Some long overdue love for Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

What took me so long to read Their Eyes Were Watching God?

This is one of those books I think a lot of us read in high school, but I never did. I’d occasionally think “hm, I should read that,” when I was cooped up in the university library, but there was always something more academic demanding my attention. Well, no longer am I beholden to the rigorous demands of academia! I’m slightly beholden to the demands of staying on top of my Stacks To Read Before Publication, but no one’s giving me marks for those, at least. So I finally read Zora Neale Hurston’s book and fell in love with it.

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I finished it this morning, curled up in a sunny spot with my breakfast and cacao tea. It’s not a fast-paced book, but the language was so ridiculously beautiful it cut open my heart. The first few sentences of nearly every single chapter resonated with me in particular, for some reason. The novel’s opening paragraph has always been one of my favorite quotes, but I never read the rest of the book until now.

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.”

Wow. There’s a lot of this book which made me stare into space and just…. wow. I could make a list of all my favorite passages but it would be only a few pages shorter than the whole book. I’m not a fan of stories about romantic attachment, usually, but even though Their Eyes Were Watching God follows Janie’s experiences married to three different men, the story is really about her. She’s a black woman in Florida only a couple generations after slavery was abolished, and she learns not to be afraid of following her own path, no matter how other harshly people choose to view her. There’s a whole cast of lively characters, really moving conversations, and a stunning tropical storm which tears through the Everglades and Janie’s life without warning or fairness. I love storms. I love snappy dialogue. I love deep, complex characters. I just loved this book, OK?  I don’t have any intelligent thoughts to share or clever observations to make.  But I’m so happy I finally read this and learned what all the fuss was about.  Zora, you’re the queen of sentence structure.

Maybe it’s better that I never had to read it for school, because sometimes that makes me resent a story. Instead, I just got sucked into Janie’s warm world, full of hardships but also friendship. I’ll probably be hearing her voice in my head for the rest of the day.

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