The time has finally come … time to pick the first two books we (or I) will read exclusively for the blog.
A Mercy by Toni Morrison vs On Beauty by Zadie Smith
In the 1680s the slave trade in the Americas is still in its infancy. Jacob Vaark is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a small holding in the harsh North. Despite his distaste for dealing in “flesh,” he owns a small girl in part payment for a bed debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Rejected by her mother, Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, and later from the handsome Blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives. A Mercy reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, like Beloved, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and daughter – a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise the abandonment.
Howard Belsey is a middle-class white liberal Englishman teaching abroad at Wellington, a thinly disguised version of one of the Ivies. He is a Rembrandt scholar who can’t finish his book and a recent adulterer whose marriage is now on the slippery slope to disaster. His wife, Kiki, a black Floridian, is a warm, generous, competent wife, mother, and medical worker. Their children are Jerome, disgusted by his father’s behavior, Zora, Wellington sophomore firebrand feminist and Levi, eager to be taken for a “homey,” complete with baggy pants, hoodies and the ever-present iPod. This family has no secrets–at least not for long. They talk about everything, appropriate to the occasion or not. And, there is plenty to talk about.
The other half of the story is that of the Kipps family: Monty, stiff, wealthy ultra-conservative vocal Christian and Rembrandt scholar, whose book has been published. His wife Carlene is always slightly out of focus, and that’s the way she wants it. She wafts over all proceedings, never really connecting with anyone. That seems to be endemic in the Kipps household. Son Michael is a bit of a Monty clone and daughter Victoria is not at all what Daddy thinks she is. Indeed, Forster’s advice, “Only connect,” is lost on this group.
The two academics have long been rivals, detesting each other’s politics and disagreeing about Rembrandt. They are thrown into further conflict when Jerome leaves Wellington to get away from the discovery of his father’s affair, lands on the Kipps’ doorstep, falls for Victoria and mistakes what he has going with her for love. Howard makes it worse by trying to fix it. Then, Kipps is granted a visiting professorship at Wellington and the whole family arrives in Massachusetts.
“Most of us don’t have to worry about being shot if we poke our noses outside. So we are comfortable, but the people I’m writing about are definitely not comfortable, and being shot while they’re still inside is a good possibility.”
For Reading is the New Black’s first author spotlight, I’ve decided to introduce to my readers my favorite unsung author – Octavia E. Butler.
Octavia E. Butler was born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California. As a child she was drawn to science fiction magazine and soon branched out to reading the science fiction classics. At the age of 12, Octavia was inspired to begin writing science fiction after watching a bad science fiction movie. She thought that she could write better stories than the movie – the rest is history.
This MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant recipient penned five science fiction series and a number of short stories before her death on February 24, 2006.
Why you should know who she is and read her works –
The genre of science fiction is a predominately white, male field so to be a successful Black, gay, female writer in this genre is something to make a big deal about. Her protagonists tend to be Black women set in dystopian futures or in parallel realities. Her writing isn’t always viewed as your typical science fiction read, you won’t find futuristic weapons and interplanetary travel. For those who like to nit pick, work falls in to the speculative fiction realm of science fiction.
Her books are rich with social criticism, off the top of my head I can talk about the themes of class, race, and gender that I picked up on while reading The Patternist and Parable Series. Altogether, I’ve read 6 of her novels and have made it a personal goal of mine to read all of her published works.
Her novel, Kindred is on the 2013 reading list. I chose this novel because it one of her two stand alone novels, and I also have never read it. I hope you all vote for it.
If you would like to know more about Octavia E. Butler (other than Wikipedia), click on the links below.