Pondering Stew: Isolation and Loneliness in “Beloved” by Toni Morrison

Pondering Stew is a new kind of post for my blog. Basically books will leave me thinking sometimes, pondering and stewing about something, a phrase, a theme, a character, a situation. Usually I will connect it to my life, a current event, a random other thing, or simply an idea. Hopefully some ideas resonate with you even if you haven’t read the book that I triggered this thinking for me. I hope you enjoy it!

Denver’s imagination produced its own hunger and its own food, which she badly needed because loneliness wore her out. Wore her out. Veiled and protected by the live green walls, she felt ripe and clear, and salvation was as easy as a wish.

Beloved by Tony Morrison (italics in original text)

This month I read Beloved with one of my book clubs. I had previously read it in high school for a class and even wrote an essay about the use of the word “veil” in the book. Now I could talk about so many things regarding Beloved; however, some of the things that I’ve been pondering and stewing over while reading this book and many days after I finished it are the themes of loneliness and isolation as well as the consequences of feeling those things for too long.

Beloved really had me thinking…

Beloved was inspired by a real event that involved Margaret Garner, a woman who killed her daughter rather than see her be enslaved again. Here are the characters from Beloved that you can keep in mind as we go through some of the thoughts I had:

  • Sethe: A woman who is able to escape slavery with her children, three were sent ahead of her and then she gave birth to the last one as she was escaping. She is only able to spend 28 days with all her children in some semblance of happiness.
  • Denver: The child Sethe gave birth to as she escaped. Denver is 17 years old when the narration of the book starts.
  • Paul D: A man who lived in Sweet Home, the place Sethe ran away from. Paul D also escaped and has been traveling, trying to find the place where he belongs. He arrives the day that the book starts.

This book has each character carry their loneliness around them, like a blanket that they use for protection. Being lonely means that they don’t have to admit their feelings to other people, isolated they can almost sit next to each other and just be in that moment while shoving all other memories away. None of them make much of an effort to connect to other people either, and most people also leave them alone since they get that feeling that they don’t want to be bothered. In part it is that taboo about how Sethe killed her child and went to prison for it, so there is a reason why people stay away. Denver is also deeply affected by this and doesn’t even get to play with other kids her age, instead she imagines that she plays with her baby sister who was murdered and who now “haunts” her house. Her brothers are barely mentioned but what it does say in the book suggests that they were just waiting for the right moment to leave.

All the characters in Beloved had one or multiple traumatic events happen in their lives that they never really got to process or grieve. Paul D and Beloved both suffered incredible physical torture in the form of beatings, being chained in a box in the ground, and many other unmentionable things. All the characters have suffered mental traumas since they were born into slavery, being treated as objects sold and used however their masters wished, and overall suffered the lack of love and acknowledgement from others throughout their lives.

After more than a year of physical isolation that started in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this book mirrored my own loneliness and isolation in some ways. Pre-pandemic I had a couple groups of people who I interacted with, coworkers, people I went to dance classes and events with, high school friends I saw from time to time. But now I don’t really see many of them at all or as often and I think, wow, I’ve lived in some form of isolation for a year (I’m not fully isolated since I do live with my parents and sister now, but my physical interactions with people face to face have decreased significantly) and this is nothing like what these characters are going through. Each of them were trapped in their own internal isolation and loneliness throughout their lives, it’s so heavy, so heartbreaking.

I imagine Denver, sitting in that space that the trees made and feeling that loneliness, that heaviness and not really knowing what to do with it. Mental health is not something that is prioritized for any of these characters, and of course, why would it be? They have other things to worry about! But nowadays, we can go to therapy, learn how to understand our emotions, learn the difference between being isolated vs being alone, increase our own self-awareness. Not that it’s easy! For me, it has taken me years to get to a point where I can recognize that “oh, I feel…. lonely” or “oh, I did that because I am afraid of what others think of me” and so on. I am still not great at it, but I am working on it. (Thanks to my therapist Ruth!). Thankfully, these characters were able to see through that blanket of loneliness and isolation and saw each other and themselves. Paul D saw a home in Sethe, Sethe saw a glimmer of hope as he extended a hand to her, and Denver saw herself and her own ability to learn and grow and be someone for herself.

