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Book Cover: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
"If you surrender to the air, you can ride it."

Of course, I doubted her, and she read it on my brow. But she had no doubt, just rock-solid faith and the voice of a siren. So she showed me how. She surrendered to inspiration, and all the power of the earth around us gathered at her feet. She didn't even jump, she let the earth throw her over the hills and woods.

My brow rose with her. How could I believe my eyes? But how could I doubt? So I surrendered to the spectacle, as she flew higher than the flocks above, as she grew smaller in the cerulean distance. A gleaming darkness against the falling sun, on her way to places I could barely imagine.

The sky would run out, but I didn't fear for her. That voice could make fresh air to breathe, through the long dark night, the sparkling emptiness, the space beyond. Toni had willed herself a rocket ship, and set out for distant planets, that had never yet been explored, or written in books. She overflowed with mind, heart, faith and voice, and had no use for doubt. She surrendered to the burning energy of her entire self.

Morrison done fly away,
Morrison done gone,
Morrison cut across the sky,
Morrison gone home.

Toni Morrison is one of our greatest American Novelists, perhaps the most significant of the last half century. If you haven't read any of her books, you should: they are deep, sometimes wrenching but often beautiful, and powerfully crafted. Song of Solomon and Beloved earned the most prizes and plaudits. I found Beloved devastating - so I recommend Song of Solomon as a good place to start. Both Barack and Michelle Obama have called it their favorite book.

I found Song of Solomon a formidable, but enjoyable and very rewarding, read. It has 350 pages - none of them bored me. But the book asked a lot of me: complete attention, full mental and emotional commitment. Morrison mentions details in passing, and expects you to recall them 200 pages later. She's weaving a complex tapestry, and it won't get finished unless you join wholeheartedly in the work.

        "I want to write for people like me, which is to say black people, curious people, demanding people - people who can't be faked, people who don't need to be patronized, people who have very, very high criteria."                              - Toni Morrison
In a way, this novel reminded me of the book in the Bible that it's named for. The biblical Song of Solomon is full of charm, sensuality, love and wisdom. But it does not always come across as clear and direct storytelling. I felt that I was not supposed merely to read the plot, but also to resonate with all its depths and implications.

Morrison's Song of Solomon is full of relationships, history, many interconnections and contrasting perspectives. The most central thread is the tale of a boy growing to manhood, then into his full self - just as Their Eyes Were Watching God told us the whole journey of Janie's outer and inner development. Somehow, alongside her bildungsroman, Morrison craftily squeezed two more books into the same space. I'll unpack some of that extraness later in this diary. I found Morrison's book more impressive, but Hurston's had a more natural, enchanting grace. If Hurston sang like Ella Fitzgerald, then Morrison sings like Aretha Franklin.

The boy who grows up in Song of Solomon is called Milkman Dead (whence the band took their name). Morrison loves digging into family history and the backstory of names, so we discover pieces of the meaning of both these names, spread through the length of her book. Milkman is a boy who has it all: favored son of the richest black man in town (it is strange and exhilarating, just how few white people feature in the entire story), spoiled by his mother, indulged by all his relatives and friends. But Milkman is stuck and incomplete. He cannot become whole until he reconnects with his own frail humanity, his whole family, his heritage and Southern rural roots. As with Hurston's Janie, we take this journey of discovery with Milkman; like Milkman, we must look into our lost, hidden and vulnerable sides, in order to become more whole in the end.

I'm not going to tell you the story of Song of Solomon: Toni Morrison owns the whole thing, and I could only draw you a stick-figure sketch. Instead, I'm going to look at the massive, intricate and strange qualities I found in Morrison's storytelling craft. But don't look at this tangle of threads and cogs I'm pulling out and say "Oh, that's a mess, I don't want to read that book." A teenager could enjoy this book (though they might be shocked at a couple of scenes). Song of Solomon is not a hard read. I made it harder for myself, by grasping throughout for complete comprehension. But, you know, I enjoy grappling for meaning.

