Originally, my Toni Morrison reading plan was going to be chronological. This made sense to me: start from her first book, The Bluest Eye, first published in 1970, and then work my way forward and discover the way she developed as a writer. My thoughts on her debut novel are here. Both an interesting reading experience and an interesting writing experience, I wanted to see how her prose challenged and developed over the course of four decades, and what challenges she threw down for herself over the course of her novels.
But there is also the problem of me as a reader. I can be easily distracted. I read short stories for consideration for publication in The Missouri Review. I read literary journals. I read student stories. At home, there are growing stacks of short story collections, novels, nonfiction, poetry collections, and magazines, all of which I can’t get to, what with other things (read: Life) interfering with my time. Don’t forget, too, the books that I often like and want to re-read, all of which have their spines turned out and facing me along my living room wall. My point is that if I don’t remain focused on a reading plan or goal, I’ll veer off track. This is one of the big reasons I decided to follow Rebecca’s reading plan in the first place. (more…)
The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, which I re-read this past week as step one in my plan to follow Rebecca Shinksy’s call to re-read Morrison’s entire backlist. I’ve read Morrison’s first novel before. My copy is leftover from my days at Ohio State and there are some marks on the pages, but not many. A sentence or two underlined, usually over the course of five pages a time, chunks that, clearly, my professor had us focus on. Looking at it now, they seem like the most obvious passages to mark: they are the ones directly addressing the desire for blue eyes in the novel’s tragic character, Pecola Breedlove, the eleven-year-old girl who is raped (and becomes pregnant) by her father.
What I remembered about the novel is a point of pride: I remembered that the same passage I did not like was the same one that, in the afterword, Morrison herself wrote was the least satisfying passage in the book. As an undergrad, I was delighted to learn that my initial response was the same as Morrison’s. This meant I was “correct” and that I “got” the novel. Or, something like that, in the way that I liked to think of the world when I was twenty-one. (more…)
One of the ongoing problems I have as a writer is deciding what to read next. This is, of course, what one might call a “good problem.” It’s not like I’m trying to figure out how to cure cancer or something. In my house, there are growing stacks of books, in various places—bedside table, recliner, coffee table, and so forth—that I have not yet read, and with each new book that I buy, chances grow that those unread books will remain, sadly, unread.
As a young (“emerging”?) writer, I feel a regular anxiety of not being as well-read as I would like to be. This is a bit irrational. Even my friends who are pursuing a PhD in literature who read hundreds of books in order to prepare for the comprehensive exam have plenty of holes in their personal canon. That’s just normal. There is too much great stuff to read, especially if one spends a portion of his/her time writing rather than reading. Sometimes the reading just stops because of the anxiety of influence. (more…)