Thursday, July 8, 2010

Literary Bite: The Help

Ok, here we go - it's a trendy book. If you've walked into a bookstore in the past couple months, odds are you've seen this one prominently displayed. And if you read book blogs or newspaper articles, odds are you've seen it reviewed...
And if you're like me, you may have ignored it. I'm too much on my own program to pay attention to everything that comes up on my Amazon recommendations. (This could also be due to the fact that Amazon recommends math  and economics textbooks (thank you school), and mega-disaster and fish DVDs (thank you work).)

But a few weeks ago I was at a party chatting with a friend when this book came up. He said that he and his mom loved it, that I should read it, and that he would lend it to me. Ok - sounds good to me! (At the time I was struggling through Country Driving and The Satanic Verses, so a fun book was right up my alley.)

And trendiness aside, The Help by Katheryn Stockett is good. It's about black maids working in Mississippi in the early 1960s, told from the perspective of 2 maids and one white woman. I don't want to give too much away, but the basic gist is that one young white woman (Miss Skeeter) decides to write a book that tells what it's like to serve the white women of Jackson, Mississippi. 

When I first started reading I didn't realize that it was so recent. I mean really, the '60s weren't that long ago. Mississippi may as well be a foreign country to me...

Anywho, my favorite character is Minny - I wish there was more of her story. She loves to cook and is the sassiest woman in Mississippi. But she's also a real and well-developed character. They all are, and I appreciate that. 

This book is part Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, part Gone with the Wind. It address racism (obviously), domestic violence, alcoholism, politics, etc. But the problem that it only glazes over is the question of exploitation. Is Skeeter exploiting the maids? By her publishing a book they get their stories told...but then Skeeter (presumably) goes off to New York and makes a life for herself, while the maids are all stuck in Jackson. And Stockett only glazes over that problem...a little questionable if you ask me...

Either way, it's a good book - worth your time - read it!

Check out this review.

And the NY Times review

This is an interesting oped from the Washington Post about "Black Literature" published by white authors. 


  1. HA! I saw this book while trying to find a book to buy at Target and avoided it for all the same reasons. I'll give it a go though..

  2. I, too, was hesitant to read this book. Once I opened it, though, I could not put it down! It was a great break from my recent running-centered books and left me wanting more!

  3. did you read the secret life of bees? youd like that one too! the book > the movie

  4. Thanks for sharing - I'm totally ordering this one. Have been trying *hard* to read Brick Lane by Monica Ali but I think, 5 months later, I'm never getting past the middle of that book.
    Btw - I have an award for you over at my blog. Go check it out!

  5. I liked the way Stockett resists editorialising on the motives of her characters. From the beginning Skeeter is motivated by self-interest, not a revolutionary desire to up-end southern society. Stuart Whitworth is shown to be weak by the choices he ultimately makes, too. The maids are used by Skeeter, but they aren't naive about it. The project is quite likely the only way any of them would see their words in print. To have Skeeter engineer any other outcome would have stretched my credulity. Her moral struggles with the behaviour of her friends and the growing distance between them was enough for me.