Let's look at Toni Morrison as a writer, at the various talents she brings to her work, and at the personality beyond that which informs her fresh and powerful voice. Here is one paragraph that sings to me:

      Solid, rumbling, likely to erupt without prior notice, Macon kept each member of his family awkward with fear. His hatred of his wife glittered and sparked in every word he spoke to her. The disappointment he felt in his daughters sifted down on them like ash, dulling their buttery complexions and choking the lilt out of what should have been their girlish voices. Under the frozen heat of his glance they tripped over doorsills and dropped the salt cellar into the yolks of their poached eggs. The way he mangled their grace, wit and self-esteem was the single excitement of their days. Without the tension and drama he ignited, they might not have known what to do with themselves. In his absence his daughters bent their necks over blood-red squares of velvet and waited eagerly for any hint of him, and his wife, Ruth, began her days stunned into stillness by her husband's contempt and ended them wholly animated by it.
Morrison sure knows how to write. She gives us a handful of physical details, picking them so precisely that they show us this entire household and the storm-clouds at its heart. So many of the words are a little surprising, they have a rawness and spin to them: "His hatred of his wife glittered and sparked". They feel so sharp and true. It grabs your mind's eye: "his daughters bent their necks over blood-red squares of velvet and waited eagerly for any hint of him".

She fits so much reality into her words, such a rolling musicality into her sentences, and then a complete unfolding story into her paragraph - with that marvelous, startling last line: "Ruth, began her days stunned into stillness by her husband's contempt and ended them wholly animated by it." Morrison paints these vivid surfaces, draws the energies between them, dives into the psychological nuances that drive her characters, and ends up nailing surprising human truths. This is what novels are for.

.

Toni Morrison is a Rocket Ship

.
The First Stage is her ownership of all the essential skills it takes to build a novel. She is a natural storyteller, with a good ear for just what grabs our attention, and how to make it sing. She can pace and layer a plot with many interlocking parts. She has so much human warmth, range and insight; like Dickens, every character she writes jumps out and sticks with us. She has a powerful grasp of all the salient aspects of language, including those that elude most novelists. Her dialog crackles and speaks straight from her distinct characters.

Plot, Character and Language are the foundation of the novel. Morrison also loves books, and has devoured them throughout her life, starting with childhood favorites, Austen and Tolstoy. She has studied the architecture, examined these edifices and their blueprints. She spent 51 years as a literature professor and editor. Like Picasso, she absorbed the traditions, how all of literature was made, so that she could know it all without thinking, and set out to explore her own voice.

.
The Second Stage is all the stories Morrison inhabits that get short shrift in mainstream fiction. She has studied America, and writes convincing characters from different regions and classes, facing the different issues those lives entail. Toni Morrison's family was working class: she faced the trials of poverty, and they are part of the America she writes. So many books don't attempt this, and so few make it as real and immediate as Morrison does. When she was a child, her family were behind on the rent. The landlord set fire to the house, while the family were inside. They got out, and then they laughed.

Morrison calls herself a "Black Woman Novelist". It feels to me like she has not just looked at the stories, troubles and fears of blacks and women, she has steeped herself in these issues in her own life, and she has studied all the literature that blacks and women have written. So Song of Solomon has almost no whites, but it includes so many different views of blackness, of all the ways blacks deal with an unfair society, and treat each other, and go a little crazy from the twisted game we call America - or rise above it and fly back to Africa. The same applies to all the different women in the book, and the problems and joys they live through.

Two thirds of the way through the book, I found there is a Part II. The first part was crowded with so much matter, as if Morrison had mixed together every kind of street talk in this city in Michigan, all of literature, the Bible and the blues, to make some cosmic stew called America. In the second part, the story has more room to breathe. Milkman heads south, looking for his roots, his past, some kind of treasure. He walks back out of the booming, buzzing confusion that is 20th century literature, and finds himself in a simpler place, which feels more like a fable.

Right before he leaves home, at the end of Part I, Milkman's sister gives him a two-page talking-to. She tells him everything we've begun to suspect about him, and then some. After 230 pages getting to know Milkman, Lena's scolding was one of the most effective feminist catharses I've ever seen.

Morrison is telling all the stories that are essential to America, but too often ignored: all the meanings of being black, being a woman, being poor, or living in parts of the States which are less written about. Because of who she is, because of all the work she has done in her life, she is able to tell all these stories from the inside, to make them so real they catch fire. Most Americans who read books will find Hemingway or Updike more approachable because, although Morrison has mastered their language, she also speaks from the Bible, the blues and the basements of America. She is a complex chorus, owning a babel of American tongues.

