Friday, October 29, 2010

The Help

Book:  The Help
Author:  Kathryn Stockett
Like/Don't Like:  Liked (ish)

This is one of those books that I probably wouldn't have gotten around to reading.  I do this with books that are everywhere.  And this book is everywhere.  I see it and think, I'll get around to it eventually - when it's in paperback, but then never do because I get annoyed with seeing its cover in every display and that puts a bad connotation in my head and suddenly I have convinced myself that it's a horrible book and I'd be so dumb to waste my time on it.  I wasn't too that point with this book but it was inevitable.

But I did a preemptive strike and saved myself the trouble of hating it without reading it and just read Bronwyn's copy.  And I liked it, mostly.

It's set in Jackson, Miss. in the 1960s so obviously it's about racism and civil rights and all those things.  When I read about that time period I start feeling really punchy.  I have a hard time with people being dumb.  And I can't think of anything dumber than saying a person of a different color has to use a different drinking fountain because they have germs.  It makes me cringe.  It follows the stories of 3 women - two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, and one white woman, Miss Skeeter.  Skeeter grew up in Jackson and was raised by a black maid, whom she loved.  When she returns from college and finds that her maid is no longer working at her house she starts to question the racial system she was brought up in.  This gets her talking to Aibileen and Minny - who are her friends' maids - and they start to write a tell-all book about what it's like for a black woman to work for a white family.

I felt it did a good job at conveying the very real fear black people lived in.  There were ample examples told in the book of beatins, lynchings, firings, and abuse.  And the story kept me going for quite a while.  Not having grown up in an age of rampant racial discrimination the whole thing is so foreign to me.  I felt like it was well told and thoughtful.

But I did have a few issues:  1.)  It could have been cut down.  I was really into at the beginning.  But the format - which switched between the points of view of 3 characters - is a pet peeve of mine unless done exceptionally well.  This was not.  It got a little long about 2/3 of the way through and I found myself wishing it would just end.  2.)  The author seemed to be on a mission to make sure we knew it was set in the sixties.  It was like there was a check list she was working off of, trying to get as mean signs of the decade in.  Tab - check.  Space race - check.  Pucci mini dresses, Kennedy assasination, hippies, freedome-riders, Rosa Parks - all of them checked off the list.  I know that they are meant to give an sense of the time but it just seemed labored and distracting.  Especially when I was already getting tired of the book.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Great Expectations

Book:  Great Expectations
Author:  Charles Dickens
Like/Don't Like:  I think Dickens and I would be BFF

I have said it before and I will say it until I die:  teenagers shouldn't read Dickens.  What a horrible way to treat both the kids and the author.  Great Expectations was the first Dickens book I ever read and it completely turned me off to him for years and years.  I was a freshman in high school and all I can remember of it is Miss Havisham in her wedding dress and the cake full of critters.  And also that I was bored out of my mind.  Because I was 14 and dumb.  14 year olds don't get Dickens.  How can they?  He's so subtle and dry and his stories weave in and out of dozens of characters' lives.  What 14 year old has that sort of attention span?  I wish that I had been introduced to him in college.  All it would have taken for me to be completely smitten was a few more years under my belt.  But instead I spent almost 20 years thinking he was the biggest bore.

Well, I love him now.  I think we would be the best of friends if we were ever in the same neighborhood, or century.  He's just so funny.  So because I love him I thought I'd go back to the book that started it all and see if my impression of it had evolved beyond, "Ugh, lame."  It has.  I thought it was clever and, proving that my memory for books is non-existent, everything was a surprise.  I remembered that Miss Havisham went up in flames, but other than that I kept gasping and saying, "Really?!"  I love that he ties everything up in a nice bow at the end.  Everyone gets what they deserve.  Good people learn lessons and end up happier and wiser than before.  I never worry that his stories will end poorly, which is a relief sometimes in reading.

Plus, there are always a one or two characters that are just so endearing.  Wemmick was the one this time.  He lives in a teeny castle, complete with a moat and tends to his old father, whom he calls The Aged Parent, sometimes shortened just to Aged or Aged P.  My Dad can consider himself warned that I will be calling him this in the near future.