This post is part of our Toni Morrison Reading Day: a celebration of one of our favorite authors on the occasion of her new novel, Home. Check out the rest right here.
The only living American with a little thing we like to call The Nobel Prize for Literature, Toni Morrison is not only one of the most important novelists of our time, but also one of the most difficult. While Beloved and Song of Solomon are her most famous novels, I don’t think that’s where I would start.
Here’s my suggested beginner’s course in Toni Morrison, with reading Beloved as the goal:
Morrison’s first novel isn’t a cakewalk, but the cast of characters is smaller and the plot is easier to follow than the later works. It’s also a good introduction to some of her thorough-going concerns and her particular brand of metaphor. I think your reaction to The Bluest Eye will be a pretty good litmus test for your reaction to Morrison’s work in general.
Hard to decide between this and Sula, but I suggest Paradise because I think the ending is better preparation for what happens in Beloved than anything in Sula. A crucial skill in reading Morrison is getting comfortable with ambiguity and a certain amount of confusion about what is going on. It’s not just you; it’s part of the ride.
By now, you’re accustomed to Morrison’s use of violence, her guarded narrative style, and her confounding yet transcendent use of metaphor. Beloved‘s not going to be easy, but at this point you’re well-prepared. If you’ve still got a taste for Morrison after Beloved, I’d go Sula next and then Song of Solomon. At this point I think you can say you’ve got her major works under your belt. Tar Baby, Jazz, Love, and A Mercy are still all interesting in their own right, but not on the level of the other five.
So, Morrison fans, what do you think? Are these the right stairs to the summit?