Category Archives: Vintage Books

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Title: The Bluest Eye
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307278449
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 206
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I read this book a long time ago. I think it was 2001. It has been nineteen years, and my love for this book only grows with passing time. The Bluest Eye is a book that needs to be read by everyone. It is a book that is most contested, and also banned in schools and colleges in the US of A. It is a book that didn’t shy away from saying what it had to, when it was first published in 1970, and even after 50 years, it says all that it has to and reaches more readers every single day.

The novel takes place in Lorain, Ohio and tells the story of a young African American girl Pecola, who grows up in the years following The Great Depression. She is deemed to be ugly by people around her. She believes it as well. All she wants the bluest of eyes (like the Shirley Temple Doll), which to her is the quality of a “white girl” – the kind of girl everyone loves and adores. And even then, though Pecola is at the heart of this novel, she is the soul of the novel so to say, we as readers will never hear her side of the story. Morrison doesn’t grant us that.

I cannot say anything new about this classic that hasn’t already been said before. It has all been said in 50 years, and more. All narratives have been explored. All angles have been analysed. What remains at the heart of it is a story told that is traumatic, holding a mirror to our society, and showing the dark recesses of human nature.

Toni Morrison never did flinch from telling things the way they were. Yes, The Bluest Eye might make some readers most uncomfortable. But that’s the intent. To feel that discomfort and understand and empathise and see the world differently. Yes, it is about Pecola and her abusive father and her mother who cannot do anything. But that’s the truth Ms. Morrison wanted to bring to fore which she did most candidly – making readers question about beauty, about fitting in, and all of this through an impoverished black girl who just wants to be accepted, and the only way she knows it can happen is by wishing for pretty blue eyes.

The Bluest Eye even when I reread it this month made me look and see at every step of the way – in and out of this book as well. Morrison had said that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she wanted to read it. She makes us aware of children and their lives, their truths and their questions through Pecola and the children who are narrating this story (or have they become adults?). Pecola cannot be shaken, cannot be broken, and as heartbreaking and horrible it is, the only love Pecola seems to have known has come from her abusive father Cholly.

The Bluest Eye makes us see truths that we shy away from. Of how it feels not to be a whole person. Of how it is to know that our cracked selves are just a manifestation of the society we live in. Of how desperately we want the world to look at us differently.

The Bluest Eye to me is about where you come from and where you hope to go. It is all about what you dream about, despite the circumstances, despite what surrounds you, and despite what you look like to the rest of the world (in this case Pecola to the rest of the town and neighbourhood). The Bluest Eye is and will always be a landmark read for me. I will visit it more often than not. Morrison’s debut should be read, and reread, and read some more.

There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange

Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Publisher: Vintage 
ISBN: 9780525436140
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There’s so much happening in There There, but not once did it feel overwhelming or confusing. I could understand each character, their motivations, and the plot as well, right till the end when it all unravels. Actually., it starts unravelling quite early on. As early on as the third chapter or so.

There There (title referring to a quote by Gertrude Stein, which is out of context, but works here) by Tommy Orange is not only important because of the socio-political issues it raises or the ones that are deep-rooted in the novel. It is also important because it is written so well and needs to be read widely. There are 12 characters whose lives are interwoven. They are all Native Americans, living or have lived in Oakland, California. They are all dealing with identity issues, and want to make more sense of their lives, and do better at living. And all their stories and lives converge and meet at the Big Oakland Powwow.

It is a Canterbury Tales like novel, with each narrative unfolding, and un-layering till we get to the end. At the heart of it though it is about Native Americans and their lives – their stories, the injustices, the motivations, the histories deep buried and sometimes unacknowledged, the need to fit in so strongly because that’s what’s been drummed into your head, and about the marginalized and the invisible lives they lead.

Each chapter is of course focused on one character, and yet it never feels disjointed or separate. It all magnificently comes together in the manner of how families are formed – sometimes by birth, and sometimes just. Dene Oxedene’s track in the book is pretty much what the book is about – he is making a documentary on the lives of Native Americans, as they speak about their experiences of living in Oakland.

