Tag Archives: Toni Morrison

Books Acquired Recently: Dallas Wiebe Plus One

Morrison, Toni. God Help the Child. 2015. New York: Vintage, 2016.

I was browsing at the Green Toad Bookstore last weekend and saw that the paperback of Morrison’s latest novel is out. She is an important enough writer (and I also really enjoy much of her work) that it is mandatory for me to read everything she writes, so I figured it was time to buy this book.

Wiebe, Dallas. Going to the Mountain. Providence: Burning Deck, 1988.

—. Skyblue’s Essays. Providence: Burning Deck, 1995.

—. The Vox Populi Street Stories. Providence: Burning Deck, 2003.

I decided it was time for me to finish reading Wiebe’s fictional oeuvre now that it is summer. I acquired these three books from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.

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Books Acquired Recently

Ferguson, Alex. My Autobiography. London: Hodder, 2013.

I am a huge Manchester United fan, so of course I had to buy Sir Alex’s autobiography. It will be interesting to see what events from his 26-year reign at Old Trafford (not to mention his successful time at Aberdeen) stood out to him enough to write about. The book includes lots of photographs, which is also exciting.

Morrison, Toni. Sula. 1973. New York: Vintage, 2004.

This is a desk copy for my course on Teens and Twenty-somethings. I haven’t read Sula for about five years, and thus am very excited to interact with it again. People often view it as one of Morrison’s “easier” novels, but it is just as weird and disturbing as the others.

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Books Acquired Recently: Retiring Colleague Edition

One of my colleagues is retiring after this semester, and she gave me some of her books dealing with African American literature because it is one of my research interests. I am happy to preserve some of her library by integrating it into my own. Several of the paperbacks are from the 1970s and have some seriously groovy covers.

I also just got three more desk copies for next semester in the mail, so it was a good day for books!

Chesnutt, Charles W. The Portable Charles W. Chesnutt. Ed. William L. Andrews. New York: Penguin, 2008.

I have another collection of Chesnutt’s short stories published by Mentor, but this volume also includes Chesnutt’s novel The Marrow of Tradition and some essays. And, of course, it is always good to acquire a Penguin paperback.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner, 2004.

Sadly, the earlier Scribner paperback edition that I was assigned in high school and have myself assigned previously is now out of print. This one was necessary to acquire because it has different page numbers.

Flowers, Arthur. Another Good Loving Blues. 1993. New York: Ballantine, 1994.

This book is inscribed by the author.

Gilyard, Keith, ed. Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1997.

This one is also inscribed by the author.

Klosterman, Chuck. Downtown Owl. 2008. New York: Scribner, 2009.

I have taught some of Klosterman’s essays before, but next semester will be the first time I teach any of his fiction. I am excited to see what my students think of him. I think they will love this book, but their tastes often surprise me.

Lunsford, Andrea A., John J. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters. Everything’s An Argument, with Readings. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2013.

I’ll be using this book in my writing class for the first time in about a decade. I enjoyed it before, then tried other strategies and texts, and now have decided to go back to it and see how it has aged as a text and how I have aged as an instructor.

McKay, Claude. Banana Bottom. 1933. San Diego: Harvest, 1961.

This book has a price tag from the Strand on the front cover! It was on sale for $1.95–regularly $6.95.

Reed, Ishmael. The Last Days of Louisiana Red. 1974. New York: Bard, 1976.

I’ve enjoyed the bit of Reed’s fiction that I have read in the past, and look forward to reading this novel. The blurb on the front cover from the Village Voice calls it a “saucy underground classic.” Say no more!

Toomer, Jean. Cane. 1923. New York: Norton, 2003.

I have the Liveright edition of this novel, but it’s always nice to have a copy of one of Norton’s critical editions as well.

Washington, Mary Helen, ed. Black-Eyed Susans: Classic Stories by and About Black Women. New York: Anchor, 1975.

Morrison, Walker, Bambara, et al. A great period piece.

Yerby, Frank. The Vixens. New York: Dial, 1947.

This nearly seventy-year-old book is in excellent condition.

Youngblood, Shay. Soul Kiss. 1997. New York: Riverhead, 1998.

The least-exciting looking book of the bunch, but it was good enough to make it into paperback, so we’ll see.

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Women Readers and the Crisis of the Male Novelist

Elaine Blair has a fantastic article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books (July 12, 2012) about how the fictional trend of oafish male protagonists has evolved from the work of hoary giants such as Philip Roth and John Updike through the work of present-day writers such as Gary Shteyngart and Jonathan Franzen. She points out that, while female readers in the 1960s were willing to read their sexist contemporaries because that’s what one did in order to keep up with the intellectual Joneses, female readers today (who comprise a much larger proportion of fiction readers than they did in the 1960s because all guys want to do now is play video games) are much less willing to put up with men’s misogynist shenanigans, fictional or otherwise. Blair posits that contemporary male authors are aware of this (logical) attitude, and as a result make their male characters so ridiculously pathetic that they are impossible to hate; one just feels sorry for them instead. As a result, maybe female readers will read their books. She shows, though, that this trend is just sexist pandering which leads to a lot of uninteresting novels.

I fully agree with this critique. Blair quotes a David Foster Wallace essay in which he recounts an instance of one of his female friends calling Updike “Just a penis with a thesaurus.” This description is spot on… but damn, that penis sure knows how to get the most out of that thesaurus. I have to admit that I like Updike, and I love Roth (and Wallace, and Franzen). They are my guilty pleasures. I enjoy their writing because I am their intended audience, no matter how much they try to attract female readers. I can’t imagine women enjoying their male characters because I don’t enjoy them either. But I appreciate their truthfulness, and their beautiful use of language.

This raises the question, though, of whether literature that is merely valuable for its formal and/or aesthetic qualities is worthwhile. To read for fun, maybe, but I don’t assign these authors in my classes because they are so off-putting to women. The ideal texts to teach are those which are both aesthetically beautiful and politically engaging–Toni Morrison, Samuel R. Delany, Don DeLillo, and the like.

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Home by Toni Morrison

I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s new novel, Home. It is not her best book, but is still a beautiful achievement. It exemplifies the smooth, vivid prose which evokes scenes clearly in readers’ minds that makes her one of my favorite authors. Home is not as good as her two finest works, Beloved and Song of Solomon, but it is in that impressive second echelon of her works (Sula, Love, The Bluest Eye, Paradise, in no particular order), which by any other standard than Morrison’s would be masterpieces.

Home is interesting because of the relationship between the seemingly omniscient narrator and its protagonist, Frank Money, who is given short chapters to speak back to how the narrator is telling his story. He reveals that the narrator is sometimes wrong about her(?) judgments of him, and that she sometimes gets the facts wrong. I don’t ever care deeply about Frank as a person like I do about some of Morrison’s other characters (e.g., Guitar in Song of Solomon; perhaps Home‘s shortness contributes to this lack), but I care about his narrative enough that it is hard to put the book down.

I also appreciate how Morrison tells the story from numerous characters’ perspectives, though Frank’s narrative is the primary one. It is helpful to hear the other characters explain their actions in the same way that Frank explains his rather than just hearing his side of their shared experiences. The most important case of this is when we get a chapter from his grandmother’s perspective because she is the most oppressive individual person in his life (i.e., whites as a whole are more oppressive than she is), but we find out why she acts the way she does, which makes her more sympathetic.

It is a great relief that Morrison is still near the top of her game at the end of her career. There are places where the novel could use more detail, but it is a strong effort nonetheless. Overall, I rate the book 4/5, definitely worth reading.

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