Most of us go through these moments (short or long) feeling like we are alone and we’ll never feel anything else, but if anything, Beloved shows us that we can have hope if we turn to the person next to us, or the person within us, that self/soul/essence, that lights our fire and our passions. I encourage you to take a look in the mirror today for 60 seconds, a staring contest with yourself if you will, and see that fire within yourself. It is there, acknowledge it, love it, empower it, because it is what makes you unique and yourself and that is wonderful.

Those were some of the thoughts I’ve pondered and stewed over the past week or so. Beloved left me with many thoughts but these were the ones I went back to again and again. What if Sethe had had a therapist? What if Paul D had talked to someone about his traumas? They didn’t have the means or the access, and many other people still don’t have means or access to mental health help nowadays. But, what if we all did? All of us who need that help could all become self-aware and might be able to see where our true passions lie and that we are truly capable of doing it and achieving our dreams. What if…?

What do you think? Have you felt any of these things before? Also, did you do the mirror challenge? How did it go? Let me know in the comments!

April 2021 Book Bites

April 2021. Last time I posted one of these posts it was 2018, that does not escape me. It is cliche but life happened and got in the way of me working on the blog like I wanted to. And then I didn’t feel like reading much during the pandemic so not a lot to write about. Then, finally, a couple of months ago I started reading and joining book clubs (virtually) and the urge to get back to blogging came back with that. So, I am here again, finishing up posts that I started back in 2018 and working on new ones. As we know that life can be complicated and full of twists and turns, all I can promise is that as long as I am having fun with the blog I’ll continue with it. So, let’s remember how it was that I rated books:

  1. Perspective Rating: Does this book show me different perspectives? This score is all about diverse points of view!
  2. Emotional Rating: Does this book tug at my heartstrings? Does it make me sad, angry, inspired, emotional in any way? Of course, emotions could go from me loving the book to completely hating it so this rating can be complex depending on the book.
  3. Bites Rating: This is all about annotation and language? Did I have to stop and savor certain lines or passages? Was it confusing? Simple? Complex? The more I highlight and have trouble picking one bite for the review/post the better the score.
  4. Overall Rating: Average of the above three ratings.

Let’s get started!

The first book I read this month was Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I was supposed to read this last year but never got around to it. This book was very different from my normal reads, a contemporary book with a 20-some year old who works as a babysitter and doesn’t quite have a plan on what to do with her life (as many of her friends and family members are quick to tell her). There is a lot of social commentary on racial bias, the white hero complex, career expectations, and self judgement about pursuing a fulfilling career vs a profitable one.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Favorite Bite:

But there was something about the actual work, the practice of caring for a small unstructured person, that left Emira feeling smart and in control. There was the gratifying reflex of being good at your job, and even better was the delightful good fortune of having a job you wanted to be good at.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 This book did have a different perspective from my own from Emira’s point of view as well as the point of view of a nanny of color taking care of white children. It’s a difficult topic to breach and at times it did feel like we got more from the white savior’s point of view than from Emira’s. Especially the ending where things were wrapped up a bit too fast and focused more on Mrs Chamberlain than Emira.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 A lot of this book definitely made me feel angry. Angry at the way people treat nannies and caretakers. Nannies and caretakers tend to be mostly women of color and they don’t get healthcare or other benefits a lot of the time, mostly because it’s a system that is set up by each family. It left me with a lot of unanswered questions, which was probably the point but I also lacked some more depth at the end.
  • Bites Rating: 4/10 I highlighted exactly nothing of this book. It was easy to read, nothing complicated, but also nothing stood out for me.
  • Overall Rating: 6.33/10 It was a good book, I wanted to know more about the story but a lot of it was filled with microaggressions towards the main character. A lot of the time I found myself frustrated with all of the characters and rolling my eyes at the decisions they were making. The only character who was enjoyable in this book was Briar, the toddler. That being said, it did open my eyes to the world of nannies and the struggles that they face so that was definitely valuable for me.

