I requested the audio version of this book by Toni Morrison from my library. When it came in, I was thinking about what it would be like to listen to it and then I remembered the other essay collections I’ve listened to and the fact that they haven’t been narrated by their authors and I was super bummed. But when I did start listening to this one, I immediately recognized Bahni Turpin’s voice and I was all, “Nevermind! Carry on!” If you haven’t seen me gush about her before on this blog, Turpin is one of the best audiobook narrators out there. I would listen to her narrate the phone book.
Like a lot of the other essay collections I’ve listened to, this one repeats itself a lot. In the case of We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates liked to use the same few statistics over and over, but in this case Morrison reused whole paragraphs. At first it kind of threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I had missed something. Had I accidentally hit rewind with my butt and gone back to a previous chapter?
But no, it was just the fact that Morrison like to reuse certain paragraphs in multiple essays, which is fine if you’re reading the essays individually, but taken together over the course of two or three weeks, it becomes noticeable. Just be aware if you decide to listen to the audiobook of this one that, when you hear a section you’ve already listened to, you’re probably not going crazy and you probably did not accidentally rewind the audiobook.
I had read a couple of Morrison’s novels before picking up this collection, but listening to this really made me want to read more of her stuff – and reread some of the ones with which I was already familiar, because it turns out I’m not all that familiar with them. Morrison has a section or two where she talks about writing and how carefully she chooses her wording, her point of view, and at what distance she wants to keep the reader as they approach the story. It left me in awe of her as a master of her craft and made me want to hit the keyboard to improve my own writing skills. As I think about it now, I probably do take into consideration all (or at least some) of the elements she talked about, just on a more subconscious level. Maybe if I ever got around to writing an essay about my writing process, I might come up with some similar tactics.
Race in Literature
All that being said, I think my biggest takeaway from this book was Morrison’s take on whitewashing American history. While a lot of people (of all races) have a problem with literature that tends to paint American history as completely white by virtue of containing only characters that are white, Morrison rejects the assumption that excluding black characters is to deny the existence of black people in America at the time. On the contrary, she points out that one must have “blackness” in order to define “whiteness.” That a whitewashed America is defined by contrasting it with a black America. I will never read whitewashed literature the same way again because of Toni Morrison.
What did you read/listen to this week? Anything else that completely blew your mind or changed your perspective on something?