The Definitive Book Review of Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between The World And Me

10/27/2015 06:16 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2016

Award-winning journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates' latest literary effort, Between The World And Me, is an attractive, if small, work. Measuring the length of a medium-sized adult hand and about the width of a thumb, the book's compactness is distinctly notable and decidedly appealing. Enhancing its desirability is its smooth jacket with indented lettering, which makes rubbing your fingers over its facade an enjoyable tactile experience. The stark black sans-serif lettering of Coates' name at the top of the cover and the title of the book on the bottom-half certainly lend credence to the book's reputation as searing.

The crimson of Toni Morrison's quote at the bottom of the book's cover, which asserts that "This is required reading," is a beautiful shade of red and pops nicely against the otherwise black and white color palette. The choice to utilize such a vermillion font was clearly a deliberate one, meant to draw attention to Morrison's words.

A different strategy used to the same end is evident on the back cover. Here, a longer quote from Morrison appears in black and white. Clearly, a fiery red font would draw more attention, but given that this blurb is the sole feature of the back of the book, it is unnecessary to emblazon it with a bright color; the eye of the reader has only Morrison's words to focus on.

Concerning what is inside the two covers, the book's pages are delectably thick, their hue vaguely eggshell. While turning pages, human fingers interacting with this paper elicit a pleasing parchment flipping noise that no reader would feel ashamed of in a library. That all stated, and acknowledging Between the World and Me's much vaunted status, the work remains elementally vulnerable, given its dried tree origins and thus intrinsic flammability.

The actual act of reading the book is a comfortable experience. Given its diminutive size, the reader's arms do not grow fatigued quickly; the book can even be held with one hand, a rare occurrence in the word-skimming realm. Its size also allows for eminent transportability -- in a purse perhaps, or possibly even an especially voluminous pocket. Finally, the relative minuteness of the memoir's pages enables their quick turning, further enhancing an already satisfying reader experience and inviting in a strong sense of accomplishment. That there are pages of the book taken up by photos of the author and his family -- which can be swiftly flipped over without having to expend energy examining words -- expands this accomplishment further.

All of this, of course, sidesteps the great question at the center of the current literary maelstrom: Is Coates the next James Baldwin? Looking beyond the obvious -- that their names begin with totally different letters and are comprised of wildly disparate syllabic compositions -- their works are wholly distinctive. For one, the most prominent printing of The Fire Next Time is paperback, so it is much more flexible than the hard-backed Between The World And Me. Its cover also depicts an actual fire breaking out of a building, thus visually communicating in a more literal manner the title of the book. By comparison, Coates' tome, while alluding to both himself and the world, does not actually illustrate either of these. Given these notable departures from Baldwin, it is, quite frankly, surprising that comparisons between the two authors continue to flourish.

Overall, Between the World and Me would make for a powerful addition to any bookshelf, lap, bedside table, hand, or desk. Its masterful lettering, mostly monochromatic jacket, and appropriately thick pages are a treasure to behold.

This piece originally appeared on The Establishment, a brand new multimedia site funded and run by women.