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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Vanessa
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: The Survivors by Kate Furnivall & The Corset by Laura Purcell (Pigeonhole)
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favorite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Postby Vanessa » Mon September 6th, 2010, 11:33 am

I have to say I'm with EC on this one - I thought it was a fabulous book, written with a sense of humour. I just loved it - it's definitely a keeper for me!
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you ~ The Shadow of the Wind

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Misfit
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Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Mon September 6th, 2010, 12:55 pm

"Leo62" wrote:The cynic in me wonders if this is the case. A way for the (presumably mostly white) readers to engage with a difficult subject without feeling too confronted by ugliness.

I confess I haven't read the book, but I did hear a radio adaptation of it earlier this year and didn't much like it.

From what I've read of the civil rights era in Mississippi, the attitude to anyone black (or white) who stepped out of line was vicious and unrelenting violence. Black people were murdered with impunity for things much less serious than the poop pie incident...


I've spent my entire life in the Pacific Northwest (with a short stint in Hawaii), so even though I recall the civil rights movement, the riots, etc. it was all from a newscast and not first hand. I think Leo might have a valid point, publishers can be leery of such hot topic matter and want to tone it down some.

I was thinking of getting the book out and trying myself but the hold count is as bad as I've seen for PG and Gabaldon's latest, 911 holds on 289 copies :eek: :eek:

Someone is definitely reading this book.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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EC2
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Location: Nottingham UK
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Postby EC2 » Mon September 6th, 2010, 1:53 pm

Looking just now, it's at number 12 on Amazon UK's chart with 234 customer review.
Amazon.com is also at number 12 with 2,500 -ish reviews. My copy said 2 million copies sold in the USA, and that doesn't include library borrowings.
When I was doing a library tour before I'd read it, I was talking to a senior librarian who's job it was to buy books for their region. Hertfordshire I think, but don't quote me, as I did several gigs close together around that time. At that point they had a huge waiting list for the novel and she was buying in extra copies as it was a selection for Channel 4's TV Book Club. She also told me that she and the others on her book buying committee thought it was a superb read and all of their library reading groups would be discussing it.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon September 6th, 2010, 3:01 pm

I loved the Help. Unlike Michy, I did not find any of it contrived. I was a teenager, a very socially-conscious one, during the period described, and although I was in Los Angeles, I had black friends. Some of those had recently come from the Deep South, and from what they told me (along with later accounts) of their growing-up experiences, this book rang very true.

I could feel the constant tension in the story. The fact that nothing worse happened to the maids was also very typical--the tension, one which all black people in that area lived with, was the possibility that something horrible MIGHT happen to any of them, and that there would be no redress. As the Billie Holliday song goes,
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves, blood at the root.

But that was mostly done to the men. The woman just got raped, shoved, pushed, and taken advantage of. But they pushed it down and didn't complain, because doing so might get their fathers, husbands, and sons killed.

I remember the Medgar Evers murder well, you can still go back and see the news articles online, and since I was expecting it to come up, the danger felt very real to me. I kept wondering which of the characters was going to be caught in that.

The bit where the maid was put into jail without trial for the theft of a low-value bit of jewelry has several real precedents, some from the 70's.

A good companion read for the Help would be the Glass Castle--a memoir by (white) Jeannette Walls. The part in the South is a decade later, but you can see that it hasn't changed much. Mississippi is one of the worst for prejudice -- still is.

As to the characters being stereotypes, well, they might be, but I have lived with quite a few of those 'stereotypes' while sharing our home with abused women, about 40% of whom were women of color. Like most cliches, they exist because they reflect reality. I suppose they might be boring if the reader couldn't look through their own experience and say, "Yes, that was just like Sylvia," or "Stockett sure had Anna nailed, I almost think she might have known her." In which case, you don't need 'fresh' or surprising, accurate will do.

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Mon September 6th, 2010, 3:02 pm

"EC2" wrote:
As to still being around in 50 years. I do wonder these days if society has changed and how much will be classic in 50 years. Anyone remember what won the first Booker Prize 40 years ago without looking it up?


