BGN Book Review: ‘How to Sit’ by Tyrese Coleman

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Have you ever read your best friend’s diary? And, not just a current passage that she shows you from when she was 16 and crushing on a boy in the back of the class. Nah, all of her diaries. Just the ones from when she was a little girl through those awkward teens, the skanky 20s we don’t talk about, and into adulting in her 30s.

Full disclosure, Tyrese Coleman is a friend of mine. And folks, I feel like I have just been all up in and through all her diaries after reading How to Sit.

So Much More than an Essay Collection

Image collage of Tyrese Coleman published with ‘How to Sit’ essay “Thoughts on My Ancestry.com DNA Test Results,” courtesy ‘The Rumpus’

Published by Mason Jar Press, How to Sit is a memoir in a narrative essay format that rolls smoothly through the raw and very real life of a Black Girl in America. This isn’t an observation of her life at the surface. You won’t find a dry retelling of high school, college, career, and family here. Coleman creates a journey through life in the shadowy places, the closed doored areas, and the secret spots where things “happen” to Black girls, Black women, and change them forever. Her conversations, reactions, and actions are all lyrically teased out of every narrative until, at the end of the essay, the damage or the lesson is more than apparent.

Take for example the piece, “Why I Let Him Touch My Hair.” The subject alone is something that no Black girl would admit to, ever. But, it is some moment that happened — whether out of naivete, stupidity, or desperation — that changes us. And, we will never admit to it or even share it with anyone but our diary.

Who knows what I expected being petted would feel like. His touch was surprisingly soft. He rubbed my hair, only bending the ends. 

Done, he cried, “I did it!” His accomplished smile. My power disappeared. If it had ever existed to begin with.

—Excerpt from “Why I Let Him Touch My Hair”

We Can Relate

Again, this did feel like I was reading my friends’ diary. However, in many ways, it felt like these pages could have come from my own. The essay “Thoughts on My Ancestry DNA Results” mirrors how I felt after taking the same test when the weight of my history was heavy upon me. It’s that one point in “I am Karintha” when I realized the girl in the essay was talking about an experience that is all too familiar with black girls like me.

“He was drunk — just like everyone else in the house. So drunk how could he remember what he did? And I was lying anyway.”

How to Sit will make you question and think. It will also feel at times like a drink of the strongest tea. It’s the type of book you will want to share with your girlfriends and book group. (I’m sending copies to my adult daughters as well.) The stories in these pages are relatable, real, and full of topics that will start a discussion wherever women congregate.

Can’t Get Enough

I do find myself wanting to read more than a snippet of each piece. I would love to take a deep dive into a book-length version of “V-day” and few more tales about the mother and daughter in “Sacrifice”. Meanwhile, others are just fine being their short selves.

Author Tyrese Coleman, courtesy @tychelleco on Twitter.

Readers are going to love the lyric prose and Coleman’s way of manipulating her words to pull a twist out of a regular sentence. Read carefully because you never know when she will drop a shocking nugget in a line and just move on with the story. It’s a technique that mirrors the way Black families share things. There are times when the atmosphere is ripe and the storytelling is good when your great auntie drops in a choice tidbit about her “hoin’ days in Chicago” before getting back to the memories Big Ma’s fried catfish dinners.

Coleman uses the hell out of this technique to make How to Sit feel like a story being told to us, rather than one we are reading in isolation.

It’s a book that will become your favorite to reread because it is like communing with that old friend and at times taking glimpses back at pieces of yourself. In this and many other ways, How to Sit is so much more than an essay collection.

Pick up your copy today wherever books are sold.