When I said Toni Morrison is "one of our greatest American Novelists, perhaps the most significant of the last half century", her greatness referred her prodigious skills, but her significance referred to all the stories she brings, which fall at the edges or outside of the main stream of fiction. She is stretching fiction, making room for other writers to tell similar tales, and getting readers to explore less beaten paths. She already recognized quality when she was a child. As writers, I have so much to learn from her first two favorites: Austen and Tolstoy. But as an American, Toni Morrison may have more to teach me about the hidden parts of myself, and the lost parts of my heritage and national identity, than any other writer.

.
The Third Stage is Toni Morrison's personal voice and style. Remember we began with Toni Morrison flying away on her own inspiration, over the woods, above the flocks, beyond the sun? I can just about see the first two stages of this rocket ship (though there are many more nuts and bolts than I've looked at). The third stage is happening outside of my atmosphere, beyond my ken.

I can sense that she has a huge personality, and that she is singing from all the depths and heights of herself. I can see that in her confidence and flow. Beyond all the mechanics and science she's learned, there is a natural artist at work. But I have only looked at two books by Toni Morrison, and it will take a few more before I can trace the distinctive rhythms and timbres that are her own peculiar magic. It will be a long journey, but she has already cured me of some of my doubt. I'm a bit more whole than when I started this trip.

.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 05:22 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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  •  Tip Jar & (39+ / 0-)

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    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 02:22:12 PM PST

  •  Coming Soon to Books Go Boom! (19+ / 0-)


    The God of Small Things   -   Arundhati Roy

    Dreamsongs, volume I   -   George R. R. Martin

    Snow Country   -   Yasunari Kawabata

    Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays   -   Zadie Smith

    Fathers and Sons   -   Ivan Turgenev

    Lamb: the gospel according to Biff, Christ's childhood pal   -   Christopher Moore

    The Tin Drum   -   Günter Grass

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 03:45:37 PM PST

    •  Looking forward to your take on the Turgenev. (14+ / 0-)

      I read it in high school and hated it.  Then I read it in grad school and couldn't believe what an idiot I was.  I teach it regularly now.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 05:45:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I remain a piker in the foothills of Russian Books (14+ / 0-)

        I've read approx. 7 Dostoevskys, 4 Tolstoys, Dead Souls, a Lermontov, a Chekhov collection, a Bulgakov, a Solzhenitsyn, 2 Pelevins . . .

        But I'll at least get the one Turgenev and Pushkin under my belt before pretending I know anything. And for survey, besides Mirsky, I'll look next at Volkov's Magical Chorus.

        I enjoy the stretching, and I know I'll uncover three dozen must-read Russian novels before October.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 07:01:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If you're doing Onegin, we should (10+ / 0-)

          definitely chat!

          (Also, that's a pretty substantial amount of Russian literature compared to most, so I don't know where you're getting "piker" from...)

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 07:14:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I was measuring against your Caucasus of knowledge (9+ / 0-)

            hence the implication of smallness, and deliberate echo of your name.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 07:36:51 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Eugene Onegin the opera? n/t (6+ / 0-)

            English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

            by Youffraita on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 10:37:47 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  No, the epic poem / novel in verse (8+ / 0-)

              which Tchaikovsky's opera is mostly based on:

              The libretto, organised by the composer and Konstantin Shilovsky, very closely follows certain passages in Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse, retaining much of his poetry. Shilovsky contributed M. Triquet's verses in Act 2, Scene 1, while Tchaikovsky wrote the words for Lensky's arioso in Act 1, Scene 1, and almost all of Prince Gremin's aria in Act 3, Scene 1.
              It was a huge turning point in Russian literature, kicking off the golden age of the Russian novel. You could compare it to Goethe's Faust or Dante's Divine Comedy in how important it was, in building a national literature and identity.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 11:20:03 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  No, I couldn't: (6+ / 0-)
                You could compare it to Goethe's Faust or Dante's Divine Comedy in how important it was, in building a national literature and identity.
                I know what you just wrote, but not the implications of how those works built a national literature and identity.

                Somehow Emma and Beowulf don't seem to have done the same job...and Pamela certainly shouldn't have!