50 years is a somewhat arbitrary number -- but a book has to have some sort of staying power to become a classic. Just how much time is subjective; I think it's something we only realize in retrospect. But even in today's society, we are still reading and talking about books that were written 50, even 100 years (or more) ago. Winning a literary prize definitely helps a book stand the test of time, although that in itself doesn't guarantee it will become a classic. Even being an Oprah pick doesn't guarantee it. :p I really don't see The Help winning any sort of prize or lasting over the long haul. Obviously, I could be wrong, but even if I am, I still think the book is highly over-rated. But then, I am used to swimming against the tide of popular opinion. :)

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EC2
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Postby EC2 » Mon September 6th, 2010, 3:47 pm

"Michy" wrote:50 years is a somewhat arbitrary number -- but a book has to have some sort of staying power to become a classic. Just how much time is subjective; I think it's something we only realize in retrospect. But even in today's society, we are still reading and talking about books that were written 50, even 100 years (or more) ago. Winning a literary prize definitely helps a book stand the test of time, although that in itself doesn't guarantee it will become a classic. Even being an Oprah pick doesn't guarantee it. :p I really don't see The Help winning any sort of prize or lasting over the long haul. Obviously, I could be wrong, but even if I am, I still think the book is highly over-rated. But then, I am used to swimming against the tide of popular opinion. :)


I'm not likely to be around 50 years from now, so I'll have to observe from the great beyond. :) I do wonder though through society's changes, if the books we discuss now that are 50-150 years old, will still be being discussed in 50 years' time. I'm not sure if The Help is a classic and it may well fall by the wayside as most books do, but I certainly loved reading it in the here and now.
Many of the books cited as classics wind up on my bleurrgh rating.
If I had to pick my own classics for people to read 50 years from now (which would be totally different to the classics of the literati mafia I suspect), I'd go with Mort by Terry Pratchett and The Shining By Stephen King! As 2 titles anyway :- )
Les proz e les vassals

Souvent entre piez de chevals

Kar ja li coard n’I chasront



'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'


Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal



www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Miss Moppet
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Location: North London
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Postby Miss Moppet » Mon September 6th, 2010, 3:49 pm

"Michy" wrote: All in all I found the book to be an entertaining read, "good" but not "great"; certainly not The Classic that so many are proclaiming it to be. Just because a book tackles race relations doesn't automatically make it a classic.


Exactly. I think that if a book tackles a subject like race, or the Holocaust, reviewers are actually afraid to say that they didn't like it or that it wasn't any good because they think it will seem that they're racist or anti-semitic. But that's not necessarily so. For example, I thought The Reader was tripe.

Michy wrote:To be a classic a book has to have a lasting impact and staying power; people are still reading and talking about it 50 years from now. Obviously it's too soon to know if people will still be reading and talking about The Help 10 years from now, much less 30 or 50, but I would put my money on it that it will be largely forgotten by then.


I would really like to ask the reviewers who are quoted in the front of the book saying this is a classic to rival Mockingbird what they felt they learned from the Help that they didn't know before. Was it that racism is bad? Was it that there used to be segregation? Was it that some maids loved the families they worked for and others hated them? Where's the big revelation? I don't see it. The only thing I learned from the book was how many uses there are for Crisco.

So, besides the ending, what else didn't you like about the book?


The plot - I thought it was ridiculous. The twists were inane, unlikely and oversold. For example: Minny is working secretly as a maid for Miss Celia and Mister Johnny. The whole 'working in secret' plot is utterly silly to start with, but then Minny is scared because she thinks Johnny has come home. Chapter ends with her perched on a toilet (the book is obsessed with toilets). Pages later we find out it wasn't Mr Johnny, it was a man come to read the meter. That's the kind of cliffhanger that used to disappoint me when I was ten years old reading Dana Girls books.

Minny is all worried thinking Johnny is going to shoot this strange black woman in his kitchen. Turns out he knew about her all the time. Not only is this a big anti-climax, it reinforces the false message of the whole book - sometimes we worry that violence and bad things will happen, but don't worry, they really won't. Everything is going to be all right, because nice white ladies like Miss Skeeter will make sure of it. How can reviewers compare this book to Mockingbird? Mockingbird was saying "Everything is not all right. Things need to change. White people can't put things right however much they want to, and most of them don't."

The characterisation - the characters were either stereotypes or caricatures. And when I say stereotypes, I'm not just talking about the black ones. I thought Minny was a version of Mammy and Aibileen was a Magical Black (her prayers really work!). There can be truth in stereotype, but there's nothing courageous in perpetuating it. The book is being called courageous when actually it takes the line of least resistance, presenting its readers with characters who are already familiar to them.

