Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is perhaps the most critically acclaimed book written by one of the most prolific and celebrated authors. It is the story of a woman, Sethe, who escaped slavery, only to be haunted by her past life both on and off the plantation. The book is parts historical fiction and part surreal ghost story. The book has been turned into a film, won a Pulitzer Prize, and continues to be assigned in schools across the country. When we talk about the “great American novel” Beloved makes the list.

There is something funny that happens to books when they’re proceeded with superlatives, they become untouchable and intimidating. A fear creeps in, that the reader won’t understand or appreciate the book, and often that can start long before the reader ever starts reading. That was the case for me when I picked up Beloved for the first time as part of The Stacks Book Club. I was so nervous and intimidated by the book and what I might think of it. Would I “get” it? Would I like it? Would I be moved as so many others had been?

The truth is, my answer was mostly, no. I didn’t really “get” it, I didn’t really like it, and while I was moved by specific scenes and passages, I wasn’t over come by this book. And the more I think about that, the more I think thats allowed.

As I read Beloved I appreciated the skill and mastery of Ms. Morrison. I was impressed by her ability to create layer after layer of meaning in her story. Her ability to write nuance is unmatched in my reading, she understanding of how pain manifests itself in people is art in itself. I read Beloved and understood what makes both Ms. Morrison and the book so great, though I personally was never personally overcome. What I’m learning, especially when it comes to great work, is that both things can be true and live together. There are both technical and emotional components to any good piece of art, and you can appreciate one even if the other doesn’t resonate. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Of all the themes in Beloved, the idea of generational trauma, is what spoke to me most. Morrison connects the years of suffering under chattel slavery to the everyday manifestations of trauma on her characters. She creates characters that are complete with confidence and crazy, which is so very human. Your heart aches for the women in this story, their fear, pain, and rage is deserved, and Morrison never lets you forget that. Weather she is recounting events from years ago or writing dialogue, the trauma in this story is never far from view. It haunts the world of the book.

The book moves between points of view and events without much set up, the years skip around, and sometimes its hard to know exactly where you are in the story. This was challenging for me to connect with, though on a second or third reading, I think this complexity would add so much to my enjoyment of the book. Like in a good scary movie or thriller, Morrison is leaving us Easter eggs to pick up on, only when we’re revisit her novel.

There is a lot to unpack and look into when talking about Beloved it is not an easy read, and the subject matter is not comfortable. This book requires a commitment of the reader. The expectation of greatness from her reader is partly what makes her books so good. Toni Morrison demands you bring your full self to her work, and that you take your time, and if you do, you might just be rewarded with a story that will stay with you for life. This book is worth you time. I can’t promise you’ll like it, but if you read it with an open mind, I think there is much to appreciate about this story.

For a more in depth conversation on Beloved, check out The Stacks Book Club episode with DaMaris B. Hill where we discuss the themes, characters, and social implications of this story.

  • Paperack: 275
  • PublisherPlume (October 1 , 1998)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Beloved Amazon or IndieBound

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If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

78BB304E-DA7D-4F9A-BB17-42DF210C020EHere is yet another book I decided to read right away, because the movie is coming. I have read a little James Baldwin here and there and never been disappointed, but to be honest I was in no hurry to read this book, until I saw the trailer for the If Beale Street Could Talk.

If you’re not familiar with the this novel, here is a brief synopsis for you.

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

This book seamlessly marries a fictional story with very clear and searing commentary on injustice in America. Baldwin never wavers in this convictions about racism and the corruptness of the criminal justice system, however these ideas don’t come at the expense of believable characters or dialogue. The people found in this book embody the spirit of Baldwin’s thoughts and they live effortlessly in his words. The interactions feel authentic and the characters all have agency. They are not puppets for Baldwin’s believes, nor are they just there to move the story along.

If Beale Street Could Talk moves between present day and flashbacks, and is told through the eyes of Tish. Baldwin’s economy of words is beyond impressive, with a less skilled writer this book could easily be over 400 pages, but Bladwin keeps the book short and the emotion charged through out. He knows what he is trying to do an he executes. There are scenes in this book that are so tense that I shrieked out loud and had drop the book and walk away for a few moments to get my heart rate down. That kind of writing is not common, it is extraordinary.

While I enjoyed both the main character Fonny and Tish, the supporting characters were the real stars of this book for me. From both of Fonny and Tish’s family to the waiters at a small Spanish restaurant. The world is made vivid through the thoughts and actions of those who live in and around our young lovers.

The only thing I can say that I didn’t love about this book, is that I thought it got off to a slow start. I wasn’t fully invested in the book until about 50 pages in, and in a book thats less that 200 pages, thats a good chunk. However, once I got in, I was hooked.

You should read this book before you see the movie. I would say you should read this book even if you have no intention to see this movie at all. James Baldwin is considered one of the greats for a reason, his work is great. It is that simple.

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

B8907752-52E3-464B-9511-5AE9C5DB5DDAWould you believe me if I told you I never read A Wrinkle in Time as a child? Most people freak out and act as if I told them I’ve never had a sip of water. I don’t know. I guess it just never made its way into my hands. If you’re like me and have never read this book, and don’t know the story here is the gist of this classic children’s novel.

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

I have to be honest. The only reason I picked this book ups was because of the Ava DuVernay movie adaptation. This movie has a star studded cast, including Oprah. I just felt like I should read the book and then go see the movie.

I read the book. It was a book. There was so little that felt special or exciting to me about this story. The one thing I appreciated was the permission that was given to Meg, the young protagonist, to be her full self. She was encouraged to lean into her vices and trust her instincts. Empowering a young girl to be as moody, angry, and impatient as she wants is wonderful. We need more of that in the world. We should all give ourselves the freedom to feel our feelings fully, and to be where we are. There is no virtue without vice.

The rest I found to be mediocre at best. I didn’t really follow the science fiction parts. Ideas we just thrown out, but not worked through. The book builds toward a climatic ending, and then resolves itself in a about eight pages. There is a romance that is totally superfluous, especially in a children’s book.

The part of the book that I found to be the most off putting was the presence of a very pro-christian outlook. I know L’Engle was a Christian, and her believes of course informed her work. In this story, its seemed unnecessary. It didn’t add value or complexity, it just felt like an opportunity for proselytizing.

It is worth noting that the most powerful part of this book is its place in its own historical context. A sci-fi children’s book with a female protagonist and a woman author written in the 1960’s is so rare it is important by virtue of existing. That so many people, male and female, connected with it over the course of decades speaks to its power. That so many people found this profound in their own lives is meaningful. It is an important step for literature, a huge step in the “representation matters” movement. I do not want my personal opinion of the book to take anything away from what the book is, and what the books means.

I wonder if I had read this book as a child how I would connect to it. I wonder this often about books, not just children’s books. After reading a New York Times op-ed on the best ages to read certain books, I couldn’t agree more. We grow and we change and we develop, and so does our understanding of the world. It makes sense that I might not be able to suspend my disbelief in the same way a ten year old can. And that is okay.

If you are ten, or you have a child, especially a moody little girl, this book seems like it would be a hit! Its a classic for a reason, even if its not for me.

  • Hardcover : 216 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 1, 1962)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy A Wrinkle in Time on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here