                (BTW, I have probably asked you before but don't recall: have you read the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf? I thought it was marvelous.)

                English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

                by Youffraita on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 11:32:58 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I get your touchstones, but I'd compare those (5+ / 0-)

                  three national treasures to Shakespeare for England (even if Shakespeare would win).

                  I do have Heaney's Beowulf sitting on my shelf (unread since it lived in my dad's bookcase). I'll get there one day. But I've just been digging into Afro-American literature, so right now Derek Walcott's Omeros and Langston Hughes's Collected Poems are ahead of it in the poetry line.

                  "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                  by Brecht on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 11:43:04 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Okay, Shakespeare (6+ / 0-)

                    The giant in the room.

                    Love his comedies. Don't trust his histories. He didn't dare insult the Tudors, for one thing -- as you well know.

                    Still, Beowulf is considered iirc the first great epic poem in English (okay, an Old English few now can read, but still...proto-English).

                    English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

                    by Youffraita on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 11:52:15 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  'Beowulf' compares to 'The Divine Comedy', which (7+ / 0-)

                      was the first serious work written in vernacular Italian, in an age when scholars all wrote in Latin. I think Dante also had grander ambitions than the author of Beowulf (he invented Terza Rima rhyme scheme, derived a system for his moral cosmos, and pioneered a lot of new ideas in storytelling) - but I don't know what the bardic background Beowulf leapt out of at the time.

                      How can you assess Shakespeare without considering his tragedies, when Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth and Othello are rated among his best plays? Did you know that he's one of the only playwrights ever to write plays considered first-rate tragedies, as well as first-rate comedies?

                      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                      by Brecht on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 12:07:56 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Did I assess Shakespeare? (7+ / 0-)

                        I don't think so.

                        Macbeth is one of the best plays EVER, imo. It's true that I don't have much use for Hamlet, that wimp. I've read Othello but not recently, and am even less familiar with Lear (okay, I know the Lear story, just not Shakespeare's version very well).

                        Tragedy's easy; comedy's difficult. Any asshole can write tragedy (and NO, I am NOT calling Shakespeare just another asshole: he clearly is one of the greatest writers in this or any other language).

                        Did you know that people are still arguing about Richard III? Not just Shakespeare's version, which had to appeal to those damn Tudors (and Eliz. I is a hero of mine) but they're arguing about the princes in the tower and how Richard didn't kill them.

                        I have no opinion on this topic. I don't have the education to have an opinion about the Richard III/princes controversy.

                        But still: it's like what I keep telling Tara the Antisocial Social Worker...and what SenSho keeps telling Tara...and there are others:

                        Some people have it, that ineffable ability to write wit. Tara is one; Shakespeare was one; Austen was one.

                        That Shakespeare could write humor and tragedy cements his importance as a dramatist.

                        Nevertheless it remains more difficult to write humor than to write tragedy.

                        English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

                        by Youffraita on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 12:22:38 AM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Hamlet the character is one of the most resonant (6+ / 0-)

                          in all of fiction - but people like to agree that it's the greatest play ever, just as The Mona Lisa is deemed the most beautiful painting, and that's too pat for me. The play has many fine speeches; as a whole, it's too long-winded and Hamlet-centric for my taste.

                          All you say seems sound, and I agree with your three Olympians of wit. When Tara's effervescing, she has a quick stroke and flawless aim.

                          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                          by Brecht on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 01:11:32 AM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                  •  Besides, (5+ / 0-)

                    Austen was the first truly modern novelist (at least in English)...Shakespeare wrote plays. I am not denigrating him, and I recognize his importance.

                    I just don't see how a writer -- ANY writer -- can create a national identity. There has to be something in the zeitgeist and people glom onto the writer as having hit that nerve.

                    D'ya know what I'm trying to say? Shakespeare was brilliant and therefore still resonates, but I don't think you can say he created the English sense of society and place and...oh, whatever you're trying to articulate.

                    What I think is, Shakespeare is universal (of course) but also resonated with his time and place...and played to the pit. IOW, you didn't have to be educated or rich to love a Shakespeare play. Something for everyone. Reminds me of this:

                    English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

                    by Youffraita on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 12:04:41 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  "Created" exaggerates the influence: none of these (5+ / 0-)

                      authors drew something out of nothing. I started by saying "building a national literature and identity", but "contribute mightily" would be more exact.

