Book Club Friday

Friday, March 11, 2011
Of Woods and Words

Happy Friday everyone! Today I'm introducing a semi-regular Friday feature (aka as frequently as I finish a book worth talking about) called Book Club Fridays! Grab a cup of tea or joe, get your reading glasses in place and get ready to talk books. We're leaving the woods behind and going all words today.
Today's selection? The Help, Kathryn Stockett's debut novel.
I tend to stray away from super popular books for two reasons. One, I'm afraid they won't live up to the hype. Two, there's nothing worse than being told "you have to read" something. I didn't get around to reading Harry Potter until Prisoner of Azkaban was released. Subsequently, it took the last person in my super informal real life book club finishing The Help and mentioning how much they enjoyed it for me to finally decide to borrow the oft-offered copy and give it a go.   
Set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help follows the lives of three women -- Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter -- through the Civil Rights era turmoil. Aibileen and Minny are both black maids who work, often for less than minimum wage in white households, cooking meals, tending children, and cleaning house. Meanwhile Miss Skeeter, a recent college graduate with few marriage prospect, begins to question her place in the circle of privileged white women who hire "the help." 
While initially turned off by the highly criticized use dialect for Aibileen's narrative, I forgot my "issues" with the dialect by about page 4.  By page 50 I was completely engrossed in the world of Jackson (and as result have had Johnny Cash stuck in my head ever since). The novel shifts between the viewpoint of the three main characters, not an easy feat to pull off, and the narratives mesh together beautifully. The story, intertwined with history, humor, love, and heartache, reads like a true labor of love.

I get where people are coming from with criticism for the book; perhaps the book is an overly rosy, simplified look at this historic time. However, calling Stockett out for taking licenses with time seems petty when Stockett fully acknowledges these discrepancies in her afterword. A misplaced reference to Shake N' Bake is hardly enough to undermine the entire integrity of the novel. Stockett does succeed in bringing the uncomfortable reality of Jackson, MS in the 1960s into the living room of many people who would, like that famous Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, prefer to "think about that tomorrow." Overly rosy and simplified perhaps, but through her fiction, Stockett reaches out to a much larger audience then a stuffy book of sociology about these same facts ever would.
When I was 13, my family took a "Civil Rights" tour of the South, traveling through Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The Help reinforced much of what I learned on that trip as well as opened my eyes to different, less publicized elements of the Civil Rights movement. Not only does The Help contain an important U.S. history lesson, I found it whetted my appetite for some more Southern literature. Queue the Harper Lee and Carson McCullers!
Bottomline: The Help is a satisfying, thought-provoking read that keeps the pages turning and reader engaged and is a true testimony to the power of story.

What book are you reading these days?


  1. I loved this book and could not put it down. I had the audio version of it and knit along to it. I loved the way the audio version had different voices for different characters! It was like listening to a movie! Fun!

    Right now I'm reading the "Outlander" series by. Diana Gabaldon... (for the 3rd time) but this third time around its on audio (read unabridged hard covers the first two times), unabridged audio =)... Fabulous! funny, everytime I read this series I pick up different things that I either didn't notice before or forgot. And the audio is helping me see things about the characters personalities that I didn't pick up on before. I recommend it!!!

  2. I heard the author interviewed on the radio and she read an excerpt of the book. Between that and what I'd previously heard about the book I was not overly impressed or interested. You have made it sound a little more enticing and I have read many raves about this book. Maybe I'll have to eventually give it a chance.

    If you start reading more Southern Literaure don't forget Flannery O'Connor. She's kind of different, but to me she's one of the best.

    Currently I'm reading a book called Sun Tunnels and Secrets which I won off of someone's blog and I don't even recall why. Free books are nice to get in the mail so I can't complain.

    Tossing It Out

  3. this is a wonderful idea! a book club friday!! :) love it. I have not read this book but you have peaked my interest! I am reading a Alice Hoffman book, Story Sisters. I do love her writing...
    Oh, and so envious of a 'civil rights tour' of the cool is that?!

  4. I've been dying to read this book. I requested it from the library and am officially 23rd in line waiting for it to be available. What's funny, is until I read this review, I didn't even know what it was about, every one just kept telling me to read it. : )

  5. I also read The Help and really enjoyed it.

  6. oof. i'm trying to get through "The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell, but haven't found the time! I absolutely adored "Assassination Vacation". I think all history books should be that fun.

  7. Well, since when are FICTION writers responsible for the public's knowledge of events and details? Given a disclaimer, especially, I find that especially lazy. I say if it's a good story, good writing, and a worthwhile read, the critics can shove it. I'd like to read this book- I love getting a picture of another time, another place.

  8. I've heard such fantastic things about this book and then it keeps falling off my radar. Just finished The Liar's Club by Mary Karr. Partly in preparation for my MFA applications, but I loved it. I can't wait to grab The Help. I read the first few pages at Christmas time on my Father In Law's Kindle. I also found that the dialect was intially off-putting but a few paragraphs in, I was completely engaged. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the sweet compliments at No. 7. I'm pretty sure I have been accepted to USM's Stonecoast MFA...EEEEK!

  9. Love the whole idea of this. You have a lovely blog too. New follower from Shah. X

  10. This is a great review of The Help!

    I really enjoyed the book myself and it made me think about the forgotten people (The Help) in our society today: janitors, cleaning people, gardeners and so forth that we often ignore or fail to fully appreciate the work that they do.

    I just finished Sense and Sensibility and will be starting another book as part of an online book club soon but I don't know which one yet because we are still voting for this month's book :)

    Have a great weekend!

  11. oooh thank you for the review! I keep pausing infront of this book in stores and really would love to read it! I think it's next on my list! <3 Thanks!!!

    Jenn @ Peas & Crayons

  12. I LOVED this book - I absolutely could not guess how this book would end. This is a great read.

  13. cmon ;) twilight defs lived up to the hype. maybe im being sarcastic.. hehe. You have a great blog! x

  14. Ada, I love the idea of the book club! Particularly as i know so very little about the authors here. I spend hours at Barnes and Nobles yet hesitate to buy. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. Have a wonderful start into the week. Paula

  15. Oh I keep seeing this book. I need to read this.

    What I'm reading now is: Jumper. It's a sci-fi book about a guy who can teleport anywhere in the blink of an eye. It's a very good, easy read, and makes me wish I could also teleport! Lol.

  16. Stumbled across your review of "The Help" after reading a few of your other posts. I read the book when it first came out, only because it was in a stack I'd picked up in a book binge at our local Costco. I hadn't heard of it, didn't know much about it, and tossed it into the pile of "to be read" for my summer break. When I got to it, honestly I couldn't put it down. I can understand why people are critical-I'm one to disregard books based on hype-but because I'd read this without prior knowlege I didn't have the filter of the hype to judge it by. That was immensely helpful to me. I'm looking forward to more work from Stockett!


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