Just like Justin brought sexy back in 2006, I’m bringing this blog back today (and yes I’ve rewritten half of that song in my head to be about a book blog and am happy to share upon request). I took a brief hiatus for the sake of school and sanity, but I couldn’t stay away for long because, as luck would have it, I study books at school! I am fortunate enough to be in a class that has Beloved by Toni Morrison on its reading list and even more fortunate to have a class full of thoughtful and intelligent classmates to discuss it with. For a moment I’d like to comment that Toni Morrison is a must read. Beloved is an excellent book but if you’re not into fiction she does have non-fiction books and essays. For my class we read excerpts from Playing in The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination and I feel lucky to live in a time that allows me to learn from such a brilliant mind.
Beloved follows Sethe and her daughter Denver eighteen years after Sethe escaped from slavery and eight years after slavery is abolished in the United States. The story begins with a haunted house, “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” Take a moment and breathe in the hook of those first two sentences and try to tell me you’re not curious what happens next. Now feels like a pretty good time to let you know that this book gets odd. It is a ghost story, the house is haunted by Sethe’s dead baby girl, but the “ghostiness” of the story is not what the story is about. In Beloved Toni Morrison is looking at slavery and its lasting harmful impact not from a historical perspective, but from a human perspective.
The story can be hard to follow if you don’t go into it expecting flashbacks and warped reality and time. The book confronts the trauma of slavery with characters that are trying their hardest not to. The past influences and grabs hold of Sethe and Denver in ways they could not predict and, arguably, could not avoid. As the story moves along and the ghost gains more and more power and influence on our main characters the readers become completely immersed in the explosion of trauma and grief that threatens to consume Sethe.
There is a section of three chapters in which each chapter is from a different characters perspective that I, as a writer and critical reader, totally geeked out about. Every moment of that reading experience mimics the experience of the narrator herself, down to the formatting of the words on the page. This is the type of care that Toni Morrison put into Beloved in addition to using beautiful language. It gets odd and is absolutely, at times, difficult to read, but it is so key to understanding slavery not as a history but as a far reaching trauma incited upon an entire race of people.
Common Place Book Entries
“Her past had been like her present—intolerable—and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering colors.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too.” -Beloved by Toni Morrison
“They were not holding hands but their shadows were.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that free self was another.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“It was lovely. Not to be stared at, not seen, but being pulled into view by the interested, uncritical eyes of the other.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Now she is crying because she has no self. Death is a skipped meal compared to this.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“God puzzled her and she was too ashamed of Him to say so.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Clever, but schoolteacher beat him anyway to show him that definitions belonged to the definers—not the defined.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“the others do not know he is dead I know his song is gone now I love his pretty little teeth instead” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“…being so in love with the look of the world, putting up with anything and everything, just to stay alive in a place where a moon he had no right to was nevertheless there.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Maybe they were simply nice people who could hold meanness toward each other for just so long and when trouble rode bareback among them, quickly, easily they did what they could to trip him up.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.