Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett - Book Review #17

Time has diminished the mentally painful discussion of wombs and women who drive at night. With a full bucket, I now get to tell you about a book that is nothing short of remarkable. And let me tell you, this book will go a lot further toward changing the world than filling up people's "buckets" with words. I read all 444 pages of this novel in two days without neglecting any of my duties. I would hate for any of you to wait for it to come out in paperback. Hardback is worth it, my friends. The bookstores display it as soon as you walk through the door for $24; Amazon sells it for $13.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. It is the story of a young white woman named Miss Skeeter who decides to compile true accounts of how black maids (The Help) were treated by their white employers at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Miss Skeeter enlists the help of Aibileen and Minny, best friends who support each other through the less than ideal events of their lives as The Help. When Miss Skeeter decides to put these accounts into a book, it is for her own advancement; she is a writer and with no husband in sight she thinks she has to do something with her time. In the dark of night, Miss Skeeter sits in Aibileen's house and writes down the stories of many of Jackson's Help exactly as they recount them. As she hears the stories of these brave and fearful women, details unfold that are shocking. As Miss Skeeter says, "There is undisguised hate for white women, there is inexplicable love." Miss Skeeter's motives for writing the book change and when the book is published and read by the white women of Jackson, things really change. The redemptive conclusion will have you cheering out loud.

Stockett changes voices throughout the book. A few chapters are written from Miss Skeeter's point of view, and then she changes to writing in Minny and Aibileen's voices. The beautiful accomplishment of these transitions is one of the most magnificent aspects of the book. During interviews about the book, Stockett does not claim to completely understand the voice of The Help in Jackson. However, having grown up in Jackson with "Help", her understanding of their plight and their emotions must come remarkably close.

One of the things that struck me as I read repeated accounts of just how hard The Help worked is how incompetent the white women were in running their households. Their Help was not only cooking, cleaning, and managing homes, they were raising the children of Jackson. In some of the most breathtaking parts of the novel, Aibileen tries very hard to teach Mae Mobely, the daughter of the woman for whom she works, that we are all created equal. Aibileen assumes that Mae Mobely will follow in the footsteps of her bigoted mother, but tries nonetheless to instill morals into the children she is raising.

Miss Hilly is the villain of the novel. Stockett, in a brilliantly genteel, Southern manner, made me despise her. Miss Hilly does many horrible things throughout the novel. One of her primary purposes in life is to have every white household make a separate bathroom for their Help. Miss Hilly thought it was a sin to share a bathroom with a black woman. This way of thinking is so horrific to me. It is stunning to think that attitude was prevalent only 40 years ago. At one point during a toilet discussion, Miss Hilly assumes that Aibileen would not want to go to school with white people. Aibileen replies, "No ma'am...Not a school full a just white people. But where the colored and white folks is together." Miss Hilly says, "But Aibileen...colored people and white people are just so...different." Then the author tells us what Aibileen is thinking but doesn't dare say: "I feel my lip curling. A course we different! Everybody know colored people and white people ain't the same. We still just people!"

There are incredibly funny parts of this book. The foreshadowing Stockett employs is stunning. If I were putting this book on a list, I'd put it towards the top of the list titled, "The Best Fiction Books that Could Change the World". It isn't Anna Karenina good. It isn't Elegance of the Hedgehog good. It's change-the-world-for-good good. Buy this one. Read this one. Tell everyone you know about this one.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And the winner is...

Amy, who suggested that I read and review Everything Matters. Congratulations!

More book give-aways are coming!


Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Full is Your Bucket? - Book Review #16

The friend who sent me this book oozes happiness and positive energy. She sent it to me in April. I'm just getting around to writing about it because Mr. Civil Thoughts absconded with it. It seems that he decided to send a copy of it to his each of his staff people. I keep waiting for our copy to show up again, but it hasn't. Trying to be positive, I'm going to go ahead and write about it from memory.

How Full is Your Bucket?, by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, is a reminder to all of us that we should be positive during our interactions with others. The premise of the book is that the more we fill others' buckets with positive words of affirmation and attitude, the more our own happiness buckets will be filled. That premise, in my mind, is somewhat debatable. Whether you agree or not, we can all be reminded that edifying words to our co-workers, spouse, friends, children, neighbors, mailmen, and customer service reps go a long way in improving our relationships with others. This book is great encouragement to repair communications with the difficult people in your life, and the authors make the solution sound so simple. It isn't earth-shattering stuff, but a good reminder nonetheless.

P.S. Please note that I'm easing into these reviews slowly. Small book = small post.

I Come Bearing Gifts.

Dear Faithful Readers (all 7 of you),

I owe you an explanation for my lack of posts. What I'm really giving you is an excuse. While I've still been cutting the same number of sandwich crusts, I've added some other writing to my daily schedule. And because this added writing involves deadlines, this blog becomes the very last priority in my day. Reading, of course, is still up there on the high priority list. I just haven't been able to write about my books while I have been learning to manage crusts and deadlines.

To let you know just how sorry I am, I'm giving away an apology book. Because apologies are on my mind, and because I'm about to tell you about a woman named Olive who should have apologized more, I'm going to give away a free copy of Olive Kitteridge. This marvelous book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I adore this book. It is my second favorite book I've read in 2009. If you'd like a free copy of Olive, all you have to do is post a comment giving me a title you'd like to see reviewed on Civil Thoughts. If you win, I'll send you Olive, read your book and post a review. The winner will be chosen at random on Thursday, October 8th at 5:00 pm.

And again, I'm sorry. Crusts and deadlines willing, reviews will be posted on a regular basis again.

Civil Thoughts