                      I wouldn't call these works foundations, but touchstones. If you look at Russian, German, Italian and English literature after these works, you find hundreds of authors quoting lines or borrowing themes and characters from them. Eugene Onegin invented certain Russian types, who blossomed into whole families of variations in the novels that came after.

                      Shakespeare's characters went forth and multiplied across the water, in all the literatures around the world. Goethe's Mephistopheles and Faust traveled quite a distance too.

                      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                      by Brecht on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 12:29:30 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  (this might be hyperbole) (5+ / 0-)

                        Was there ever a female character more wonderful than Rosalind?

                        this is not snark

                        Look: it's just my opinion and you may reject it if you wish -- I do not have a degree in English lit.

                        But (Macbeth aside) I do not think anything Shakespeare wrote was as wonderful as his comedies. I am not saying the rest of his work was bad: just that comedies are genuinely MUCH more difficult to write and to write well than any history play or any tragedy.

                        English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

                        by Youffraita on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 12:37:52 AM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Rosalind is my favorite woman in Shakespeare (5+ / 0-)

                          but I'd have to research a list of the top dozen women in fiction, and then go read those complete works, before I could pick a greatest. Rosalind sure rates highly for wit and charm.

                          I hear you on the difficulty of writing timeless, well-balanced comedy (especially when a third of the jokes rely on out of date references) - but King Lear is still my favorite of his. But some fraction of that may be wrapped up in critical perspectives through the ages (i.e. Canonicity), which tend to award tragedies extra highbrow points over comedies; or else to the dark undertow in my own humors.

                          Actually, one of my favorite aspects of Shakespeare is how he blends his genres. I know the histories don't wow you - but Henry IV, pt. 1 was (I think) completely groundbreaking, in how it combined comic, tragic and historical elements. Shakespeare had a phenomenal intuition in his storytelling, and knew just how to blend and contrast all the tones of human emotion for complex or thrilling effects.

                          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                          by Brecht on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 12:56:43 AM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Shakespeare was playing to the pit: (4+ / 0-)

                            He knew who was paying for tickets (cheap seats and expensive ones alike -- not to mention the royal box). And he wrote to his market.

                            I am not blaming him: anyone would have done the same.

                            But when you say

                            Shakespeare had a phenomenal intuition in his storytelling, and knew just how to blend and contrast all the tones of human emotion for complex or thrilling effects.
                            well of course I have to agree. But if he were alive now, he'd be doing the same thing for Disney or the Coen Brothers. Or Pixar.

                            English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

                            by Youffraita on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 01:16:39 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                •  What you can say, without a doubt (4+ / 0-)

                  is that Onegin is held by Russians as the work that both first and best articulated a number of values that are now held as national ideals, from the literary to the moral.  I think that's what Brecht is trying to say, that people look on Pushkin, and Onegin in particular, as Italians look on Dante, Germans on Goethe, and the English on Shakespeare.  He's both that good, that important, and still that vital.

                  (Seriously: if you stop a Russian on the street and ask them to recite parts of Onegin, they usually can.  It's rare to have something that's both so fundamental and that well-loved.)

                  Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                  by pico on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 12:15:03 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

      •  I'm rereading it now. (6+ / 0-)

        Actually, I'm listening to it after having read it a few months back.  I think I once mentioned it here and you described the work as "generous."  I loved that.  Generous is indeed the right word for "Fathers and Sons".  Turgenev is so kind to his characters.  He doesn't necessarily give them beautiful outcomes (Basarov's untimely demise, for example, or Pavel's errant wanderings at the end of his life), but there is a deep current of love running through the pages.  

        This is my first fling with Turgenev.  I have a couple other novels of his  lined up on my shelf, "Home of the Gentry," and "Smoke."  

        I never had Russian Lit when I went to college so I missed out on a lot.  In my dotage, I'm trying to make up for that.  

