Recommendation: Most of you have already read this, but if you haven’t, you should. I always hesitate to read the “greats” because the connotation is that they will be dense and difficult. WRONG. Probably the most readable and meaningful book I’ve read in the past five years, maybe ever.
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Hi. My name’s David and I’ve never read Toni Morrison.
I swear I’m not a bad person, I just never got motivated to do it. I had a perception that it would be Moby Dick-esque and, while I loved that book, it’s something that you have to be intensely committed to if you want a chance to finish it. I know what you’re thinking, You were an English major in college! You read all the time! You consider yourself decently well-read! (Though with contemporary titles more than anything else.) You’re just now reading Morrison? What’s wrong with you?!?? Well, lots of stuff. My left leg is an inch longer than my right, I have trouble sleeping, I’m annoyingly frugal, I have an insatiable craving for candy, and, at 24 years of age, I’m just now reading Toni Morrison. Such is life.
Embarrassingly, The Bluest Eye is every bit as good as all of my friends/siblings/teachers/coworkers/acquaintances/random-subway-conversationalists have said it would be. If you don’t know, The Bluest Eye is about the rape of a young African-American girl in an Ohio town shortly before WWII. But, really, it’s about African-American identity, self-image, and self-loathing as perpetuated by American culture. And those two sentences are why I was so hesitant to pick this book up. It sounds like this body of work would be a project and would require a concerted, consistent effort to work through. Instead, I swallowed this book in the course of 36 hours only to find myself devastated by the fact that the experience was over. It is so rare to receive a book that is equally dazzling in its presentation and its content, but The Bluest Eye is exactly that. Don’t be intimidated by it. It isn’t just easy to read, it’s a joy to read. You don’t want to put it down, you don’t ever want it to stop even though you accept that it must. It seems contradictory that a disturbing novel could be so readable, but it is. Morrison sure as hell can write, and she brings you into her characters like few authors are capable of doing.
Now, I’m a white male. I try to be understanding, I try to be open to other cultures and different ideas, but I’m still a white male. As hard as I try, I can’t ever know what it is like to be black. Or to be a girl. I’ll never fully understand it because I didn’t have to experience it. That’s reality and it’s important to realize the difference between observation and experience along these lines. What’s amazing is how close Morrison brings you to that boundary. Her characters are three-dimensional and feel stunningly, unrelentingly real. Particularly in Cholly’s section and Pecola’s section (two areas where Morrison could have easily painted a portrait of a villain and one of an innocent and moved on), Morrison imparts humanity where society is tempted to see none. It’s masterfully done and, while it was written during and about a different time in American life, it should still be read today for its ability to put you in someone else’s shoes. By getting her readers to understand her characters, Morrison teaches compassion and reminds us of our natural tendency to judge individuals without understanding the spectrum of their lives. It’s a lesson in humility and sympathy wrapped in a perfectly painful story.