158 Love

loveby Toni Morrison, 2003

Leave it to Toni Morrison to completely turn the idea of the love story on its head. If you were to judge this book by its cover, you’d likely expect the pages to contain something akin to an urban romance. Inside, however, you’ll find that this is a meditation on love in all of its forms – romantic, parental, platonic, envious, destructive – and how it can completely tear a person apart.

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154 We Were Eight Years in Power

eightyearsinpowerby Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2017

“Required reading” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot these days, but it’s still the phrase I would use to describe the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was with bated breath that I placed a hold on his new book a month prior to its publication and I gleefully picked it up from the library on the day it was released. I had thoroughly enjoyed Between the World and Me and was excited to get my hands on this collection of essays. Now, perhaps because I had just read Michael Eric Dyson, whose dynamism cannot be matched, or perhaps because I had such pent up anticipation, which never leads to anything but disappointment, I found I was less enamored of this book than I expected I would be. I hadn’t realized this wouldn’t be new material and, accordingly, it did not attack the subject manner in the way I had assumed it would. I don’t read The Atlantic, so while the material was new to me and I was glad to be able to access it in a collected volume, I felt that they didn’t quite come together to paint a cohesive picture. But, there is still so much to be gained from Coates’s words and I will argue with anyone that his voice is a necessary one in our world today.

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152 Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

tearswecannotstopby Michael Eric Dyson, 2017
narrated by the author

It may seem difficult to determine to whom, exactly, Michael Eric Dyson is addressing his sermon in Tears We Cannot Stop. The subtitle may be, “A Sermon to White America,” but I have to doubt that many white Americans will be interested in his words. This is not because I believe that the majority of white Americans are uncaring or lack compassion, but the truth is that we tend to gravitate toward things with which we directly relate. In fact, that’s the whole spirit of the Read Harder Challenge – to get us to read material that is vastly different from what usually occupies our minds. (I’d add to this that part of the problem is that most people don’t read, but that’s another argument for another day.) So, in addressing his book to an audience that it likely won’t reach, is Dyson simply preaching to the choir?

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147 Paradise

paradiseby Toni Morrison, 1997

Toni Morrison is, in the parlance of our times, like, whoa. And I feel that she has never been so whoa as she is in Paradise. Set in Ruby, Oklahoma, a town founded by the descendants of slaves and housing only black citizens, Morrison depicts a community whose reality is anything but what the book’s title suggests. I was recently discussing with a co-worker contemporary books that address feminism and gender studies in their literature, to which I offered, “Anything by Toni Morrison.” I think this proves my point finely. Her vicious pulling apart of destructive racial and gender oppression is brilliantly juxtaposed with her understated style, showing why Morrison is regarded as a master of her craft.

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144 Jazz

jazzby Toni Morrison, 1992

One of the things I’ve come to love about Toni Morrison’s style is that I often don’t know what is happening at the outset. I’ve become accustomed to feeling a bit lost, to not knowing who our narrator is, to not fully grasping the meat of the story until Morrison’s vivid words unfurl the narrative across the pages. I enjoy this lack of grounding because I have not yet ceased to be amazed by how deftly Morrison pulls everything together and, by the novel’s end, presents a story that is greater than the sum of its parts. Alas, Jazz was the first time I found myself less than thrilled with this style. Instead of feeling rewarded in the end, I mostly felt, well, lost.

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143 Beloved

belovedby Toni Morrison, 1987

There is something to be said about avoiding a book simply because of its hype. I don’t think I intentionally avoided Beloved for this reason, but I was never required to read it in school and, since it was heavily lauded – and made into a movie – by Oprah, I kept my distance. (I’m not specifically against Oprah’s picks, but many of her earlier selections were very much not to my tastes.) I think I benefitted from this because, when it came time to read Beloved in my #YearofToni, I was able to approach it with something of a blank slate. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about and I had no horrible high school memories haunting me, so having firmly fallen in love with Morrison’s style over her past few books, I was eager to delve into her most talked about, Pulitzer Prize winning work.

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141 The Souls of Black Folk

soulsofblackfolkby W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903

There is a certain sense of wonder – or is it chagrin? – when reading a hundred-year-old book that exemplifies the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Such is the case with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published at the turn of the 20th century that are, sadly, as poignant today as they were a mere 40 years post-Emancipation. Race relations have no doubt improved greatly since then, yet not so much as to prevent the reader from sitting slack-jawed and wondering if Du Bois were writing these words today. He and his ideas are far from obsolete.

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