1. The Help

I considered starting with the first book I ever read, but decided to start with the most recent book I’ve read what with my old lady brain and all I might forget more recent things.

The HelpMy neighborhood book group chose The Help by Kathryn Stockett over several less popular (based on the media’s best seller lists) books. For reasons I don’t recall or understand I was reluctant to read this book. Perhaps it was too high up on the best selling lists. Perhaps I equated it with the kinds of books written by Nicholas Sparks or Mitch Albom — saccharine-y pablum, fine for beach reading, but not what I really wanted to read and discuss with some of the smartest people I know.

Well, I was wrong about the saccharine part. And the pablum. The Help delves into a part of US history that many people would rather pretend never happened. The book is supposed to tell the story of being an African American maid in Mississippi in the early 1960’s. I say supposed to tell because it was written by a white woman who was waited on African American maids, probably in the 1970’s or later (Ms Stockett looks like she’s in her 30’s).  Even the author wonders if she’s qualified to write about the subject:

I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially the 1960’s.  I don’t think it is something any white woman, on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck, could ever truly understand.  But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.

— Katherine Stockett, The Help, In Her Own Words

I wish I’d read that before I read the book, because I kept looking at her photograph and thinking, how does she know what Minny is thinking? How does she know that Aibileen would do this or that? Did she interview African American women that were maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s?

That said, I found The Help to be a decent read. There were times I couldn’t put it down and it was always easy to pick up again. I was pulled into the lives of the  characters — most of whom were well developed. The writing style was easy to read, although I was a little disturbed that the author chose to give the African American maids dialects, when the white women had none. I figured she did it so we could distinguish who was talking without having to look at the section title again. (The book is told from the points of view of 3 characters — Minny, a maid with a temper, several kids and an abusive drunk for a husband; Aibileen, an older maid who recently lost her only son in an accident; and Skeeter, a white college-educated daughter of a plantation owner and and wanna-be author.)

I’d recommend the book as long as you keep in mind you are reading a work of fiction.

April 16, 2010. Tags: , . 2010, 3 star, book group, fiction, Hoover Street Book Group, would recommend.

4 Comments

  1. Bridgett replied:

    I’ve been avoiding that book for similar reason. I don’t know…my reading is few and far between these days.

  2. Mali replied:

    All I can think is what a brilliant idea for a blog!

  3. RFW replied:

    Hi there,
    And thanks for all your comments on my blog (ncbookbunch.wordpress.com); I’ve enjoyed hearing your point of view.

    We were on the same page for this one (as you know from reading my review). Don’t think I would have read it but “required reading” for my book club. Glad I did though, and, I agree, it is not the definitive historical report of Southern relationships.

  4. RFW replied:

    Aloha and thanks for all your comments…
    http://ncbookbunch.wordpress.com

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