Tommy Orange’s writing is direct and cuts to the bone. He shows and tells. He does it all. He is a traditional storyteller, and also breaks form multiple times in the course of the book. Yes, sometimes it can get overwhelming to follow lives of 12 people, but it is a ride you want to be on gladly, and understand, comprehend, and make sense of the world we live in.

“The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid—tied to the back of everything we’ve been doing all along to get us here…we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and hand-woven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.”

Do you need to say anything more with this imagery on paper? All I can say is that read this book. Read it with an open mind and heart. I am eagerly looking forward to Tommy Orange’s next.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

giovannis-room-by-james-baldwin Title: Giovanni’s Room
Author: James Baldwin
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0345806567
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ, LGBT
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I waited this long to read this gem. “Giovanni’s Room” was always on my to be read pile but I never picked it up and even if I did, I just read a couple of pages and dropped it. Yes, I am aware of the sacrilege but it is all sorted now and hopefully a thing of the past, because I intend to reread and reread this marvelous book of loss, unrequited love and courage to some extent.

It is a fluid book. At the same time, it is also the kind of book that makes you introspect and travel deep within the recesses of your heart to perhaps realize yourself better. It is about David (the narrator) who is American living in Paris. He has a seemingly normal life with a girlfriend in tow, and things change when he meets Giovanni. It is the 50s and Paris was the place where homosexuality wasn’t illegal, though stigmatized to a large extent. It gives David the freedom to explore and know himself and he unknowingly falls in love with Giovanni only for the book to reach its heartbreaking conclusion (Don’t worry; I shall not spoil it for you, though you will know in the first two pages).

Baldwin wrote this book in the 50s – when perhaps it was unimaginable to think of an LGBT book. David is not likeable. He is confused, lost and often does not come across as a great guy to be with, and yet Baldwin created one of the most unforgettable characters in him and Giovanni and their love story – which is toxic, destructive and will not stop at anything.

Subcultures as presented by the author on every page – many characters unfold as the journey of these two men take place side by side. Love in the margins is not easy to write about. Everything about Giovanni’s room depicts David’s state – emotionally and physically, beautifully portrayed by Baldwin. To sum this book in one line, I will quote from this book: “Nobody can stay in the Garden of Eden”.

365 Short Stories: Day 2: The Snow Child by Angela Carter

the-bloody-chamber-and-other-stories-by-angela-carter

Today’s story was “The Snow Child” by Angela Carter. Taken from the collection “The Bloody Chamber and Other stories”, this is a retelling of “Snow White” and explores aspects of male power, desire and horror.

I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbed I was on reading it, but the craft of Ms. Carter is something else. In fewer than 500 words she manages to make you feel the eroticism of the Count, the envy of the Countess and the innocence of the Snow Child which cannot last for long.

There is the element of surprise, shock and horror – all blend in beautifully in today’s story. A must read, if you ask me.

Here is the link to it: https://biblioklept.org/2013/06/21/the-snow-child-angela-carter/

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes Title: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Author: Roland Barthes
Publisher: Vintage, Random House
ISBN: 978-0099225416
Genre: Photography, Art, Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was never interested in photography. Somehow, it just did not interest me. However, after reading “On Photography” by Susan Sontag and also “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger, I started taking some interest in the subject and I had known of Roland Barthes. Coupled with this was the fact that he had written on photography, so it was just only a matter of time before I would read it.

What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.

“Camera Lucida” is about photos, life, and death and about the cultures we inhabit. The book is not just about photographs and photography. It is a lot more on actually how we see and how we are conditioned to see.

“The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”

The book is all about art – about how paintings came to lose some significance with the invention of the camera and how that was not the case after a couple of years. “Camera Lucida” is a collection of essays on “the photograph by onlooker” than what a photographer may think of his or her photograph. He questions what it means to take pictures and what the probable outcomes of it are.

It is not an easy read, but it is highly satisfying. Barthes draws on examples from life, what surrounds us and how it feels like to have a relationship with a still image in an age of constant movement and newer digital means.

“Camera Lucida” is about interpretation, imagination and art. It is more so about living and what it takes to make sense of art that is all-pervasive. The book is short and just right to know more about photography and the medium that it is. I will of course go back to it at some point. I must also say that it is not a read that you can fly by, however once you sink your teeth in it, it is an excellent read.