Beloved – A re-reading

I needed maturity and life experience to more fully appreciate Beloved.

Given the recent passing of Toni Morrison, my book club decided to read Beloved for our September meeting. Beloved was published in 1987. Ms. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved; she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, American writers. Her other works include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Tar Baby.

For most of us in the book club (if not all), this was a re-reading as we had read the book 20 years ago… I think I read it in the early 90’s, I would have been about 25 at the time. I believe that I was impressed with the book while I was also horrified and saddened by the story.

Reading it again now, Beloved felt like a new and unfamiliar book to me. I did not recall the beautiful and magical language. I did not recall empathizing so strongly with Sethe the main character. I did not recall the savagery of the treatment inflicted upon Sethe, her family and fellow slaves.

Obviously it was the passage of time – my growing older combined with my experience as a wife and mother, that transformed how I processed the book.

If you haven’t read Beloved and/or read it more than 10 years ago, I urge you to read/re-read it. A painful account of the horror of slavery, it is instructive for especially white Americans to feel (even temporarily as a reader) Sethe’s despair. However you will also experience the strong familial love, beauty, and strength of character that Ms. Morrison’s writing portrays.

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

A not easy novel about life in India.

I grabbed this book at Words, our local bookstore, because it looked interesting and because it had a sticker that noted it was one of the NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2018. I brought it to Florida and tried to dive in after I finished the Andrew Yang book.

It was a tough ride.

The book is broken into five sections that read as stand-alone stories but are interconnected by characters. They are set in various locations in India, and the predominant feelings I got from reading the book were heat, crowdedness and despair.

The very first part that I read that first day was short and depressing. I had to put the book down and didn’t pick it up again until I had read 4 “easier” books (see last post LOL). It’s about an Indian ex-patriot returning with his young son to see tourist sites. I put it down for 7 days after that section.

The second section was more interesting – it concerned an upper class son and his interactions with the maids and cooks that his parents employed. I found the intricacies of the household tempo and daily housekeeping fascinating.

I did not like the third section. It’s about a peasant and a bear that he captures and trains to “dance” as they wander around trying to make money. These characters appear as a clause in the first section.

The fourth section tells the backstory of one of the maids in the second section. It is more readable than the other sections but still tough.

The last section is the shortest and honestly I skimmed it as I was about done with the book. The narrator is connected to the first and third sections as far as I can tell.

So overall – I don’t really recommend this book for the faint of heart, unless you are into the nitty gritty of basic peasant life in India. This book was raw and while maybe well-written and meaningful, I was distracted by the feelings of “omg”. I may try it again in the future…

Beale Street: the Book, not the Movie

The book is always better than the movie!

James Baldwin is an author I’m not very familiar with. Last year I read Giovanni’s Room and enjoyed it but it didn’t “grab”me. Recently I noticed If Beale Street Could Talk at the local book store…I knew Regina King had won an Oscar for her role in the movie. Everyone knows books are better than movies, so I figured I’d go with the book.

Wow. What a book. And now I need to see the movie!

Set in the 1960’s, Beale Street is told from the perspective of Tish, a young African American girl whose fiancé Fonny is imprisoned. Tish also happens to be pregnant with their child. The story is not told in a linear fashion but it flows nicely and it is easy to follow. Maybe you’ve seen the movie & so I don’t need to re-hash it for you…. but here is what I liked about the book:

  • This is a beautiful love story. Tish and Fonny have been friends since childhood and have loved each other always. Baldwin presents it beautifully.
  • The story is set in New York City -the young couple grew up in Harlem with their families. 21 year old Fonny has found a “pad” in Greenwich Village in which he is sculpting. He and Tish consummate their love here, they hang out here, and he and Tish have found a loft in which they hope to move to. The city is a huge part of the story.
  • I am in awe of the love and support that Tish has from her parents and sister. Fonny’s mom and sisters are tougher nuts, but Fonny’s dad and Tish’s family support the two kids as they deal with Fonny’s incarceration and Tish’s pregnancy.
  • This was published in 1974 but is just as timely today as it was then. Especially pertaining to unjust incarceration of black men.

Please let me know if you’ve happen to have both read the book and seen the movie…ALSO please let me know if you’ve ever seen a movie that is better than the book it’s based upon!

Looker by Laura Sims

Quick and (for the most part) Entertaining Read by Local Author

I really didn’t notice the profile of the woman behind the lipstick schmear until just now…

This week I was deep in the middle of Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (I really like it!) when I realized I needed to prepare for a book club meeting. I gave myself until yesterday to pause Lost Children and to pick up Looker (2019, 180 pages). Not too much on the calendar for this weekend so I figured I could get through this book, billed as a psychological thriller, without too much difficulty.

So I read it yesterday. Or I should say that I read most of it and then skimmed the final 20 pages.

The story is told from the perspective of a slowly unraveling woman whose husband has recently left her. She is obsessed with a beautiful neighbor. The neighbor is a successful actress who seems to have everything the narrator does not (namely husband and children).

The book, by South Orange resident Laura Sims, is entertaining and even mildly funny until the narrator’s antics become really creepy. I was cringing as the pages progressed. Hence the skimming.

So while I can’t say I fully enjoyed the book, it is thought-provoking. The narrator tries so hard to appear outwardly like she’s got everything together but her honest ramblings to the reader reveal what’s really happening. We all have successful selves we present outwardly and we also all have inner thoughts that might be surprising to others. This book makes you think about how very wacky other people might actually be.

This book might make you cringe also. But give it a try – it’s great to support a local author. You can borrow my copy!