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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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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150 I Am Malala

malalaby Malala Yousafzai, 2013
narrated by Archie Panjabi

I recently moved from an area replete with public transportation to an area that, well, has absolutely no public transportation at all. This means that I’ve had to start to driving. While that’s brought its own challenges (the last time I drove was probably around 2005), it’s also taken away those precious minutes when I used to read on my commute. The obvious solution here is to start listening to audiobooks, but that isn’t as easy for me as it may be for some. One of the things I particularly love about reading is absorbing an author’s beautiful language and imagining the scene unfurl in my mind. That is taken away when someone else narrates and adds their own inflection to the words. I am also very much a visual learner and I often feel that I don’t hold onto information that I hear with nearly the strength that I do with information I see. Yet, spending the 30 minutes I drive to work each day listening to the radio seems a bit of a waste, so I am doing my best to convert myself into an audiobook lover. I Am Malala was my first choice for this, with the reason being that I believed I wouldn’t miss the experience of reading as much with a nonfiction book. I was also able to borrow the ebook from the library, so after my drive I could skim over the sections I heard and highlight what stood out to me. My audiobook conversion is still a process, but it’s one I’m hoping I master. Now, onto the book.

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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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145 The Vegetarian

vegetarianby Han Kang, 2007

Set in modern day South Korea, The Vegetarian chronicles the spiraling downfall of a woman whose decision to stop eating meat has enormous consequences for those around her. When I first came to this book, I knew little about it other than its focus on a woman who chooses to be a vegetarian, and I wondered how such a mundane topic could generate such a buzz. I see now that this book is so much more than this, that Kang uses this decision to expound on the ideas of cultural norms, gender roles, and the constraints of marriage in a patriarchal society. It is thoroughly brilliant and I had a hard time putting it down.

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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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