‘Today Show’: Jenna Bush Hager Closes Out 2020 With a Book Club Pick That Was Selectively ‘Prohibited’

With the tumultuous year coming to a close, Jenna Bush Hager of the Today Show decided to wrap up 2020 with a special “Read with Jenna” selection. Choosing a book close to her heart, Hager picked the first novel of the late famed author Toni Morrison to end off 2020.

Jenna Bush Hager of the 'Today Show'
Jenna Bush Hager of the ‘Today Show’ | Getty Images/Getty Images for Friends of Hudson River Park

‘Read with Jenna’ ends off 2020 with ‘The Bluest Eye’

In Morrison’s 1970 debut novel The Bluest Eye, the story follows Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl longing for blue eyes and blonde hair to help her fit in. Desperately wanting her appearance to change, Pecola is subjected to taunting from other kids for the color of her skin, brown eyes, and curly hair that make her stand out from the crowd.

The book depicts compelling issues, including racism and incest. The storyline of Pecola being raped by her father and becoming pregnant caused some schools to ban the book due to its graphic content, even landing on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of most challenged books.

Yet The Bluest Eye is considered by many to be one of literature’s most significant offerings. Morrison was been awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for her writings, and her first novel was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her legendary book club.

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Jenna Bush Hager read ‘The Bluest Eye’ in high school

Hager revealed her last pick of 2020 on Today, sharing that The Bluest Eye held special meaning for her.

“I remember where I was sitting when it was assigned to my sophomore English class at Austin High School,” she wrote on Today.com. “While it started as another homework project, it quickly turned into reading a book I felt I had chosen for myself. I remember marking it up like I had never marked up any books before.”

Hager praised Morrison’s storytelling, where readers were transported into Pecola’s world. The Today Show star was grateful that she was assigned the book while other schools had forbidden it on their reading list.

“I was totally in awe of Toni Morrison’s ability to make us feel like we were walking in Pecola’s footsteps,” Hager remarked. “My mom being a librarian, we talked often as kids about books that were banned. At the time I read it, The Bluest Eye was prohibited across some Texas schools. Knowing that some kids weren’t even allowed to read this made it an even more special treasure of a book.”

Toni Morrison’s book turns 50

Noting that the novel is now a half century old, Hager selected The Bluest Eye due to its content that remains vital today.

“As Morrison’s debut novel turns 50 years old, it still holds incredible power to spark current conversations,” the NBC journalist commented. “While this fact is heartbreaking, it also shows how complicated and complex some of these themes are. I suspect that a lot of our book club members will be rereading this book for the first time since high school or college.”

Hager expressed her appreciation for being able to showcase Morrison’s work as 2020 comes to a close.

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“I know I am particularly excited to pick up my old favorite again,” Hager shared. “I can’t wait to see how adulthood and now being in my late 30s will make this novel resonate in a different way. … Of course, if you are reading for the first time, I hope you marvel at the beauty of Toni Morrison’s writing the way I did when I first picked up a copy. She is my favorite author of all time, and I am honored to be recommending her book to this special group of readers.”