        It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

        by Radiowalla on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 08:39:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful diary Brecht (14+ / 0-)

    I can't imagine a soul reading this diary, who hasn't yet read the book, not wanting to experience the magic of Toni Morrison. But if there are any of you out there, you deserve 'a two page scolding' from someone ;-)

    I wrote this yesterday, after finishing The Song of Solomon.
    One of my most memorable experiences as a student was in sixth grade, when the teacher Mr. Greenberg announced to the class that he was more interested in the questions we asked than the answers we gave. I didn't understand it so well at the time, but I was left with the distinct impression that it was something to consider and remember. The whole of Morrison's book is full of questions, with the final scene asking us, the readers, to bring the core of ourselves to the process of finding meaning in an atmosphere of ambiguity, to reflect without the satisfaction of an answer. To take our own personal journey through a labyrinth of possibilities, and find satisfaction in whatever 'answer' is most meaningful to us. After reflecting on the final scene and the questions we were left with, I felt that Milkman's journey led him to a place of total surrender, born from an even deeper sense of gratitude and love, for all that contributed to his sense of belonging and feeling whole. "What good is a man's life if he can't even choose what to die for?" I felt that Milkman discovered, simultaneously, both a profound will to live, if even for only a moment, and a good enough reason to die.

    'A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' Greek Proverb

    by janis b on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 05:42:05 PM PST

  •  I really learned a lot, thank you! (11+ / 0-)

    This is a wonderful thought:

    I can sense that she has a huge personality, and that she is singing from all the depths and heights of herself. I can see that in her confidence and flow. Beyond all the mechanics and science she's learned, there is a natural artist at work.
    I really enjoy your diaries!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 05:54:41 PM PST

    •  I found a new phrase, "Community of Reference" (11+ / 0-)
      The key idea here it seems to me is that of a community of reference. Writers can deal with a modest income if they feel they are writing toward a body of readers who are aware of their work and buy enough of it to keep the publisher happy.

      The publishing part is beyond hypothetical, but this Community of Reference I've found in Readers & Book Lovers nourishes me and my writing in so many ways. When the people whose diaries I admire praise one of my children, I glow and want to reach even higher. When we get into threads of agreement or sharpening debate, my ideas develop accordingly. Aren't we all blessed together?

      Toni Morrison found great strength in different communities of reference, who fed her vision and her soul. She seems to have a granite authenticity, and an immense radar for relationships, and all the ways we help and hurt each other.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 06:55:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another masterwork of a diary, (11+ / 0-)

    Brecht. Between you reminding me of the glory of Song of Solomon and my son studying his first Morrison, Beloved, at university, I think the universe is telling me to revisit her work.

    Her latest two novels, A Mercy and Home, may not be regarded as her finest work but you can see her power in them.

  •  The Reggae Connection: (10+ / 0-)

    Milkman flew.
    Ms Morrison said that for inspiration she read slave narratives telling of the Africans who flew back home. “No one actually saw, but they knew of someone who did.” The Igbos were actually known as the Flying Africans.
    Many swore that Alexander Bedward actually did fly.

    Dip dem Bedward, Dip dem
    Dip dem in the healing stream
    Dip dem deep but not too deep
    Dip dem fe cure bad feeling.'
    Bedward, the father of Garveyism and Rastafarianism, was a Jamaican who was born in 1859 and died in 1930. Bedward was a thorn in the side of the English in late 1800s through to the early 1900s.
    Alexander Bedward believed he could fly. The history books will show that he died in a mental asylum, but local folklore says he climbed on top of a church from which he flew off never to be seen again. It is believed that he made his way back to Africa.

    .....................................

    Thank you, Brecht for this beautiful diary.

    You spoke about the absence of white people in the book. I think that was a conscious decision by Toni Morrison and not unlike some white writers who, in their rescripting of history choose the total erasure of the black form ...except when needed as the one-dimensional domestic help.
    Ms Morrison took it even further than that, she was even going to totally ignore the "white gaze,"

    Confronting the oppressor who is white male or white woman. It's race. And the person who defines you under those circumstances is a white mind - tells you whether you're worthy or what have you. And as long as that's your preoccupation, you're defending yourself against that. Reacting to it. Reacting to the definition - saying it's not true. African American women never do that. They never write about white men. I couldn't care less - I didn't want to spend my energy refuting that gaze."
    In this book, her primary focus was writing about black people just living.

    Thanks again, Brecht.
    You make me want to read.

