Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were
Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

So, this is another gushing post where I tell you just to go out and get a copy of this book, now, and read it, now.

The book starts with Janie, our protagonist  returning home after some time away. The townspeople watch her walk to her house, gossiping, wondering where she's been, what she's been up to. Of course, it's only her best friend Pheoby who actually goes to the house to welcome Janie back home. She's as curious as anyone about Janie. She feeds Janie, and in return is told her story.
Pheoby's hungry listening helped Janie to tell her story. So she went on thinking back to her young years and explaining them to her friend in soft, easy phrases while all around the house, the night time put on flesh and blackness. 
There are quotable passages on nearly every page. Beautiful, lush, evocative, language everywhere. This book is known for Hurston's use of dialect, and it is noticeable and distinct. She contrasts the colloquial with the ethereal in a way that has to be experienced for yourself. 

I read this book in high school, and I just couldn't get it through my thick skull. Back then, I had no real understanding about systemic, institutionalized racism or sexism. My English teacher tried to introduce us to literature that would expose us to these ideas, but without the solid historical background, and maturity to critically think about them, they were hopelessly lost on 16 year old me. The most I gleaned was that it was a local story - the title comes from Janie's experience living through a hurricane. Though the book doesn't explicitly mention it, it is based on the devastating 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. This storm was the second deadliest in United States history, and 75% of those who died were poor migrant farm workers, mostly African Americans.

Here are a couple pictures I took several years ago as I happened across the mass grave site used to bury the people of color who perished during the storm:
   Site finally receives a marker.
Wide view of the site. 

While the storm and its aftermath are an integral park of the book, it is not the whole story. This is Janie's story, through and through. She is a remarkable woman, who tries to follow society's rules and still find her happiness, until she realizes that just isn't going to work for her. Through her tale, you can see the limits placed on women like her, and how far we've come - but how far we yet have to go.

Want more like this? Try:  
  • "The Wrong They Could Not Bury", Dave Scheiber. It's not a book, but read this short article that talks more about the efforts of the African American community to have the mass grave site properly marked and recognized.
  • Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Hurston's autobiography, which includes portions about writing Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Sister CarrieTheodore Dreiser. Another great book with a strong, unconventional female lead.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Salon: October Wrap Up

Wow, October. The month just flew by. I feel like I've been thinking that after many of these monthly wrap-ups, and now I'm realizing it's November. I guess that means the whole year is really flying by.

I've got less than two months to meet my reading goals for the year. I've read 73 books so far. My overall goal is 100 - eek! Of course, last year I did read 21 books in December. Then again, I wasn't working full time.

I'm good on most of my challenges, except for the Back to the Classics challenge. I've read 5 out of 9 so far. I've started a 6th, Rebecca, so it's doable to finish before the end of the year, but it's going to be tough.

Here's my October breakdown:
9 books total    
8 fiction               88%
1 nonfiction         12%
8 female authors  88%
0 translated         0%

I do have two books in translation out from the library! I've had a significant drop off in reading translated books. Again, this is a reoccurring refrain. I am going to set a personal goal for this in 2013. Or maybe find a challenge. I'm sure there's a challenge out there, right? If you know of one, let me know :-)