So, here I sit in a darkened room. Incense it lit and the lamp is on. My tired eyes struggle to stay awake, yet I know I have a purpose tonight.
No… I’m not doing a seance. What is this, “Now and Then”?
Nope. I’m staying up far far past my good girl bed time in order to give you The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
As we all know, The Help has been on the best sellers list for a long while now, and recently had a movie released as well–pretty much the pinnacle of an author’s success. What really amped my curiosity, however, was not it’s status on the NYT list, it was the kinds of people I caught reading it…
It should be no secret by now that I work at a bookstore. And I sell hundreds of books a day. I see them, smell them, touch them. But never has a book with such a wide-ranging readership ever crossed my path. I’ve sold this book to elderly white Southern ladies, young black hip hop kids, preppy cheerleaders, soccer moms, and the most gangster of gangsters. So that got me wondering… What is this book all about?
The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960’s, and, as we all know–the Civil Rights Movement (And yes, I just sang the MISS-ISS-IPPI song in my head to spell it right, so sue me). The 1960’s in general was not the best time to be an African American in the US, especially in the deep south like Jackson. To put this into perspective, black people were being beaten or even killed for accidentally using the wrong bathroom. For real. And to further narrow the scope, this wasn’t so long ago. Our parents were kids then, and odds are they remember some of the prejudice going on at that time. 50 years is not much in the grand scheme of things.
Some of the main characters are Miss “Skeeter,” Aibileen, and Minny. Miss Skeeter is an intelligent (but unfortunately gawky) young daughter of a plantation owner looking to find her place in a world filled with everyday injustices. She aspires to be a writer, but all her mother aspires for is Skeeter’s marriage–to somebody, anybody. For the love of God.
Yeah, it’s that kind of thing.
Aibileen and Minny are both black housemaids, although they are extraordinarily different as people. Aibileen is quiet and diligent in her work, loving nothing more than to care for the small white children in her charge, which is helping her get over the recent, violent death of her only son. Minny, on the other hand, has a handful of children of her own, doesn’t take crap, and has the mouth to prove it. But her husband beats her.
These three women’s lives are changed forever when their worlds collide, collaborating on a novel that outlines the good (and bad) things black maids experience serving white families. The town of Jackson was not prepared for what these ladies had in store!
I love love loved this book. I could not put it down. Stockett took a pretty big risk, writing from the perspective of two African American women, being–to put it bluntly–white herself. Not only that, The Help switches perspectives multiple times during the book, and the first-time author pulls it off quite seamlessly. She makes something that most writers won’t even attempt look easy.
From a reader’s perspective, I really enjoyed seeing the world from three different points of view. This fills in the gaps left by other characters and gives a nicely omnipotent feel without being unbelievable. I also liked that it wasn’t a love story. Don’t get me wrong, love is great, love is good, and all that jazz, but every once in a while you get tired of hearing it. Don’t women in novels have any other goals? And that’s what I liked about Miss Skeeter. She wasn’t made out to be this glamourous Southern debutante. She was skinny with frizzy hair and abnormally large feet. And that makes her seem more like a real person. She wanted to become a journalist, not find her Romeo, and that was refreshing.
My only critiques of the story were that I couldn’t believe Minnie put up with an abusive husband–as loud and aggressive as she was, and that I was left a bit mystified about Miss Celia and Mr Johnny’s relationship. What did he see in her? The relationships in this book seemed like odd pairings. Also, the ending left me wanting just a little bit more. Come on… one more chapter. I felt a little like yesterday’s laundry left out to dry. And Miss Hilly.
Please. please read The Help. Especially if you are young. Especially if you are old. Especially if you are black. Especially if you are white. Especially…
5 of 5 stars
So, The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris was just released recently and I just finished it today. It includes a short story about Sookie and Sam attending a wedding, a series timeline, recipes from Bon Temps, a FAQ section with Harris, an interview with Alan Ball, and a character dictionary. I thought it would be a great read since I love the series and the show, and I’ve read all the Sookie Stackhouse books to date.
I was wrong.
Charlaine Harris’s companion guide to her series was a total nose-dive in my opinion. I really enjoyed the first 80 pages, which were the short story about Sam’s brother’s shifter wedding. The recipe book was also pretty cool. The rest of it? Absolutely useless.