Skeeter, to me, was the worst of all...Lady Bountiful. She's an updated Ellen O'Hara. When Gretchen accuses her of exploiting the maids, Skeeter's response is that she's not making any money out of the book. Maybe not, but she gets a reference from a NY publisher. That's a huge thing when you have just left college and have very little experience. And quite a few insiders would know she was responsible for a bestselling book. It's her ticket out of Jackson. Of course she's exploiting them. Stockett either can't see it or doesn't want to. The scenes where the black characters say the white lady is just like family and where the maids tell Skeeter to go to New York and start her new wonderful life were some of the most cringeworthy I've ever read.

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Miss Moppet
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Postby Miss Moppet » Mon September 6th, 2010, 4:24 pm

"Michy" wrote:
BB -- "The Nanny Diaries set in 1960s Mississippi" -- what a great analogy!


I actually think The Nanny Diaries is a better and more honest book than this one, in that it deals critically with race relations in the domestic sphere in the present day, rather than sanitising (toilets again!) what happened fifty years ago.

MLE wrote:The woman just got raped, shoved, pushed, and taken advantage of. But they pushed it down and didn't complain, because doing so might get their fathers, husbands, and sons killed.


That's exactly why I had problems with this book. I felt it was unrealistic that the maids would complain in print and all that would happen is that one of their husbands would lose his job. Minny has a teenage son - if he had been lynched, and she had to deal with that, and Skeeter had to deal with it, that to me would have lifted the book from a fluffy read to a serious read.

MLE wrote:A good companion read for the Help would be the Glass Castle--a memoir by (white) Jeannette Walls. The part in the South is a decade later, but you can see that it hasn't changed much. Mississippi is one of the worst for prejudice -- still is.


Thanks for the recommendation, will seek it out.

Vanessa wrote:I have to say I'm with EC on this one - I thought it was a fabulous book, written with a sense of humour. I just loved it - it's definitely a keeper for me!


I don't have a problem with people saying it's a good read - it wasn't a good read for me, but that's totally subjective and one person's good read is another's recycling bin fodder.

Leo62 wrote:A way for the (presumably mostly white) readers to engage with a difficult subject without feeling too confronted by ugliness.


I think so. And in a way, it wouldn't bother me. For example, I enjoyed Hairspray. It didn't bother me that it ended with everybody dancing around instead of everybody getting shot. It was a fun film with John Travolta in drag, nothing more, and no-one treated it as more. To me, the reception of The Help is as if Hairspray was being hailed as the most groundbreaking film about race relations ever.

It doesn't bother me that book clubs all over the country are loving this book, because book clubs are always loving books I think are rubbish, which is one reason I don't belong to a book club. It does bother me that The Help is already being taught in schools. That suggests it will be around in 50 years, and just as revered as it is now.

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Mon September 6th, 2010, 6:13 pm

Miss Moppet -- I absolutely agree with everything you've said about The Help, but you said it all so much better than I ever could. I, too, thought the entire plotline of Minny working in secret for Miss Celia was completely silly. And as for the characters already being familiar to the readers -- that is absolutely what bugged me about them. I knew what every one of them, both black and white, was going to do and say before they ever did and said it. If Stockett's characters had reminded me of actual people I've known, that probably would have been interesting. Instead, they felt like they had all been recycled from characters I've already read about dozens of times before in other books. And some aspects of Aibileen I thought were definitely politically-correct 21st century, not authentic 1960s Mississippi.

I didn't realize The Help is being taught in schools; that's pretty disappointing.

As for The Glass Castle -- I read that a few years ago and loved it -- it is on my keeper shelf. I would never have thought of it as a companion to The Help -- to me it is a completely different book about completely different issues. But I highly recommend it. I loved it most of all because the author never trashes her parents (I hate those kinds of books). She presents them as they are, no sugar coating, but the fact that she loves them, anyway, and has no bitterness comes shining through. Jeanette Walls has another book recently out, I haven't read it, but probably will.
Last edited by Michy on Mon September 6th, 2010, 9:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Mon September 6th, 2010, 6:42 pm

"Miss Moppet" wrote:Exactly. I think that if a book tackles a subject like race, or the Holocaust, reviewers are actually afraid to say that they didn't like it or that it wasn't any good because they think it will seem that they're racist or anti-semitic. But that's not necessarily so. For example, I thought The Reader was tripe.





I think you're absolutely right. A professional reviewer would never dare criticize the book as honestly as you have done, for fear they would be tarred and feathered. Or worse.

Coincidentally, I am currently re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. It's been many years since I've read it, and I don't remember that much about it, believe it or not. I will be keeping this discussion of The Help in mind as I read it again (or listen to it, actually, as it's an audio version).


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