My Best Read of the Week is almost always a magazine or newspaper piece, but this week a novel dominated (in a good way) my brainwaves: Toni Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye.”

Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, for which I work as a writer, organized a real-time cover-to-cover reading of this novel on Oct. 8, featuring more than 50 readers. The online reading started at 11 a.m. and continued until about 6 p.m.

It was a more emotional experience than I anticipated. Approaching the event, one of our Arts Unplugged series, I thought of it as another piece of my job. Enjoyable, but day job. (I helped preview videos of readers and did promotional tweeting–some of my heroic teammates did far more work.)

However, when the voice of Toni Morrison herself (may she rest in peace) opened the reading with a clip from an Audible recording (and a little shiver up my spine) I was hooked. Out loud and in the voice of Morrison, Cornell professors, students, and academics and creatives from all over the country, the book came to life in a whole new way for me.

Person in a chair with person standing
President Barack Obama talks with Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Toni Morrison in the Blue Room of the White House, May 29, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) .

My main job during the day was to tweet quotes from the book as they were read by professors, best-selling novelists, the Poet Laureate of the U.S., the mayor of Ithaca. The readers were impressive, but Toni Morrison’s words ruled the day. She is, sentence by sentence, a master writer. And this was only her first book.

It’s a difficult book, but captivating.

“I want to get lunch, but I can’t stop listening to these readings!” one of my teammates said on Slack well past noon.

More than 800 people were on to hear the opening chapters. More than 300 remained at the end. That’s a high attrition rate, but it’s a long piece to read continuously—and many of those who stayed on were ebullient. “I am in awe of every reader,” one person said in the chat at the end of the day. “My goodness, it started with Angela Davis! Food to my hurting black soul. This feels like therapy with beautiful minds.”

I agree. By the end of the day, my team, which had put much work into making this happen, was glowing, too. We’ve been working remotely from our own houses since March. For the first time in months, I felt like a distinct part of a team. And in a larger circle, this was one of the only online events (the dozens and hundreds of online events) during this pandemic through which I’ve truly felt connected to people.

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