Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Book Club discusses BELOVED

Beloved is a perfect example of a book that needs discussion or processing time after reading in order to really appreciate what you've just experienced.  There are so many layers in the writing that it could be easy to brush it off as unenjoyable or just-another-book-about-slavery if you didn't stop to think about it.  The only thing I knew about Toni Morrison before venturing through this book was that there were an awful lot of her books on Oprah's book club list...which meant that they likely included some sort of oppressed woman scenario.  Oh, and I'd also heard a faint whisper that Beloved was weird...something about ghosts and comments like I have no idea what I just read.

Based on this premise, I found it much more approachable than I thought it would be.  Apart from the bits in the middle written from Beloved's point of view, the book was much easier to understand than I thought it would be.  This is not to say that it is easy reading; it isn't.  The content is rather horrible (if this book doesn't make you feel the horrors of slavery, I'm not sure anything would) and the writing is challenging enough that it is not a chapter-before-bed type of book.

My book club's discussion began by attempting to clear up some confusing plot points.  The story isn't told chronologically, nor even from one person's point of view, nor even always in straight-forward clear-cut sentences, which add up to the writing requiring more attention from the reader.  Each chapter seemed to start from an entirely new place, as if they were joined together randomly.  Only towards the end of the book was I able to see how delicately the story had unfolded.

One of the girls in my group loved the writing to pieces.  She filled pages with notes and quotes.  There were a few parts that stood out to me as well--some descriptions and phrases launched my mind into viewing the scene from a different direction.  Morrison definitely has a way with words.  Here are a couple of passages that really stood out to me:
What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children.
"Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child.  They get bigger, older, but grown? What's that supposed to mean? In my heart it don't mean a thing."
Beloved isn't a book to be read or digested lightly.  The content is rough.  The themes paint a picture of grief: a reflection of how much despair we, as human vessels, can  hold before we crack.  The story follows Sethe, a former slave living in Ohio, whose life is controlled by the spirit of a murdered child who haunts her home and her life.

Beloved isn't a book that I'd call enjoyable or recommend without a care.  This is a  novel that requires the reader to step up and engage in the emotional and intellectual challenge.  But if you are willing to look slavery in the face and dare to admit the atrocities humans are capable of, there is a payoff.  Sometimes it takes extreme examples to show us errors in the mundane.  The errors of the past are a first-hand example of what to avoid as we plunge into the future.

I can't say that I'm eager to run out and read another of Toni Morrison's books--I'm going to have to work up to that.  But I can say that this is a valuable piece of literature and I'm glad my book club made me read it--especially as it also counts for my personal Pulitzer challenge and my Back to the Classics Challenge! :)   It didn't take me long to read, once I was able to secure some quiet time.  Most of my book club's discussion ended up revolving around trying to wrap our minds around the incidents in the novel that were difficult to comprehend for one reason or another...there was no disagreement on the quality of the writing or importance of the work.  It may take the right set of circumstances to get you to read Beloved, but if the opportunity presents itself don't pass it by.

Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Pages: 360
Published: 2006 Everymans (orig.1987)
Read for: Book Club, Pulitzer Challenge, Back to the Classics Challenge
My Rating: 4


  1. You do make me want to revisit this one. It was the first book I attempted by Morrison, and it was probably a good 10 years before I attempted another one (The Bluest Eye). I did enjoy The Bluest Eye greatly, and it's told in a much more straightforward way. Will definitely give Beloved another go.

  2. I went to the Holocaust Museum today with my kids. Sometimes you have to see the ugliness up close before you truly understand the horror. My kids thought it was very disturbing--it is.

    I tried to listen to Beloved on tape while driving and soon discovered that I would need to read it and read it slowly before I would understand the storyline. I haven't done that yet!

  3. Hmmm. I just finished putting this on my iPod but am beginning to wonder if I may rethink that.

    Will see.

  4. Andi, my cousin told me to look into The Bluest Eye next, so I'm glad to hear that you liked it. I don't think that I could have handled the content in Beloved when I was younger. It's a book that benefits from having a little life experience under your belt.

    Heidi, I had to read the first page about three times before I understood what was going on (luckily it got easier after that!) I agree about understanding something horrible--not fun, but important.

    Robin, I'm horrible at listening to books, my brain tries to translate everything I hear into print, so I'd be incredibly impressed if you were able to digest this book in auditory form! Keep me updated, I want to know how it goes. :)

  5. Just me, dropping by again. Melody, I really, really like your reviews. They are always insightful. Well done. I, too, would recommend that you move on to The Bluest Eye next, which is probably my favorite of Morrison's books.

  6. Aw, thanks! The Bluest Eye is going on my TBR list, thanks for weighing in!


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