I have had many professors, peers and even online top reading lists endorse this book. I just unfortunately never had the time to read it. Well it was more like I got distracted by other books; books that appealed to my own personality better. Yet, there is no doubt that Coates’ is a gifted journalist who endured and experienced painful yet beautifully written life experiences. It is hard to pin down Coates’ exact writing style in this memoir due to how it alternates constantly between the somewhat impetuous recollection and the hard hitting historical background. It is a great source for historical yet personal commentary about Baltimore in the 80s. Especially as a young, african-american whose options for a better life seemed limited. I enjoyed reading his struggle when it came to education, especially since he is a infamous journalist and writer in this day and age. But it was also the complicated and disarrayed way he yearned for education; my favorite passage was when Coates’ explains the deep yet soft pain the young boys felt towards education but it was hidden through a much harder, tougher exterior.
“Our folks understood that there was a war upon us and that school was a weapon that outdid any Glock. Yet the whole process–with it’s equally spaced desks, precisely timed periods and lectures, with its standardized pencils and tests–felt unnatural to me. But as much as I hated their terms, having been impressed into them, I hated more the failing….None of us ever want to fail. None of us want to be unworthy, to not measure up”
The part I enjoyed the most was the relationship between him and his father, Paul Coates. Paul was a Vietnam Veteran who used his discipline from the army to keep his sons from straying off to the typical route. He became the leader of the Blank Panther Party which is why Coates’ puts some much historical background in his memoir. Paul passed the teachings to his son and now he passed it along to all of us. I enjoyed how Coates was unabashed when recounting stories of how his father raised him. It made the relationship between his father and him more relatable as true family relationships are messy and filled with a mixture of love and hate. His father was struggling to make sure his sons knew where they came from but also where they were meant to go.
However, even though Coates’ writes so eloquently, it doesn’t mean that it appealed to me as embarrassed as I am to admit that. I had to read passages over and over again to understand the underlying meaning. I felt as though I just entered a foreign country where I had spent many months beforehand learning the language and perfecting, only to get there and find that everyone spoke with heavy dialect. I could understand the gist of Coates’ passages but only when I strained my ears and listened to his enunciations.
It was a stream of poetic reflections that are undoubtedly beautiful yet it frustrated me how there were many questions that Coates’ left unanswered. Coates’ mentions his love for music several times within the memoir and how he was an African drumming enthusiast. The passion he felt for music mirrored in his writing from the tempo and beat of his sentences. To some that is lyrical and engaging but to me, I felt breathless but in a where-is-my-inhaler manner. Furthermore, even though I am aware that there is a difference between writing a fiction and a authentic memoir, I struggled to keep my focus to a novel where I found myself asking Coates’ questions and never being able to find an inkling of that answer.
I’ve thought for many hours on the perfect analogy to explain my feelings towards this book because I don’t dislike it. Instead, it is as though there were a new style of pants that suddenly became the ‘it’ clothing to have. So I went to the store, tried it on but it looked horrendous on me. Yet everyone loved those pair of pants so much that I simply wanted to fit in which led me to buy them. I went home, put them on and even though they were a little tight and I just didn’t understand design, I did feel some respect towards the designer.