The fire this (last) time [With Question by John]

The end is nigh. This is the last in my series of posts about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book, Between the World and Me. The publisher retails the book for $24.00. Amazon sells it for the discounted price of $14.40. As a New York Times best-seller (number 1 on the nonfiction hardcover list), it is also available at a 30 percent discount from Barnes & Noble. None of these options represents a value proposition.

More of a glorified essay than a proper book, the book is reduced in size to get less on the page than an average hardcover book would allow. The text is also inflated with eight pages of photographs scattered throughout the book. With these devices the text reaches 152 numbered pages.

This is not to say that the book is easy to get through; it’s not. Reading it is a chore, or like being harangued by a crazy uncle who has hold of your lapels and won’t let you go. It’s not a pleasant experience.

Although every effort has been taken to inflate the text of the book, it lacks a few traditional components. Missing from the book are a table of contents, an index, or a section of acknowledgments. The last in particular is conspicuous by its absence. Coates has obviously benefited from the attention and guidance of parents, teachers, friends, and editors along the way. He refers to Howard University, which he attended as an undergraduate student until he dropped out, as Mecca. Whatever the reason, Coates does not pause in this book to articulate his intellectual debts. The book gives the impression of a man who has not outgrown his adolescent grandiosity.

Sensing that the man has met the moment, Penguin Random House rushed Coates’s book into print a few months ahead of schedule. With the book’s debut at number 1 on the Times best-seller list, the publisher’s judgment has been vindicated.

What is to be learned? I learned that this is an ugly moment, for this is an ugly book.

JOHN adds: Huh. A crappy little book debuted at #1 on the NY Times hardcover nonfiction best seller list. I wonder whether the folks at the Times have investigated the possibility of strategic bulk purchases.


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