    Maya Angelou: "Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."

    by JoanMar on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 06:57:29 PM PST

  •  Haven't read this one yet (15+ / 0-)

    I've read three of Morrison's books so far:  Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Jazz.  She demands a lot of readers.  You can't be passive reading er books; she demands concentration and willingness to deal with her intensity.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 07:53:41 PM PST

  •  Beautiful diary, as always. nt (10+ / 0-)

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 08:46:04 PM PST

  •  Brecht and co: (6+ / 0-)

    Terrific diary and thread!

    Love the rocket ship metaphor, Brecht. Well-put.

    When I first read Song of Solomon as an undergrad in the late 80s, I felt as if I had been riding the currents of a gale force wind- albeit one rooted not in destruction so much as the breath of creation itself. Really.

    Re-reading it over the years has done nothing to dispel that initial rush. If anything, Morrison's sly humor emerges when you least expect it. At the time, I wrote in some undergrad essay that she had truly turned Dylan's off-handed observation

    it's life and life only
    into the punchline that it should have been in the first place. My hippie-ish Prof indulged me (while suggesting that I read Their Eyes Were Watching God - good call!), but its remained an entry point even after re-reading it.

    This is not a comic novel, per se. But a good joke has a lot of soul. In all senses of the word.

    Song of Solomon is one of our/the great novels: endlessly fecund and certainly represents Morrison at the height of her not inconsiderable powers.

    There's a little of everything here; it all serves the story.

    There is no depth to education without art.- Amiri Baraka. RIP

    by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 02:10:00 AM PST

    •  I had fun with the rocket ship metaphor (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges

      Luckily, I finished the book early, and it was very yeasty - so my responses had time to ferment, and I found space to shape them into a whole image. Incubation is a creative goldmine.

      Your own metaphor is apt and shimmering: "the currents of a gale force wind . . . the breath of creation"

      Dylan's an interesting comparison, as he also makes dense and towering art. I'm not certain that line is just an "off-handed observation". He's always several steps ahead of me; I generally surrender, and let him take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind . . .

      This is not a comic novel, per se. But a good joke has a lot of soul. In all senses of the word.
      Very nice.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 11:42:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  she is a master. a true master. (6+ / 0-)

    she has shattered me with her writing. stopped my breathing, changed my thinking.

    she is a natural wonder, a force of the universe. i LOVE her and meeting her is on my bucket list.

    the other master? Margaret Atwood, also a wonder.

    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller

    by pfiore8 on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 05:16:36 AM PST

    •  "she has shattered me with her writing. stopped my (3+ / 0-)

      breathing, changed my thinking."

      And she intends to do all this. The marvel is how she brings such deliberate force to bear, yet also sings naturally from her own heart: controlled power and relaxed flow. No wonder it takes her five years to write a novel, to effect that seamless marriage of technique and grace.

      Atwood also intrigues me, though I've only read The Handmaid's Tale so far. Surfacing, Oryx & Crake and Blind Assassin are on my TBR.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 11:20:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  at least three times (8+ / 0-)

    I've read this book at least three times and I love it. it is complex and never stops being interesting.

    My late sister was a huge fan of The Bluest Eye, a book by Morrison I also love.

    Morrison gave a talk at the U of Michigan one year, and my sister and I went to see her, but by the time we got there (early!) the place was overflowing, and we could only hear her over a loudspeaker outside of the building. We were crushed.

    My daughter couldn't get past the first few pages of Jazz because she thought they were so beautifully written, she just kept re-reading them. Eventually she did finish and it's her favorite Morrison novel.

    She is an amazing writer. Beloved just about destroyed me.

    •  "Beloved just about destroyed me." Me too. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Monsieur Georges

      I started it 20 years ago, and still haven't finished it. But I will. The New York Times in 2006 voted it the best book of the last 25 years. And what a brave book, indeed, for a popular author.

      I respect her courage, to dive into bleak, painful and dense terrains. I expect I'll read most of her novels (and some of her criticism and theory) in time. But I'm looking forward especially to Jazz (for beautiful language) and Tar Baby (which I hope will be more upbeat).

      I'm sorry you didn't see Toni Morrison. I've heard similar stories - she has a huge and dedicated following.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 11:28:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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