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In which John discusses his many failures in high school English, and the book that changed his life.
Come see us on tour in Madison and Minneapolis: https://www.hankandjohn.com/appearances

If you haven't read Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye, you really should. Also her other books!

Also, if you want to read books with an awesome community, subscriptions to Life's Library are currently available: https://store.dftba.com/collections/lifes-library-book-club

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Good morning Hank,it’s Tuesday,

Quick note- we will be on tour this weekend at Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis , Minnesota.Hope to see lots of you there,links to tickets in the Doobly-doo

So a little known fact about me is that i nearly failed 11th grade English;there were several reasons for this-for starters,my teachers and I had fundamentally different belief systems about class attendance:his being that students should attend class and mine being eh but also,I just wasn't a great reader, I really struggled with critical and abstract thinking and our teacher was always trying to get us like metaphors and different narrative structures could shape reading experience and all that stuff.

Now these days,I believe that when we talk about metaphor and the like,we’re mostly talking about how they use language in ways that foster deep understanding like if a writer tells you that a character has anxiety,you might register that and move on 
but if a writer can use figurative language to put you inside that characters head,you can actually experience that anxiety.You can glimpse not just what ispt’s like but what it is:that’s why metaphor exists,not tto torture high school English students but to make the dull bright and the old new and the distant close.

Anyway,high school me thought all of that was a bunch of BS amd that laying a live novel upon a table and dissecting it was a form od of torture for all involved.So that was part of the problem but I also missed a lot of class and never turned anything in on time:as my teacher wrote on my report card that year “John has reached a juncture where he just can’t mail it in any more”.

So I tell this story for two reasons.First,to point out how many chances I had-like if I hadn’t had extraordinary teachers who believed in me and school systems that supported those teachers I might never have graduated high school let alone college.But also because I received an incomplete in 11th grade English, in order to pass the class I was required to read two books over the summer and write papers about them; one was  twelfth night by Shakespeare and the other was Toni Morrison’s first novel,the bluest eye.

We’d read Morrison's novel Song of Solomon that year in English class and I liked it or at least I liked the parts that I read so my teacher ordered me to read The Bluest Eye which is about a young black girl named Pecola Breedlove who was told by the social order that she’s ugly and who grows up horribly mistreated by people who claim to love her.

It’s a structurally innovative novel that uses point of view with astonishing brilliance but it’s also accessible and reading it absolutely wrecked me.I still remember the tears streaming down my face as I finished that book,the dense fear of longing and sadness in my chest .I’d known of course that the world was unjust but reading The Bluest Eye,I felt it and I wanted to write about that book,I wanted to write about how this character had been traumatised not only by individual people but by a racist and misogynistic social order and while writing that paper I began to understand that what my teacher called “mailing it in” was in itself a privilege and that I wasn’t being cool or clever by skipping class,I was wasting opportunities that many people are never given.

Later that summer,I read Morrison’s novel Beloved even though it wasn’t assigned for school and I reread Song Of Solomon-all of it this time .Did I understand all of the endless nuances and resonances of those books?Of course not but I loved them.They challenged and haunted me as they challenge and haunt me still and they made me if not a good reader,at least an enthusiastic one .

Toni Morrison died last week and it is hard to imagine the world without her clarion voice but the book,they survive,they go on helping readers young and old see the world more clearly.In her Nobel prize lecture,Morrison said “language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names”.She gave language to so much and to so many.

Hank,I’ll see you on Friday