Easily one of my favorite books of the year, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t the kind of book you enjoy so much as one you take things away from to process. It specifically challenges (by default, not intent; this particular conversation is one white folks are being allowed to listen to, not asked to participate in) the non-Black reader to evaluate the interior of a Black life, and conversely all of the Black lives they encounter. It cajoles racial reconsideration out of its readers with passages that ask, “Does this strike you as new? Why should that be true? What does it mean if Black humanity and fear is news to you?” It is a brutally earnest book whose greatest feat is probably standing as testimony of a voice unapologetically eschewing white gaze. In short, I love this book, and it’s easily the non-fiction book of the year that shows up most frequently on both my reading list and the reading lists of white folks I engage.
As a black librarian and writer, I am frequently hit up by people about what they should consider reading after this. Being an awesomely talented librarian and one of the top five most engaging black people on the planet, I will tell you that the answer largely depends on a) why you like or dislike the book (or its observations, which is a different conversation) and b) whether or not you have any self-educative goals in mind. Assuming you might, here are fifteen suggestions for things you might read next, mostly non-fiction with a couple of novels thrown in, broken down by possible use.
If you loved it:
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
You might as well go to the source, since much of not only the narrative structure of BTWAM is informed by Fire, but the ideas as well. Baldwin doesn’t have a bad sentence in this book. This is the one everyone keeps telling you to read next so you might as well get it out of the way so you can read The Devil Finds Work in a public space without the guilt.
If you want something similar but from a black woman’s perspective:
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Citizen: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankin
While you can find a lot of online articles and research by black women intellectuals, the lack of book length manuscripts publishers put out by them is appalling, bordering on criminal. So you get two here, one even shorter than BTWAM (Adichie). Citizen is making the headlines (again; it was already award-winning) for being the book that trumped Donald Trump at his own rally. It is an excellent book, and that was true before it became notorious.
If you want to know why we can’t all just get along:
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
Alexander’s book is fast becoming this decade’s textbook on how systemic racism works. It is a great scholarly companion to the social and cultural ideas Coates presents in BTWAM.
If you wish he had written more about his past:
The Beautiful Struggle – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Contrary to popular notion, this isn’t his first book. If you thought he blew through his family history it’s because it was already published and no one read it when it came out seven years ago.
If you though it was too depressing:
Welcome to Braggsville – T. Geronimo Johnson
News flash: racism is tough, especially when you’re on the business end of it. Take the edge off by taking in a (probably too) postmodern satire about a group of diverse college kids who decide to protest a Civil War reenactment. This is also a rare mainstream example of a leading white character penned by a Black author.
If you thought parts of it seemed very lyrical and poetic:
Voyage of the Sable Venus: and Other Poems – Robin Coste Lewis
African Sleeping Sickness – Wanda Coleman
Voyage is by far my favorite book of poetry released this year, and if you thought the black body references were compelling in BTWAM, you’re in for a real sucker punch here. Coates has numerous poetry influences on his writing style, though listening to his go-to list of poets in interviews suggests none of them were Wanda Coleman. I find this mildly ironic because she captured some very similar fire in both her poetry and short fiction. Brutal, gritty, unapologetic stuff.
If you thought it would read more like The Wire:
Race Matters – Cornel West
This one is a bit of a feint because if you’re still using The Wire as your reference for all things black that show up on the news, you need to refresh your Urban Dictionary bookmark. Coates is from Baltimore so it’s easy – and wrong – to impose The Wire as a touchstone for his experience, when, despite West’s criticism of Coates when BTWAM came out (the feint), the things Coates writes about are an extension of the Black nihilism West was constantly referring to before he got famous. BTWAM is all about Black nihilism. That’s why you got depressed when you finished it.
If you thought, “There’s a novel in there”:
Erasure – Percival Everett
It could easily be argued that I only ever write anything to eventually get an Erasure reference to the table, such is my affection for this book. Everett delivers a satire that takes shots at so many things about being an intelligent Black person pinned under the white gaze that I can’t pick any one aspect out to sell it. Read it, then pass it on. I’ve bought this book seven times because I keep giving it away.
If you wish it were a graphic novel:
March – Congressman John Lewis
Most mainstream comics featuring Black characters are either history books disguised as comics or written by non-Black authors. While March is definitely an example of the former, it’s a really well done version, compiled by the person the book is actually about (though there’s more of that old time hope than was in BTWAM).
If you were compelled to take action against racism:
The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics – George Lipsitz
Congratulations! We could use the help. Lipsitz attempts to get the willing to the starting gate here. Please note: you have so much more reading in your future if you’re serious, so don’t rush to buy a dashiki just yet.
If you thought it wasn’t hotep enough:
Yurugu – Marimba Ani
A brick in the foundation of the kind of Afrocentric scholarship that peaked in the 1990s, this one keeps its eye on the institutionalization of white psychology…why they did what they’ve done. While some of the attempts to spiritually re-brand pretty much everything in the world haven’t aged well the history remains sound. If you don’t know what “hotep” means, I’d like to point out that you’re probably reading this on an internet capable device and you should look that up.
If the book were an album, and yet still a book:
The Hip Hop Wars – Tricia Rose
I don’t get it any long debates about hip hop with people who haven’t read this book. Next to the Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists, this is the other book on the subject everyone should own. It winningly breaks down how the most influential art form of the past thirty years continues to manipulate the race, sex and violence conversations in America.
If you need a white person to tell you the same thing:
White Like Me – Tim Wise
When black people realize they’re arguing with a white person about race that is kind of obtuse (meaning they need to hear the same thing from someone who looks like them before they believe it), we usually tell them to read a Tim Wise book.