Welcome to Week 2 of the Online Book Club discussion of If Beale Street Could Talk.
What did you think of the reading experience this week? Did you connect to the characters right away? Did this feel like any story that you had read before?
I think before talking about the book, it's important to understand more about James Baldwin and how his life experiences informed his writing. Check out the video clip below to see a small glimpse of the apathy that Baldwin had to continually fight against during his lifetime. And, if you'd like to watch a longer, more in-depth interview with him, check out this clip.
From these clips, you can see that Baldwin used his characters to express his worldview and opinions. Baldwin experienced and witnessed a lifetime of prejudice and injustice, so it makes sense that his main characters would be fighting against that in this book. In the first section, when Tish is explaining about how Fonny got into sculpture, she says that he tried to go to a vocational school, but the powers that be at that school treated him as if he were dumb and only wanted him to work for someone else. She continues by stating that if a Black person does not work under a white person or is not "owned" by a white person, they are dangerous. She believes that Fonny's freedom and lack of ownership led him to his arrest. Can you see Baldwin's experiences and encounters with systemic racism in those sections? Does understanding more about Baldwin help understand the book a little better?
Right from the beginning of this book, we know that Fonny and Tish are going to have a baby. And, we know that Fonny hopes to be out of prison by the time the baby is born. Tish believes that Fonny has been falsely accused and imprisoned, but we don't know what he's been accused of. Right after that, the narrative moves backwards, and we learn how Fonny and Tish met when they were little. What did you think about the narrative moving around like that? Were you confused? Did you want the story to stay in the present time, or did you think it was helpful to get more background information on the characters?
One outdated thing that stood out to me in this first section was the fact that everyone kept giving Tish alcoholic beverages, even after they found out she was pregnant. Did you notice that while you were reading? It was a small detail, but it really stood out to me!
What did you think of Tish's family? I liked how supportive and close they were. Right from the beginning, it was evident that they loved Tish a lot and were willing to do anything to help her. I appreciated that they didn't pressure her to end things with Fonny; instead, they understood the system that entrapped him, and they trusted what they knew about him as a man. I also appreciated that they did not look down on Tish when she told that she was pregnant. They were understanding and supportive. Fonny's family, on the other hand, were not supportive or helpful. ?His mother hopes that the baby will shrivel up in Tish's womb, and she completely blames Tish for seducing and influencing her son. In this scene, I believe Tish's mother and sister would have killed to protect her. They were terrifying. What did you think of this scene? Could you believe that Fonny's mother and sister had such intense reactions to the news?
Do you think Fonny and Tish will have a chance to be as happy as they were during some of the flashback scenes? What do you think will happen with Fonny and his jail time as the story progresses? Do you think this is the last we've heard of Fonny's mother and sisters?
I hope you're enjoying the book so far and were able to watch both of the Baldwin clips Next week, read through page 132. I can't wait to hear from you in the comments section!