Yes, a very weird and convoluted blog title today. I failed to post a Rose Recommends for August because I wasn’t feeling inspired to recommend anything in particular. Conveniently, however, this week’s Classic Remarks prompt from Pages Unbound is to recommend a diverse classic! And I’m only 2 days late for my recommendation, so shhhh….
Anyway, check out the great weekly prompts from this top-notch blog. (I participated in 1 other so far, which you can check out here if you like). Here’s this week’s prompt:
Recommend a diverse classic. Or you can argue that a diverse book should be a classic or should be included in the canon. (Or you can argue that the book should be a classic, but that you don’t want to see it in the canon.)
I’m recommending Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937). This is one of those books that I really didn’t enjoy in high school, but lo and behold, I enjoyed later in life…ironically because I taught it in a high school English class. Fortunately, my students seemed to like it because I was an awesome teacher 😛
Anywho, this book is particularly special because of its use of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) as it was spoken in the south in the 1930s. This can be frustrating for some readers, because Hurston spells out the dialogue to make it read as it would actually sound when spoken. Check it:
“If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all.”
Note: this book is GREAT to listen to in audiobook form; I used it a lot with my students in class, and it’s narrated by Ruby Dee, so you can’t go wrong. It’s excellent, especially if you’re put off by the writing (and even if you aren’t).
To make it even more interesting, the prose of the narration is stunningly beautiful. The contrast between the AAVE and the narration is a bit jarring, but both are just as poetic, and the styles are different, so the resulting juxtaposition is lovely. Check it:
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.”
*Kisses fingers in Italian chef fashion* Bellissimo!
Furthermore, the story follows one of the strongest, most complex female heroines I have ever read about. And the best thing is, critics disagree on whether or not she is “strong” – whether or not she actually makes her own decisions or is driven by other factors (men, society, money, etc.). What’s not to love about a character so complex that people disagree on something as fundamental as her will? Janie is the type of complex female character so many people are craving for today, and she was invented over 75 years ago.
Another really interesting thing about this book is that there are almost no white characters. This was something a bit different than the stereotypical black literature of the time, which strove to highlight black vs. white struggles. This book is about black vs. black struggles, which was something not many writers were doing at that time. Hurston actually got some flack for that too, but such is the way when someone does something different. The book is bloody brilliant.
Seriously, though, I’ve your looking for a great feminist read and/or a great African American read, go no further. Also, if you’ve read the book and are interested in diving more into some of the themes, check out Crash Course Literature; they recently did a video on Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Also, there’s the most sexual scene you will ever read that involves a tree being pollinated. If that doesn’t peak your curiosity, I don’t know what will.
So there you have it. Let me know if you’ve read this book or now want to because of my glistening recommendation 😉
Literary fiction/classic/realistic fiction
FOR THOSE WHO LIKE:
- Black history
- Powerful, complex prose
THINGS PEOPLE MIGHT NOT LIKE:
- The AAVE trips people up
- Plot can be boring to some people