The second book I read in April was a manga: Himouto! Umaru-chan Vol.1 by Sankaku Head. I got this book at Barnes and Noble where they had set up a blind date with a manga, which seemed like an exciting prospect. I am so glad that this was a fast read because I did not like it XD The book centers a brother and sister, the brother works a full time job while the sister (Umaru-chan) goes to high school, is practically perfect, beautiful girl, but then we find out that she basically makes zero effort, she’s just naturally gifted. She also just complains and emotionally manipulates her brother to get all the things she wants. I mostly felt bad for him and the way he enabled her all the time.

Himouto! Umaru-chan Vol.1 by Sankaku Head
  • Favorite Bite:

My sixteen-year-old sister is throwing a temper tantrum over a manga… this is…not good!!! She’s my responsibility…! Umaru’s been living in my apartment for a year now… and she just gets lazier and more spoiled by the day!! At this rate she’ll never be able to make it in the real world!!

Himouto! Umaru-chan Vol.1 by Sankaku Head
  • Perspective Rating: 3/10 It gets points for being set in Japan so you do get some cultural references. Other than that I can’t think of much else to give it points regarding perspective.
  • Emotional Rating: 3/10 If frustration counts then yeah I was very frustrated. The main character was so uninspiring. And I think this is supposed to be a comedic book, but I guess I do not like this type of comedy. Sigh…
  • Bites Rating: 2/10 Okay so it’s a manga so it might be a bit more difficult to find good lines and such. I also don’t read many manga so it’s hard to know how to annotate them. I mostly just read them straight through so perhaps an unfair rating here. Still, I was not impressed.
  • Overall Rating: 2.66 Yeah… not the best. Needless to say, I will not continue with the series. I did hear there was an anime series but can’t say that I’m inspired to watch it either.

Throughout the month I also read Beloved by Toni Morrison. What a change of pace! This is actually a book I read when I was in high school. Needless to say I have a different life perspective now and I think I got way more out of it. I’m working on a post just for Beloved so I’ll update this post once that is up. The book is about Sethe, a woman who escapes slavery while pregnant. She is able to get to her children who were sent ahead of her to safety and now live with her mother in law. Then, merely 28 days after she arrives with them, she sees that some white men have found her and want to take her back, which leads her to killing one of her children. The book switches perspectives between the characters and from the present time, years after she killed her child, to the time she was still enslaved, as well as her journey as she escaped. A very complex, beautiful, and heartbreaking book.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Favorite Bite:

Their skirts flew like wings and their skin turned pewter in the cold and dying light.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 This is a very unique perspective. Toni Morrison describes in the introduction that this book was inspired by a real event where a Sethe killed her child in order to keep her from slavery. She’s also able to immerse the reader in the memories of the characters. We get to go into Paul D, Denver, Sethe, and Beloved’s minds and memories, some of which are fuzzy and sometimes overwhelming.
  • Emotional Rating: 9/10 I was overwhelmed a lot of times with this book. It’s a very heavy book that doesn’t let one take a breath easily. One should take this book slooooooow. I read it at night before bed, just 20 pgs or so each time and that worked for me.
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I mean this book is just beautifully written. Some sentences I just needed to stop and think about the passage or re-read the sentence in order to let the words sink in. Sometimes sentences would have deeper meanings and would reference things from the past in obscure ways so it definitely made the reader work (I enjoy that in books!).
  • Overall Rating: 9.66 Beloved is really a great book, the first in the Beloved Trilogy. I have also read the second book in the trilogy, Jazz and I enjoyed that one a tad more (perhaps it was because it’s a bit less violent and more psychological). I would like to re-read Jazz and then finish up the trilogy with Paradise (eventually).

The next three books I read during Dewey’s 24-hr Readathon, you can check out that post here. Either way, the ratings I gave there were only for Goodreads so let’s see how they stack up in terms of the Bites of Books ratings.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Favorite Bite:

I was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance. I loved a few of my teachers. But I cannot say that I truly believed any of them.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 Black voices have often been silenced and listening to a black man tell his life story and point of view via audiobook was incredibly powerful. I highly recommend you listen to this audiobook because it really adds to the experience.
  • Emotional Rating: 10/10 This book is a perfect balance of hard truths being put on the table while inviting for some hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Society has racist roots, there’s no way around it, we still live in a society that treats black people a less than. What we can do now is listen to black people, believe them, support them in every way we can.
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I listened to this book so I couldn’t annotate it. However, I found myself listening hard, really taking in his words and pausing and thinking about a couple of passages. The book also sounds at times like spoken word, there’s a rhythm to his words that is really quite beautiful.

