In Reading Women, the Cut talks to women who interest us about the books by women that transformed the way they think.
When I think about the book that transformed the way I think, it’s Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The first time I read it I was in high school. I hadn’t read that much about the very particular, peculiar, everyday horrors of slavery, and those were the things that really stood out to me. That stuff is no less harrowing now, but I can also see all the other ways the novel is working on a psychological level. Throughout the book, Morrison finds ways to take us back to things that have happened in the characters’ pasts: the history of relationships and love, and, obviously, the history of slavery and violence and trauma. It really helped me think about how memory works. You’re never just in one moment. You’re always time-traveling between what you’re experiencing and how it connects to things you’ve experienced before. The more I’ve read that book over and over, the more that stands out to me: How everything is connected to what has happened before, and everything we perceive is influenced by our past experiences.
Beloved is also a book about people who don’t really have any formal education — former slaves — but Morrison never doubts the complexity of their inner lives. The book reinforces the basic humanity and complexity of these characters, when I think often people assume that they couldn’t have been having any sort of deep thoughts. But people have really complex thoughts, and really nuanced perceptions and ideas about living and the world. That’s something that’s happened outside of formal education for a long time.
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