Monday, December 28, 2009

A Reader's Response & Invitation: The Bluest Eye

Over a course of several months, I have enjoyed reading more reviews of poc books and have left comments but that wasn't enough. I wanted dialogue. For example, there have been times when I've finished a review of a classic or staple African American book and I've thought, "That's it?" Now you could argue, "Well, Susan why don't you write a review yourself?" Fair question. Here's the deal: The book in question is often a book I've read years ago. I don't see the point of rereading it solely to write a review especially when there are so many new works being written by aspiring poc writers desperate to get a little press of their own. And me writing the review doesn't address what is the core of what I'm seeing here: a reluctance or uneasiness or something I can't name that is different when a non-poc reader reviews a poc book.

Back to me. I'm more interested in discussing a work than reviewing it. So I keep reading new reads and reading reviews of books I've read and loved and hoping a reviewer will share some meat about a work by a person of color, something that says how her own experiences and perspective affected how she processed the book. (Anytime you feel like telling me lighten up, go head, we're both safely behind our screens.)

My point is if you've read it, tell us what you really think and not what you think is the polite and safe thing to say. Why? Because when your review reads more like a polite courtesy than a gut response, your readers are likely to respond in-kind. Then a reader like me comes along glad that a review is published. I take note of all the polite responses and that usually leads to feeling we've all missed of an opportunity to talk about a book that likely has introduced some readers to experiences or views different from their own or the experiences might very well be similar, and the reader is a little surprised that the book isn't so different from what they've lived or known. Wouldn't it be more interesting to explore these possibilities?

I try not to complain without taking some action so instead of simply leaving a comment somewhere where those of you who are reading me here are not likely to read my comments to a review elsewhere, I'm going to write or republish my responses to reviews of books by people of color when I've asked or added something I didn't see in the review or comments.

My aim is to create a discussion about a book I've read and enjoyed but not reviewed. Sharing my reader's response is an invitation for dialogue, and unless it becomes problematic or troubling for you, I'm going to cite the review that inspired my response.

I like to talk about books. I appreciate an honest discussion about what literature says about us, and I'm interested in how we respond to what we read.

First up is a classic, The Bluest Eye. I recently read Su's review at Su [shu]'s. See her full review here. Here's what I had to say:

This book shook me when I was a young woman. This book is important for so many lessons not the least among them what it means to a black girl living in a culture where whiteness is not only synonymous with power and superiority, but it is the benchmark of beauty. Imagine growing up in a world with a standard you can never achieve. Pecola’s obsession with this kind of beauty in a significant way contributes to her mental breakdown.

And let’s not forget what Morrison is saying about domestic violence and incest. We don’t say these words aloud enough.

Have you read The Bluest Eye? What did you think about it? What point(s) do you think Morrison is making? Any comments about other Morrison titles?


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Anonymous said...

This was my first "grown up" book. I read it @ 14 and I think we talked about me finding this book in the YA section of my local library. Anyway, I think this is probably Morrison's most accessible novel in terms of narrative and subject matter. It's main issues are still relevant today, unfortunately. They have just manifested in different ways-Asian girls seeking eyelid folds, excessive use of wigs and weaves, retouching photos to make darker skin appear lighter, etc. Everyone understands the idea of wanting to be someone you're not and can never be.

It's hard for me to comment like I want to because it's been nearly 20 years since I read the book.

The blue eyes represent so many things. Not only are they a symbol of a white aesthetic that Pecola equates with power, beauty, and love, but also they are a mask for what is happening to her. The desire itself is a means for Pecola to not acknowledge the horrible things happening to her. Many times superficial desires are a cover up for something wrong internally.

I will re-read this book one day with my, now, "grown up" eyes and make a more proper assessment. But just from memory, I still think The Bluest Eye is a remarkable novel.

susan said...

Where is the love? 2 comments? No one has anything to say? Can we end the year with a bang.

Speak up here, January's post and the Ari's as well.


Mardel said...

I haven't read the Bluest Eye, although I did read Toni Morrison's Beloved (heartbreaking). The only comment I can make is in response to a previous comment.

Personally, I'm glad that on TV and in movies we are beginning to see more variety of what's considered beautiful. Thanks to women like Beyonce, Oprah, Eva Longoria, (now I realize this is just a beginning - a small beginning) we are seeing more poc women as beautiful.

Ironically, while I was growing up I was surrounded by dark-brown eyed siblings with skin darker than mine. My eyes are blue. I always felt ugly in comparison to my siblings and my mother's friend's children. My skin is paler than theirs (not a good thing in my opinion - the blushes, the reddening skin as I get older, etc.) The children at school (mostly hispanic) are always telling me I have beautiful eyes, and I'm always answering back that I think their eyes are stunning.

Some of this is perspective. It's a shame when we, no matter what color we are, aren't happy with how we look and try to change things. Things that should not be changed like skin color and eye color.

But it's perpective again, when I was younger I would have given anything to look more like my brothers and sister. I even used to put my hair (always a mixture of curly and straight hair) in many braids, so I could have frizzy hair. it's a huge coincidence (or is it?) that now I have two sons who have light skin but "nappy" hair. when they let their hair grow, it comes out very thick, extremely kinky,and coarse and falls naturally into a cross between dreadlocks and tight curls. I always thought their hair was beautiful. They like their hair, but admit that it's very hard to take care of.

I can relate (although I disagree with the feeling) to women who wish they looked different. They want to look more "caucasion", while I wished I looked more like whatever my heritage is supposed to be (Central American, Carribean, Native American-of the Panamanian variety, and Scottish)

With all the wishing I looked more like the rest of my family, I often felt left out of my family (still do). My mom always treated me a little more harshly. Her mom always treated her more harshly because she was the lightest of her family. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with being light. Later I found out that her mom treated her like that because she would have been too spoiled by everyone for passing as "white", (her siblings are all darker). My mom treated me like that because ....I don't know-maybe cause that's how she learned to mother the light kid.

Now I need to read the book. To see if any of the book has anything to do with my feelings or my mom's experiences.