To read the works of Toni Morrison requires a certain intensity and patience. She will pull you in on the thread of images that unravel humanity's mysteries and truths layer by layer, paragraph by paragraph.

If you manage to keep up, the end of the odyssey rewards you with interior sight. Where you were blind to the weight of love, joy and pain, she helps you see.It is not so different hearing her speak.

So it was recently when she walked onto two San Francisco-area stages, at the Marriott Convention Center in Oakland and the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The audiences responded with regal welcomes standing almost immediately as they saw her silver and white crown of neatly wrapped dreadlocks.

The Marriott Convention Center and the Palace of Fine Arts might as well have been enlarged living rooms when she sat down first with Marcus Books founder Raye Richardson and later with author Dorothy Allison. The meandering conversations visited such themes as hope in the face of despair and redemption at the foot of unforgivable acts, both of which have re-emerged in her latest novel "Paradise."

But there is also a light side to Morrison. A thick giggle emerges when she talks of the upcoming movie-version of her 1987 book, "Beloved," or even the recent publication of Modern Library's 100 Best English-language novels of the century.

"Anything that says 100 of anything, you know that's marketing," Morrison said, laughter streaming between her words. "Those are their (Modern Library's) books."