If you are a man or woman of the left, it is amazing what you can get away with. Not only get away with, but be celebrated for. Minnesota’s own Ilhan Omar presents a case study. Omar was recently recognized by Time in its September 18 double issue on women “Firsts” for her election to office as the first Somali legislator in the United States, I noted in this City Journal column the more surprising “firsts” Omar has chalked up. Time somehow overlooked them.
Ta-Nehesi Coates is another case in point and an even better example. Coates’s Between the World and Me may be the worst book I have ever read. It is pretentious. It is stupid. It wanders. The distance between facts and conclusions is galactic. I can say in its favor that it is short, barely book length. On a feels-like basis, however, Coates makes Proust seem the soul of wit.
The book is also overwritten to the point of hilarity. Speaking of his experience at Howard University, to take just one example, this is how Coates says that he got poor grades: “I wanted to pursue things, to know things, but I could not match the means of knowing that came naturally to me with the expectations of professors.” (The quote comes from page 48; the translation is mine.)
I summarized the leading qualities of this atrocious book in the City Journal column “An updated racial hustle.” I larded the essay with quotes from the book so readers could get a fair taste of what Coates had on offer.
With an eye on Between the World and Me, the New York Times certified Coates as the left’s angry black man of the moment in Jennifer Schuessler’s 2015 New York Times profile. Today in the Times Jennifer Senior reviews (or “reviews”) Coates’s new book on the Obama years. Senior writes: “A new book from Coates is not merely a literary event. It’s a launch from Cape Canaveral. There’s a lot of awe, heat, resistance.” The overwriting is contagious. My point, however, is the continuing role played by the Times in promoting this sodden mediocrity and others of his ilk. It’s all politics.
UPDATE: I also meant to link to the related Times profile of Coates by Concepción De León.