For most of my life I’ve been more of a heavy magazine reader as opposed to a book club chick. Blame it on the fact that as a journalism major I spent way too much time in college and even before then trying to finish assigned readings. Therefore, I always valued something I could flip through fast. But now that I’m done with school (for now at least), and also since I live in NYC and have to ride the train for a long time, I’ve found myself diving into a good book more and more these days. One of my favorite authors just happens to be Toni Morrison, and I’ve made it a mission to try and read all of her books (as I’ve made it a mission to collect all of Spike Lee’s movies). I’m almost done! But before I’m fully complete with that mission, I thought I would share five of my favorite novels by the Pulitzer Prize winner and encourage you to check them out and/or share with your book clubs. Check it.
I’m a huge fan of powerful female figures in literature that are feared rather than fearful. Why? I’m just weird like that. But you get a character like that in this pretty epic book about secrets, family, friendship and defiance. The individual who the book is named after is raised by an eccentric grandmother and promiscuous mother in a small, once slave-owned town called The Bottom. And after a host of tragedies fall upon her childhood, she grows up and leaves to get an education. But when she comes back, she’s older, cocky and sexually free at a time when people weren’t supposed to be (the 1930-40s), and she turns the town on its head.
When the very married Joe Trace has an affair with a very young woman and in a blind rage, shoots her after she’s caught stepping out on him, he opens a can of worms and drama that only Ms. Morrison could put together on paper. Not only does his wife seek revenge on the dead girl, but she also seeks to find understanding and friendship with her enemy’s aunt. Jazz music is the soundtrack of the novel (which makes sense since it’s set in Harlem in the roaring 20s) and sometimes drives the actions of some of the characters in the story. As in many of her novels, Morrison’s main characters come off crazy as all hell on paper, but they’ve got emotional scars and societal pressures on them that make them that way. Deep stuff.
The Bluest Eye
Man, The Bluest Eye is just one of those novels that breaks your heart. Okay, so I know that doesn’t make you all that excited to check the book out, but it’s so moving and powerful, you can get over the sad aspects. It’s actually Morrison’s first novel, and it examines how folks look at beauty depending on where they are class wise, as well as racially. The protagonist, a young girl named Pecola, hopes and prays that one day she will wake up with blue eyes and that it will possibly change the way she is looked at by her family and the way she is treated by the world around her. Sadly, it never happens, and she endures enough hardships in one year that would break anybody down in one day. I know it sounds kind of depressing, but I assure you, it’s such a gripping read.
Not as huge in notoriety as some of her other works (Beloved, Song of Solomon), Love is a pretty deep novel about two women and the man that tore them apart. Not internally, but tore the two women apart from one another. Said man is late hotel owner Bill Cosey, and the women at odds are his granddaughter and his widow. After his death, they’re like an all-female version of War of Roses, with the two women living together in the man’s decaying mansion waiting for the other to die or to just get up and leave. But despite their coldness to one another, both women once had an undeniable bond before marriage and unexpected adulthood changed them. I won’t tell you how though…I love this crazy book.
When I first read this book for an AP class in high school, I had no idea what was going on once I finished it. People who weren’t supposed to be living were, crazed spirits were turning home of character Sethe upside down, and in the end, the book went over my head. But when I read it over again in college, I was blown away by the depth of the story. It wasn’t just about a woman who hurt her children to protect them and was paying for it, it was also about the psychological effects of slavery on everyone who appeared in the story. Though she was a free slave, Sethe and her family couldn’t outrun her past and the dark history of slavery. I can see why it was named the best fiction book of the past 25 years in 2006 by New York Times critics and is a Pulitzer Prize Winner.
These are just my picks. But what are your favorite Toni Morrison books?
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