Beloved

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I started a new reading project, inspired by the New York Times shortlist of the 25 books on which they're asking their readers to pick "the best book of the past 125 years". (Which I noticed via Ann Althouse.)

Of those 25 books, I'd read 11. And one more was iffy: James Joyce's Ulysses. Assigned by my English prof, Jenijoy La Belle (who has her own Wikipedia page, good for her). I didn't come close to getting it. I may have looked at every page.

So: 14 books go on the TBR list, and the first up is Beloved.

It's not a pleasant read. Set mainly in the outskirts of 1870s Cincinnati, revolving around the story of Sethe, a onetime escaped slave. Sethe's life is a nonstop horror show, from the reality of slavery in Kentucky, a perilous botched escape, and eventual settlement into "124", a onetime refuge house for escapees. Unfortunately, 124 is haunted by a nasty poltergeist, the vengeful spirit of Sethe's daughter "Beloved". (We eventually learn how Beloved died. It wasn't pleasant.) Another ex-slave, Paul D, shows up and manages to send the ghost packing. But (oh oh) the spirit takes possession of another body, shows up at 124, and proceeds to form complex relationships with Sethe, her (living) daughter Denver, and Paul D.

That's the bare bones of the plot. Toni Morrison's prose is arty and not particularly accessible. There are multiple points of view, and a lot of skipping back and forth in time. I can see how people can find it to be important literature. It won a bunch of prizes, including the Pulitzer.

Fun fact (from the book's Wikipedia page):

In Virginia, Beloved was considered for removal from the Fairfax County senior English reading list due to a parent's 2017 complaint that "the book includes scenes of violent sex, including a gang rape, and was too graphic and extreme for teenagers". Parental concern about Beloved's content inspired the Beloved Bill, legislation that would have required Virginia public schools to notify parents of any "sexually explicit content" and provide an alternative assignment if requested. The bill was vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe. When McAuliffe ran again for the governor's office in 2021, a major event in the election was his statement during a debate that, "Yeah, I stopped the bill that—I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."
I can understand why teachers assign the book, I can understand why parents would object. And I can understand why McAuliffe lost on that comment alone.