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Friday, November 02, 2007

Fall Reading Challenge

Whoops. I see I need to update the reading challenge in my sidebar.

Banned Book Week is the last week in September. With that in mind, read a Banned Book.

I chose:

****½ Beloved by Toni Morrison. General fiction.

I have to admit, I approached this novel with quite a bit of trepidation. It was an Oprah's book club pick, which generally means depressing, and I tend to be leery of "highly acclaimed" books. Maybe a bit of reverse snobbishness. But I've been making a point lately of ignoring my knee-jerk reactions and trying to check things out before I judge them. And too many of the other books on the banned book list I'd consulted were either children's books (nothing against children's books, but I didn't feel like reading one), books I'd read already, or ones I had no interest in.

If you haven't heard anything about it, Beloved is the story of Sethe and her daughter Denver, who live alone with a ghost now that her mother-in-law has died and her two sons have left home. A man from Sethe's past shows up, Paul D., and then a young woman, Beloved, who becomes ever more demanding.

Through a series of flashbacks and memories, we get the picture of Sethe's life, and how and why it culminated in her killing one of her children and attempting to kill the others. I'd been forewarned about that (Dagny had to read this for a class), so it wasn't as much of a shock as it might have been.

Beloved is a powerful novel. I can't really express it any other way. It provides an unvarnished look at a period in history that would be more comfortable to forget. But if that were all it was, I wouldn't have liked it so much. I'm not one to hide my head in the sand, but I don't see the point of dwelling on the horrors people inflict on each other, either. I like to know and then move on.

It's also a story of community, and how people react as groups. Sethe was rejected by her community, not as much because she'd killed her child, but because she was too independent. It's an interesting concept, and one that applies very much to me as well--like Sethe, I find it shameful to ask for help, preferring to do without than to reach out. So the story hit me on that level as well.

But for me, mostly, it was a story of guilt, and how Sethe's guilt manifested itself (literally), and how she needed to accept help to forgive herself. And that's what really made the story for me.

I doubt I'll re-read this, at least not for a long time, but I'm very glad I did. I do intend to check out more of Toni Morrison's work, but if it's as intense as this, it'll have to sit in my TBR pile a while until I need a sink-your-teeth-into read. Any suggestions/recommendations?


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