchair traveler. This novel is not for the faint of heart, as it deals realistically with the sadistic and depraved sides of human nature. Mistry brings a mesmerizing style and a heartening since of humor, but, no laughter.   

This work also reveals a compassionate and caring side of human nature and an honest desire to connect with people, especially the four main characters:   

Dina is a young, independently spirited widow who is a skilled seems just an entrepreneur;  

Ishvar is generous and kind to everyone, and constantly encouraging his nephew, Omprakash (Om) to loosen up and fly right;  

Maneck is a college student who cannot cease dwelling on his idyllic past.   

The foregoing characters’ lives meet and eventually mingle and boost one another to a light-hearted and most easy-going state. The first three characters rise above their past and present predicaments, and, with their innate or learned good attitudes, do you go forward.   

As this novel is complex in its style, it is meant to be read twice.

Laurie Jones