Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bone Black by bell hooks

I had to read this book as part of the Western Kentucky Literature class I'm taking. I must admit that I was not familiar with bell hooks before the class. She is currently teaching at Berea College and is a well known feminist and social activist. She has published over 30 books and numerous scholarly articles. She addresses race, class, and gender in education, art, history, and the mass media. This book is a chronicle of her girlhood memories growing up in western Kentucky, her little corner of the south. She was a strong-spirited child who does not fit in and finds comfort in solitude and the company of books. It is ultimately in the world of stories and poems that she finds home and belonging.

This is a book with emotional resonance and lyrical language. Here is a small sample from one of the chapters to show the raw honesty of what she writes: "She wants to express herself--to speak her mind. To them it is just talking back. Each time she opens her mouth she risks punishment. They punish her so often she feels they persecute her. When she learns the word scapegoat in vocabulary lesson, she is sure it accurately describes her lot in life. Her wilderness, unlike the one the goat is led into, is a wilderness of spirit. They abandon her there to get on with the fun things of life. She lies in her bed upstairs after being punished yet again. She can hear the sound of their laughter, their talk. No one hears her crying. Even though she is young she comes to understand the meaning of exile and loss. They say that she is really not a young girl but an old woman born again in a young girl's body. They do not know how to speak the old woman's language so they are afraid of her."

Though some of her writing can be a bit strident, I think she is at her best when she is talking about the personal and being passionately honest. This book will stay with you long after you have finished it. Those are the best kind.

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