Just the other night I was talking to my sister, Barbara, about the first time I read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. I remember where I was sitting when it was assigned to my sophomore English class at Austin High School. While it started as another homework project, it quickly turned into reading a book I felt I had chosen for myself. I remember marking it up like I had never marked up any books before.
I was totally in awe of Toni Morrison’s ability to make us feel like we were walking in Pecola’s footsteps. Even if you didn’t necessarily relate, there was no way you didn’t empathize with Pecola. Thematically, I had never read anything quite like this. It was a book that talked about adult subjects but the underlying themes of racism, otherness and feeling not good enough were things that my classmates were dealing with, particularly my classmates of color. It was the first book that really opened my eyes to how literature can create understanding and take you into worlds you don’t know.
My mom being a librarian, we talked often as kids about books that were banned. At the time I read it, “The Bluest Eye” was prohibited across some Texas schools. Knowing that some kids weren’t even allowed to read this made it an even more special treasure of a book.
As Morrison’s debut novel turns 50 years old, it still holds incredible power to spark current conversations. While this fact is heartbreaking, it also shows how complicated and complex some of these themes are.
I suspect that a lot of our book club members will be rereading this book for the first time since high school or college. I know I am particularly excited to pick up my old favorite again. I expect that it will hit me differently than it did when I was an adolescent girl, not much older than Pecola. I can’t wait to see how adulthood and now being in my late 30s will make this novel resonate in a different way. I look forward to hearing how others’ perspectives change as well.
Of course, if you are reading for the first time, I hope you marvel at the beauty of Toni Morrison’s writing the way I did when I first picked up a copy. She is my favorite author of all time, and I am honored to be recommending her book to this special group of readers.
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