The FAQ section didn’t jump out at me, as many of the questions seemed like they should have been common sense for a true fan who has read all the books (or even followed the HBO series). Also, Alan Ball’s interview was a total waste of time because he gave indirect, noncommittal answers to almost ever question he was asked and I finished reading the interview with more of a WTF? feeling than an Aha! feeling. I get that you’re the producer/director of a television phenomenon and you don’t want to disclose too much, but come on! This interview is going in an actual book–one that will probably sell hundreds of thousands of copies, if not millions–not some trashy newsstand gossip rag.
The time line was horrible because it was basically a summary of everything that’d happened in all the books, a plot synopsis for everything. I don’t need to know the exact year, month (down to the day) time line of every thing that’s happened. I know Hurricane Katrina is mentioned in some of the books, and I can fill in the rest for myself from there. *sigh*
The recipe section was cute, because it consisted of reader-submitted recipes that mimicked those mentioned in the series, like Caroline Bellefluer’s famous chocolate cake. And since I LOVE southern cooking, I was all about this.
But, above all… The absolute bane to my existence was the character dictionary. THE BANE TO MY EXISTENCE. I went into it thinking Oh, cool we’ll learn more about the backgrounds of all the stand-out characters.
Then I noticed it was like, 250 pages long.
Turns out it’s about every Tom, Dick, and Harry ever mentioned in any one of the books, short stories, or novellas. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. I’m not just talking Jane Bodehouse, the town drunk specific, I’m talking Unidentified Vampire #2 and Unnamed German Shepard Shifter specific. Seriously. Every single person, every single relative of that person, every single brother’s sister’s aunt’s uncle’s cousin’s in-law’s mother. Seriously. If it wasn’t for my book-reading compulsive disorder I would’ve completely ditched the guide at this point. I remember all the main characters and some of the more interesting side ones, and that’s it. That’s all I need to know. I sincerely doubt Harris even remembered all of these herself. That’s how many there were.
If you’re a hard core Sookie fan, then my suggestion is to check this out from the library. Read the short story and write down some of the recipes, but just stop there and turn it back in for the next person to use. For real. I know this sounds harsh, because I love True Blood, but this book was an epic fail in Charlaine Harris’ otherwise long and successful series.
2 of 5 stars
So… I’ve been putting off reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman for a while. I know… I know… It’s been on the best seller’s list for ages, it’s helped about a trillion couples save their marriages, and even my boyfriend has read it.
But even after all that, I still felt trepidatious about picking it up. The boy had explained the principles of it, we’d discussed what our own “languages” were, and I’d even taken the online quiz on Chapman’s website. So I didn’t need to read the book, right?
Although the whole thing felt rather girly, it was a rainy Sunday, and as good a day as any to start a new book. Talking about feelings has not been my strongest trait in recent years, and while I felt strange reading a book about love, I pushed past my discomfort and decided to tackle this whole “language” BS.
And I finished it in two days…
Chapman’s book is a quick but powerful read. He details five different ways that people express love to others, and how they need love to be expressed to them in return. The five ways are:
Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka was unlike anything I’ve ever read.
It was told from a collective consciousness point of view, the consciousness being that of a large group of Japanese female immigrants. These women were known as “picture brides”–pretty much the 1920’s equivalent of today’s “mail order brides.” They came to America for a fresh start in the land of promises, and most importantly, to meet their new husbands.
Not to mention the fact that they weren’t rich textile dealers, merchants, or business men. Most of them were simply farmers looking for free help with the crops and a warm body to lie next to at night. Imagine the women’s surprise. They were expecting to be the lady of home with a white picket fence, not be sleeping in a foreign barn on a pile of hay next to a sexually insensitive stranger.
The book chronicles their lives as a whole. This includes the hardships they faced, the joys they experienced, and even the historic time of the Japanese Internment camps (an ugly little part of American history that many don’t acknowledge.) It remembers the children they bore, the children they lost, the Americans they worked for, and the men they loved (who sometimes weren’t their husbands.)
The book reads very poetically, and the reading the words feels almost like listening to music. Otsuka does a beautiful job depicting what life was like for these women and I can tell she really did her research. She shed light on a silent, nearly forgotten group.
This is a great book for those who like historical fiction, and especially those who enjoy Japanese culture. It’s only a stretch more than a hundred pages long, and is a quick insight into a subject that most know little about. My only criticism is that some readers may not like the “disembodied” voice narrating the book, and could lose interest not having one main character to follow. I found that to be one of the most interesting aspects of the story, but of course everyone has their own opinion. For the brevity of the tale, it worked, but if the story was any longer I could see how it could become tedious to follow everyone without really “knowing” anyone.
4 of 5 stars