When I saw the giant, wall-sized poster for the movie called The Help in my local theatre, I had no idea it was based on a book. I just knew that Emma Stone was on the poster and she was BLONDE, so I thought, "Finally! Something that might make people stop telling me I look like Emma Stone!" I soon heard that it was based on a popular book, but I never thought much more about it.
Fast forward a few weeks, and several friends of mine were talking about the book on various social networking sites, almost all of them using the exact phrase, "can't put it down." Well, that always makes me curious. Multiple people whose opinions I trust raving about the same book. OK. I had just finished A Game of Thrones and had planned on jumping right into the next book in the series, but I was so HEARTBROKEN after the end of that book that I needed a break. I took my happy tail to Amazon, downloaded The Help for my Kindle, and started reading 5 minutes later. Thirty-six hours after that, I had finished the book. Loved it.
The Help is University of Alabama graduate (booooo, War Eagle!) Kathryn Stockett's novel about the relationship between white families and their "help" in the 1960s. The story's narration is done by three people (except one chapter, which is told from an omniscient point of view). The first two narrators, Aibileen and Minny, are black maids for white families in Jackson, Mississippi. The third narrator is Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, who the young, white daughter of an affluent Jackson family who has recently graduated from college and wants to pursue a journalism career. All of Skeeter's friends quit college after they found husbands, and they are now living happily ever after, hiring maids to do their chores and raise their children. Although Skeeter has chosen a different path in life, she still attends weekly luncheons and club meetings with her friends. This is where Skeeter starts to notice just how her friends are treating their "help." When her insufferably vapid friend Hilly begins a community-wide movement to install separate bathrooms for maids to avoid "disease," Skeeter knows she has to do something to open people's eyes to the discrimination and injustices in the South.
I am, as you know, a sucker for a good Southern story, and even more of a sucker for a good historically-based novel. The tumultuous 1960s is a great setting for just about any story, and Stockett uses iconic historical events throughout her story to move the plot along. There are things in this book that will make you sick and ashamed and angry and just about every other emotion under the sun.
As a history teacher, I often feel like there are monumental events in our history that we hear about so much that we take them for granted. "Yeah, yeah, Rosa Parks wouldn't give up her seat on the bus. We know, we've learned about it every year since 4th grade." It almost loses its importance because it's just rote fact at this point. (Not saying I feel that way, but I know plenty of my students do.) There were so many unbelievably brave things that people did to change the way things were, and many of us don't even stop to think about how much of a risk they took just to stand up for what they knew was right. This book pretty much dares you to forget about how much of a sacrifice so many people made in the 60s for racial equality. You see what happens to people who stand up for what's right in this book, and it's heartbreaking. You see how powerful the desire is to fit in and not "associate" with blacks other than to hire the "poor things" as your help, lest you be shunned by your socialite friends.
This book will definitely give you plenty to think about, and I fully agree with the "couldn't put it down" sentiment. Worth your time, for sure.
Read from August 5, 2011 to August 7, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Where. Do I. Begin?
It has been a long while since a book has devoured every fiber of my being like this book did... Every now and then, you just have that book. The last time I read a book that was that book, it was Pillars of the Earth, back in 2007. That's not to say there haven't been tons of books I loved since then, because there have been -- The Hunger Games and Millennium trilogies, to name a few. Still, nothing has been quite so captivating as the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.
Let me begin by saying that it took me a very, very long time to read this, and that includes listening to the audio book on and off. The copy I have is 800-ish pages, so it's a monster of a book, but I've read longer books in shorter amounts of time. For me, the issue wasn't that the book didn't have me hooked -- it did. It's just not a book I want to pick up for a few pages at a time, or a book I want to read while I'm, say, sitting on a school bus full of loud elementary school children. (Tried it -- major comprehension fail.) You get sucked in to the world that Martin builds, and you don't want to just stop in for a minute and then leave. You want to commit an hour or so at a time to reading, and I think that's something most would have trouble doing on a daily basis.
I will also say that for the first several chapters, I was completely confused. It's hard to read at first, and there are a lot of characters and places and families/houses to get to know. When I was about 50 pages in to the book, I was discussing it with a friend at work, who told me that there's an appendix in the back that lists the members of each house, including servants. MAJORLY helpful. I would actually recommend reading that first, and then starting the book, but even if you don't, it's great to have that to flip back to when you get confused.
OK, so, what's it about, right? Well, I'm avoiding that question because there's a lot going on, and I'm not really sure where to start. The major focus is the Stark family, head by Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell. Winterfell is in the frigid northern region of a kingdom ruled by King Robert Baratheon, who is a longtime friend of Eddard's. King Robert seized the throne from the Targaryen family, whose young heirs still live and want to restore their family's reign. King Robert married a lady from the Lannister family, who are known for their wealth and their shrewd attitudes. (Confused yet?) You obviously have the issue of the Targaryens seeking to win back their power, but at the same time, the Hand (or advisor) to the King has mysteriously and suddenly died. Many in the kingdom suspect foul play, and they begin searching for an answer. Add to that some creepy snow zombies running around outside the Wall that protects the kingdom, and you have yourself one action-packed book.
I really cannot say enough good things about this book. Everything about it is amazing. The Lannisters are deliciously evil, and the Starks admirably noble. There are characters that you will absolutely fall in love with and characters that make you rage. I always think a book is good if I can't stop thinking about how much I hate one of the characters. (Characters I'm supposed to hate, that is -- not like Bella Swan in Twilight. I'm supposed to like her, but I hate her. Not the same.) I laughed out loud several times while reading this, I was totally thrown for a loop more than once, and I will admit that I cried. Only once, but I did. I was totally heartbroken, and it was awesome.
Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book:
"A mind needs a book as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." -- Tyrion Lannister
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." -- Cersei Lannister
READ IT, I SAID.
Read from June 30, 2011 to August 4, 2011