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Big Books Issue

W. Paul Coates

Black Classic Press founder and director

Photo: Jefferson Jackson Steele, License: N/A

Jefferson Jackson Steele


City Paper: What are you reading right now?

Paul Coates: My reading is strange at this point, in the sense that I spend a lot of time reading manuscripts, books that we’re preparing to republish. So right now I’m reading a book that we’re prepared to republish called How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. And I do read in between the manuscripts, the books that I want to republish. I do a lot of business reading. I necessarily have to do that in terms of keeping up with digital technology. I’m reading a book on inkjet printing now. So that’s how the reading goes.

CP: What was the last book that really struck you?

PC: I can’t reveal the name of it. That should make it interesting. It hasn’t been published yet. I’m an early reader of Walter Mosley’s books. And I can’t reveal the name because he would kill me. But I really, really enjoyed it. He has a series, Leonid McGill, and he just released a Leonid McGill, but he’s already completed the next one.

CP: Do you remember a book that really struck you as a young adult?

PC: Like most black folk, the book that stays with me the most is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And in spite of any bit of recent controversy around it, the book remains still monumental in my reading. That was as a very young man.

CP: And what about as a child?

PC: I read a lot of comic books as a child. Victor Hugo was important to me. The Arabian Nights, of course. They were very important to me, because that was a period before I knew black books.

CP: Are there authors you like so much you try to read everything they’ve written?

PC: Walter Mosley. For me, he is a moment in history and his writing is prolific and I get an opportunity to witness history being made with his writing. His writing is more important to me than the characters he creates on the page. It is the fact that he’s creating the characters that’s important. I feel his books have an enduring quality that people will read a hundred years from now.

CP: Are there books that you reread?

PC: Mostly history. And most of my time is spent reading black history, just to have a context of the work that I do. Our work is mostly publishing books that are out of print. And 99 percent are going to be books by and about people of African descent. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of stuff to read.

CP: Are there books that you feel you should read that you haven’t gotten around to?

PC: The one book that comes up is The Travels of Ibn Battuta. This was an early traveler to Africa. I have the volumes, and one day I will get to read them. I have a whole collection of about 5,000 other books that I expect one day to read. Now whether or not I will, I don’t know. I have cautiously saved books over the years, looking ahead to the one day I will read them. . . .The book that I didn’t finish that was memorable was the Manning Marable book [Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention]. He had so many technical errors that it will be remembered for a long time as a very flawed book. He would make citations and have heavy footnotes for the citations but then the citations did not in many cases refer back to actual sources, or they mistakenly refer to other sources. So people commented on how heavily the book was footnoted, how scholarly it was, but I don’t think that people really followed the footnotes. He had footnotes that led you to nothing. I’m a trained librarian, so the first thing I look at is footnotes. They have to make some kind of sense. Anyway, that was probably the most memorable book that I didn’t finish recently.

CP: How do you feel about e-readers?

PC: I had one. It broke and I got pissed at Amazon, so I said I’ll wait until the next generation. I will get another one. I think all ways of reading have promise. I’m in support of reading, period.

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