I also read The Duke and I by Julia Quinn. I don’t normally read romance but I watched the Netflix show Bridgerton and I got curious. NOTE: There should be trigger warnings for the show and the book for sexual assault. The book is about a 20-something lady, Daphne, who is in search of a husband but isn’t having a lot of good prospects. Meanwhile she meets a Duke, Simon, who is set on never wanting to marry. They come up with a plot to seem interested in each other in order to bring better prospects for Daphne and keep the mothers and young ladies away from Simon.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn + Seiko
  • Favorite Bite:

There were always whispers. And whispers, if left unchecked, could quickly grow into roars.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
  • Perspective Rating: 2/10 I mean…. Regency romance… nothing new or unexpected for here for me.
  • Emotional Rating: 4/10 I will give this book that it was fun to read, minus the sexual assault, which is near the end of the book, everything after that was just …..sigh…..
  • Bites Rating: 4/10 The writing was easy to read, nothing too impressive or complicated. I did not annotate the book at all and there are no passages that stand out to me.
  • Overall Rating: 3.33/10 Yeah overall this book wasn’t amazing but it was entertaining. It’s junk food if you will. I didn’t suffer reading it, it was just not out of this world. I will continue reading the series since I bought them impulsively so I guess you’ll see updates about that eventually.

The last book I finished this month was The Rain God by Arturo Islas. This book was really wonderful and heartbreaking in so many ways. It is not often that I find books detailing what it is to be part of a Mexican family living in the US. Although my family’s situation is different, I did identify with a lot of the issues described in the book. It follows the Angel family, from the grandmother, Mama Chona, to her grandson Miguel Chico and their life (and death) experiences.

The Rain God by Arturo Islas
  • Favorite Bite:

As his hands reached for the pain in his chest, El Compa heard only the buzzing of a lone cicada sending out its love signal in the distance toward the poor people’s cemetery.

The Rain God by Arturo Islas
  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 It is rare that I see so much of myself, my family, my culture in a book. Unfortunately books with this point of view are not often popular or given a lot of publicity.
  • Emotional Rating: 10/10 This book hit me emotionally in so many ways! Not all of it was comfortable and not all of it was nice and happy feelings. In fact, most of it was uncomfortable and challenged a lot of customs and beliefs that permeate the Mexican culture.
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I lucked out because this book was already heavily annotated when I purchased it from a thrift store. And I say that I lucked out because I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with a lot of the annotations the previous owner had made. Both in understanding of the text as well as in what was annotated. There were even some parts of the book that I read out loud to my family and that is something I can safely say I’ve never done before.
  • Overall Rating: 10/10 This book might be one of my favorites of the year.

Have you read any of the books that I mentioned here? What was your favorite book you read this month?

And that was April! I read 6 books in a month! I am on a roll right now with my reading and I’m looking forward to what will come next in May. Stay tuned for a TBR and other May plans 🙂

Dewey’s 24 hr Read-A-Thon — April 24, 2021

This weekend I took part in Dewey’s 24hr Readathon. I live on the West Coast so I got to start at 5am. Glorious! -_-‘ I am not normally one to get up early but I wanted to actually do this and get some reading done this Saturday so I set my alarm to get up at 4:30am. wow.

But first I needed to prep! The week before I put together the following TBR:

As you can see these are pretty varied books, from romance to fantasy! Overall a fun pile of books! I had already started The Duke and I and read one story from Smoke and Mirrors but that’s alright.

My day started at 4:30am with some Overnight Oats (Mint Chocolate Chip). This is not an ad but I loooooove Overnight Oats.

I started out in my office couch with kitty and The Duke and I by Julia Quinn.

