By NANA KONAMAH BOATENG
I am a book worm. I don’t just read books, I devour them with a ferocity and hunger that only matches the way my mother can finish off a chicken bone. I love books, I love to read. Growing up, I read whatever I could get my hands on. I spent most of my formative years in a suburb called Annandale, Virginia, which at the time was considered the Asia town of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. My parents had subscriptions to The Washington Post, Time Magazine and Newsweek, I soaked up so much news and information, that I acquired knowledge way ahead of my time. As a child, I didn’t always feel like I fit in and so reading was my escape. I would disappear into the plot of a novel or the riddles of The Kid’s Post for hours on end, sometimes even neglecting my homework in the process.
“Books became how I related with myself and the world. I got to know myself through the books I read.”
I’m Nana Konamah, a Ghana-based young professional who lives and works in Accra while navigating being vegan and searching the mine fields for beautiful things to fawn over. For me, books aren’t just a hobby or a pastime; books became how I related with myself and the world. I got to know myself through the books I read. I always looked for a character who was either like me or characters I wanted to become. My world was books and books were my world. Books have made the most impact in my life, but one book in particular shook me to my core and changed me forever: “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.
Written in 1970, The Bluest Eye is about a little black girl named Pecola, told from the point of view of her childhood friend. The story is set in depression era Ohio and doesn’t miss a beat in reminding us of the state of racial politics in America at the time. In this particular book, Morrison focuses on the subtle evil that raged on in American society (and still does) and the toll it takes on the mental and emotional state of black people, especially black children. It reminds us of the war waged on the psyche of little black girls. I first heard of Toni Morrison and The Bluest Eye before I could fully understand her texts and style of writing, but I was hooked the moment I read the first page. I read it twice, once when I was barely a teenager and again in 12 grade (senior high school) in preparation for my English literature exam. Morrison’s work is typically difficult to read even for the most exquisite of readers. She wows with lofty language and wordy prose, not to mention the elaborate nuance that requires astute attention. There’s no half stepping when you read her stuff!
It is often said that before one builds, you must first destroy whatever may be standing in the place of what you wish to build. In keeping with this analogy I guess we could say that The Bluest Eye was the bulldozer which leveled out my understanding, allowing me to rebuild and reconstruct myself.
“The Bluest Eye was the bulldozer which leveled out my understanding, allowing me to rebuild and reconstruct myself.”
In Pecola, I saw myself. A little black girl who could not fit in. Her confusion resting on her experience with race, class, oppression and misfortune, was my confusion, my experience. The conflation of all of these things produced an unfortunate reality, forcing her to reach the heart breaking conclusion that her life would be better if her blackness could be “fixed.” All she wanted was blue eyes, just as I had wanted lighter skin and straighter hair. Just like I had wished and prayed that the misfortune of dark skin could be perhaps reversed, leaving me not only desirable but without these feelings of being oppressed.
Growing up, it was difficult to see myself as desirable. Nothing and nowhere seemed to affirm my features. Before the current melanin madness, before Lupita Nyong’o and Alek Wek, no magazine covers flaunted blue-black skinned models. I had to build the affirmation of my beauty from within. At times, it was a struggle, at times it felt impossible and like Pecola I recoiled into my own imagination to create a world where I reigned supreme; untouchable and unreachable by the hate and confusion of the world in which I lived.
I remember reading The Bluest Eye and thinking to myself that if everybody read this book and at least attempted to understand Pecola’s experience, then perhaps we would all be a little nicer. A little less judgemental and parochial – after all that is what the book did for me. It forced me to examine myself, to question my experiences, and to engage with who I truly am. Toni Morrison taught me so much, but through Pecola’s experiences she thought me to engage with my humanity and most of all, to protect it.
“I believe that the right book at the right time – read by the right people – can change the world, and this is why I started Brunch over Books.”
Reading lead me to Toni Morrison’s beautiful works. It opened up the world for me and pushed me to re-imagine my world. I believe that the right book at the right time, read by the right people can change the world, and this is why I started Brunch over Books. A community of brunch-loving book slayers, we connect with other book lovers while exploring some of Accra’s amazing brunch spots. Through our ‘Sip n Swap’ events, we provide a space where book lovers can share books and titles to a backdrop of a fun and inviting Sunday brunch. We hope that people walk away from every one of our events totally inspired by the books they encounter and the people they connect with. I invite you to join us at Tea Baa on August 7 for our next ‘Sip n Swap’ event. Who knows, you might just walk away with the book that will change your life forever.
Written by Nana Konamah Boateng, avid book worm, brunch lover and creator of Brunch Over Books.
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