The way to ruin a good story…

I am a fan of Toni Morrison.  She is the author of 11 novels and 3 essay collections. And one short story. 

The short story “Recitatif” was first published in 1983 in an anthology.  In February of this year it was published as a stand-alone book with an introduction by Zadie Smith. 

Now then – 

In the edition of the book I just read, the introduction, including Notes, runs to 49 pages. The story itself is 37. 

Do you see the problem here?

I’m not going to present a lecture on Toni Morrison, her books (which appear on most right-wing banned books lists) or even the themes running through her books. 

The interesting thing about this story is it is intended to be “an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial.”  (Toni Morrison, preface to “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” (New York: Vintage, 1993), xi.)

If you know that before you start reading then a part of you will be sussing out ‘clues’ as to which girl is White and which girl is Black and the other part of you will be attending to the story of two girls and their shared story. 

By the time I got the book, I had read several reviews. Then I read the 49 page Introduction. And that ruined the story for me. Just the reading of a review wouldn’t have, but that Intro.

Why oh why did I read that? I rarely read ‘scholarly’ introductions and by the time I had waded through this one I had ‘story fatigue’. By the time I finished reading the Intro I no longer cared about the story. I saw no point (almost) in even reading the story.

So the lesson to be learned – Don’t read introductions in books. 

And – Stop reading anything by Zadie Smith. I’ve read her stuff and she bores me to tears. Why, after having read one of her books and being bored, did I ever go on to read two of her books, I’ll never know. 

On the other hand – Toni Morrison will never bore you. Ever. 

13 thoughts on “The way to ruin a good story…

  1. Why oh why would the intro be longer than the story? I'd be turned off by that too! I haven't read one of Toni's books yet but this reminds me that I have wanted to for a long time now. Which one do you suggest would be a good first read?


  2. Well nobody made me read it LOL I loved “Sula” and “Home”. You might want to read reviews of “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye” before you read the books, they are emotionally draining.


  3. It seems like years ago I read a sci-fi book by Robert Heinlein, and in it, one of the three main characters was black, but this was not revealed until about 2/3 through the book. It just wasn't part of the story, but at some point the character was described in enough detail to let the reader know he was of African descent. Black, that is. I read this many years ago and I confess it was a little jarring to me. Heinlein, I'm sure, did this on purpose. I'm glad he did it, as it was one of those first “baby steps” to becoming a 21st century liberal, which I regard as a good thing.


  4. Literary analysis almost always bores me. Well, it would if I read it anymore. So had I picked up the book, which I haven't yet, I would not have been put-off by the first 49 pages.


  5. I had two instrant reactions to your comment – Which Heinlein book, I've only read one and – Did you mean by “21st century liberal” that you are a liberal living in the 21st century or that a 21st century liberal is different from a 20th century one (or even a 19th century one)? LOL


  6. I said to someone else that I am the author of my own discontent in this matter. Sometimes I do read the introductions and find them interesting, as in biographies or historical fiction (which I don't read a lot of). I could have just stopped reading but NO, I had to drag my brain through the whole thing!


  7. Oh. First, I can't figure out which Heinlein book. Turns out, according to Google, he wrote quite a few. I scanned the titles and nothing even rang a bell. I apologize.I used the phrase 21st Century liberal because, I think, I regard the definition of liberal as being sort of fluid, over the centuries. So, I guess, I meant the latter. I've been reading the 1619 Project, though, and maybe I'm wrong, I'm thinking. But I'll say that for all of us, our thinking evolves, which is probably a good thing.


  8. I was just thinking about the idea of an intro being longer than the story to which it refers, and I wondered if that was anything like profiles on dating sites.


  9. I did the same thing, seems there is much 'scholarship' on Heinlein and racism – who knew? I would hope people's thinking would evolve, in a positive way, over time but we know that isn't true! Then again, who decides what is a 'positive way' Oy! I liked the comment you deleted – always a good topic for discussion – I can see both sides of the question but being old, I say “Pick one!” (They is a plural pronoun).


  10. I appreciate the recommendations, thank you! I'm not sure I'm ready for emotionally draining yet but will keep those two in mind.


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