And so I read for a good couple of hours on the couch! The Duke and I is rather steamy and spicy so it was very easy to just read and keep reading. The tension and the chemistry between Simon and Daphne were definitely tangible through the pages and, even after seeing the series on Netflix I did enjoy the way that the book focused more on the two of them instead of all the other characters.

At around 8am my sister brought me some caffeine in the form of an Orange Peel Mocha from the local coffee shop:

Once I had the caffeine in my system I just kept reading through the morning (I also had a jalapeño bagel for more fuel) and moved to a different couch (ha!). I finished The Duke and I at around noon and my thoughts on that were very mixed! On the one hand I definitely loved the more intimate look at the Bridgerton family and the discussion on childhood trauma and the effect on someone’s life. However, there was a sexual assault scene that I was very uncomfortable with soooooooo yeah that changed things. I ended up giving this book 3 stars because it was definitely very entertaining and fun to read but a key part of the book was just very uncomfortable for me so I couldn’t give it more than that.

For the next book I moved outside!

I started out The Rain of God by Arturo Islas and it was a difficult read for me. Not because it was badly written or anything but because it hit home! It is all about a Mexican American family plus their experience living in a small town near the border of the US and Mexico. There are so many parts of this book that are heavy and really quite painful. There is violence, emotional and physical abuse, cheating, hypocrisy, just a lot. Because of that, after a carne asada dinner with my family I took a bath and listened to an audiobook.

Between the World and Me was amazing and so so important!

So yes, I strayed from the TBR but is that news? XD I had already started listening to the audiobook for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and so I listened to the last 2 hours of the book. This was also my first ever audiobook and I absolutely loved it. This was a good break for my eyes aaaand I was able to open up a package that I got that day that was full of stationery and stickers, a mystery bag from Stickii while I listened to the audiobook.

After I finished unboxing I sat and listened to Between the World and Me. It was honestly a great experience to hear the author himself narrate the book. It’s a powerful story that he’s telling his son, about what it means to be a black man and carry the weight of always being on alert. Is he doing all the right things in order to preserve his body intact? The contrast of him going to France where he doesn’t have to do that is startling. As a woman I identified with some of the aspects of always being on guard, saying the right things, wearing the right clothes, etc. His perspective serves as a window into what it’s like to live as a black man in the United States and one that I would like to continue learning about in order to be a better ally for black people.

After finishing this book I took a bit of a break and then continued reading The Rain God. I came back into the office where I started my day, put on some music and finished the book in the next few hours. Each chapter in the book is about a different member of the family. One of the chapters is about Felix, a gay man who is beaten to death. Why is it that so many people, people of color, people who have different sexual orientations, people who practice different religions, always have to live as others say they should live? This readathon put these two books in parallel for me, characters in The Rain God have to assimilate into American culture, which means thinking less of people browner than them, people who don’t speak English “properly”, etc. We are all part of the obstacle that stands in front of people who simply want to live their lives as they are. If anything, these books taught me to listen and read more of these stories to be able to see from other perspectives, even if it is so so hard to do so. For it isn’t easy to learn about so many black people being murdered by police and it’s also not easy to read about Mexican people like me who are prejudiced of other Mexican people who are simply trying to survive.

And so I called it a night at around 11pm. Although the readathon was not over I was very much done for the day. I rated these last two books 5 stars each! They both gave me a lot to think about and have motivated me to learn more while still trying to enjoy my reading.

So, in the end I finished 3 books, read a total of ~13.5 hours and read 640 pages! I call that a WIN. I also got BINGO for the Bingo Challenge! I didn’t describe what each challenge was for but you can see it below:

Pink = The Duke and I
Blue = The Rain God
Purple = Between the World and Me

And that was my experience with Dewey’s 24 hr Readathon this weekend! I did have a good book hangover all Sunday ha! I slept in and just kept pondering about all the books. Also I had two book club meetings that day: one with my friends from Mexico, we are reading Obsidian Puma by Zoe Saadia, and the other with the Questbridge Alumni book club where we read Beloved by Toni Morrison. All in all a big reading weekend!

Did you participate in the Dewey’s 24 hr Readathon? Have you read any of the books I mentioned here?