Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

     (I know, I know, my blog posts have not been very varied lately - too much Toni Morrison.  I'll find a new writer to fixate on soon, I promise.  In the meantime, here's a review of another one of her flawless books!)




     Beloved is set in post-Civil War Cincinnati, Ohio.  More specifically, it takes place at the address 124, in a house haunted by the "spiteful" ghost of a baby girl who died a horrific death.  The baby's mother, a former slave named Sethe, and her remaining family continue to live at 124 for years after the tragedy. This story explores the effects of the baby ghost and of the memory of slavery on the men and women who are connected to the house.  
     This book is disturbing, desolate, tender, audacious, and gorgeous.  Can I just give you a sample of the writing?  I don't trust my words to do hers justice.

     And in all those escapes he could not help being astonished by the beauty of the land that was not his. He hid in its breast, fingered its earth for food, clung to its banks to lap water and tried not to love it.  On nights when the sky was personal, weak with the weight of its own stars, he made himself not love it (316).

     That passage is told from the point of view of Paul D, a slave who escapes and is recaptured many times.  As I read those sentences, my whole body tensed with secondhand pain.  Because he isn't even free to wander the land, loving it is too painful to bear.  

     But maybe a man was nothing but a man...They encouraged you to put some of your weight in their hands and soon as you felt how light and lovely that was, they studied your scars and tribulations, after which they did what he had done: ran her children out and tore up the house (26).

    That is Sethe, contemplating the future of her relationship with Paul D.  The second sentence is so long, complicated, and casual, but it holds up and communicates so much.
     Please excuse me while I get back to my re-reading :P

     - Carly


P.S.  Pay attention to the colors in this book.  And stairs = sex. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Love Poems by Pablo Neruda

Criminally pink
     This is probably the sappiest-looking book I own.  It's small, thin, and pink.  The cover is stamped with gold curlicues and gold lettering.  And the title could not be more straightforward.  
     All that aside, damn.     
     I'm not sure what makes these poems so good.  They surprised me by not being cryptic. Normally, when I read poetry, I have to annotate to get the full meaning.  But at no point in this book did I find myself knee-deep in symbolism and in need of a pencil to pull myself out.  (Not that puzzling out a poem isn't fun too, haha.)  I guess the simplicity is part of it.  Neruda wrote these poems to talk about love, not to show off his skills.  
     I loved that, in this edition of the collection, each poem was printed in both Spanish and English.  I liked comparing the English translations to the original poems.  The translations weren't awesome - the words used in English seemed more shallow to me than Neruda's original choices.  But I get it, literary translation is hard.  I tried to translate "Sonetas Desde el Infierno" for school once and it was a hot mess.

     - Carly

     

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou


     I just realized that I'm reading Maya Angelou's autobiographies WAY out of order.  I read the first one, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, last summer, and this summer I read the fifth one.  I am not reading them out of order on purpose.  I happened upon both books by chance (I found Traveling Shoes at a secondhand bookstore in Cincinnati) and bought them with no knowledge of the series' sequence.  Luckily, I was able to enjoy this book despite my ignorance.
     This book was most interesting for its exploration of the yearning of some African-Americans to return to Africa in the 60s'.  Over the course of the book, Angelou creates a life in Ghana and struggles with her suspicion that slavery has left African-Americans without a home country: they are oppressed in the United States and out of place in Africa.  She desperately wants to feel at home in Ghana, but because of the centuries of separation and abuse that her ancestors endured, Ghanaian culture does not feel like her own.
     I was fascinated and moved by the serious subject matter of this book, but I enjoyed it for other reasons as well.  The interactions of the American expats (the "Revolutionist Returnees") in Ghana are often darkly funny, Angelou's relationship with the Malian cattle baron Sheikhali is spicy and symbolic, her reaction to her son's desire for autonomy is honest, and her description of Malcolm X's visit to Ghana is exciting and warm.  
     Apart from a few instances of lazy/easy writing (I know, I know, I'm blaspheming!), I loved this book.

     - Carly

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

Smiling cuz this book exists!
     I'm on a Toni Morrison kick and I am NOT sorry.  Seriously, she's incredible. She has this way of flooding a page with the feeling of a place or character.  She identifies and writes down the tiny dust mote details that make life.
     Anyway, Sula.  The story is set in Ohio during the first half of the 20th century and focuses on two African-American women who choose very different lives, although they were childhood friends.  I didn't get the impression that Morrison wants the reader to favor one woman's choices over those of the other.  She honestly describes their lives in all their courage, arrogance, smallness, ecstasy, and heartache.  She also explores the lives of the people around the women (she does something similar in The Bluest Eye): mothers, grandmothers, husbands, lovers, etc.  She precisely describes how race and gender influence her characters' relationships with the world and each other.  Her writing is so brave and beautiful.
     I have no complaints.  I want to read her book Beloved next.  I'm so pumped, guys! XD

     - Carly