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03:12am 08/08/2010
I read "The Help" today. Yes, the whole book in about seven hours.

I'm torn on this book. It was well written, even though the author did the literary equivalent of actors in a "foreign" film speaking in British accents. I understand it on one hand, you need to give life to the characters and want to show how they speak in their way, but gah! it drives my brain crazy.

The other thing that I kind of got bothered by was the white person swooping in to save the black people. If we didn't take care of them, those silly black people, they would just get into a heap of trouble. Now, maybe that wasn't the sentiment, but it kind of felt like it.

One character that I adored was Celia. She didn't seem to understand the "rules" of being white and having a black maid. I dug that. Celia is from a part of Mississippi where even the black folk pity the people who live there, that's how poor it is. I loved how Celia is completely driven, in the end, to do whatever she can to the queen bee of the town.

The other thing that kind of bothered me was that the book was written in chunks based on the character. So Skeeter is one section, Minny is another section, etc. There are three "main" characters, the third being Aibileen. Skeeter, or Eugenia, is the white woman who winds up writing a book of interviews/stories of various black domestics from the town. Being the early 1960s, and being Mississippi, she is exposing herself and her family to danger, which takes a while for her to appreciate and realize. I guess her naivete bothered me a bit, but it doesn't actually surprise after I thought about it for a little bit. She learns a lot during the course of the book, but, at the end, I still think she has a bit of that naivete to get over.

The switching characters thing has never been my favorite kind of writing, but I guess it works sometimes. I guess I just prefer a more linear way of writing. The only time she strays from it is to write the big scene near the end. For me, that was the easiest bit of the book to read. No special dialogue or anything like that, just straight up writing.

Overall, I recommend it as a library read, but it's not something that I would ever pick up again.
mood: nerdynerdy
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(no subject)
09:04pm 08/08/2010 (UTC)
Sign Here: reading
Hmm, I didn't read it as the white woman saving the black women. I got the impression the black women were saving HER from her lack of racial consciousness and her naivete about the very real dangers she was exposing her family to. Her house could have been burned, she could have been killed (or worse), and her parents could have been destroyed both socially and financially. And I saw the black women using Skeeter's project to advance their own agenda - improving their working conditions.

It's not like the maids had to be convinced there was some problem with the racial hierarchy in Mississippi. They knew there were plenty of things wrong, but they also knew there was little they could about it. Sure, you could do a Terrible Awful and hope you weren't blacklisted from work for the rest of your life, your husband laid off, and perhaps lynched as well... but in terms of political power, the maids had very little. If they had a bunch of power they could exercise, wouldn't they be writing their own books?

The maids in this book worked long hours, didn't get a chance to finish school, and who on earth would have published a book by a black woman about the racial situation in Mississippi? Even today, women of color writing about race and class are heavily marginalized, particularly in the academic presses.

Skeeter's book (and others like it) had the potential to educate the white socio-political majority about the injustices in Mississippi because someone was willing to publish it. And ultimately, it was books and films like it that awakened the white US from its racial complacency and got some very important messages out. Black people speaking up for themselves had a very good chance of being killed. Not that such a danger didn't face Skeeter, but I saw her determination to write the book to be an exercise of her white privilege for the greater good.

I never got the idea that The Help was about silly black people needing to be taken care of by white women. Weren't Celia and Abilene's boss perfect examples of silly white people who couldn't survive without black help? If anything, I think the book was about how overly dependent white women were on their black maids (white women didn't even know how to get stains out of shirts!) while simultaneously dehumanizing the maids and under-appreciating their valuable knowledge and help.

Obviously I read it a lot differently from you, and that could be because I'm white and didn't grow up in Mississippi. I'm not criticizing your reading of The Help, just saying I saw something different. Then again, I read it over 3 days. Maybe I would have seen things differently if I had read it all in one.

I also found the switching between characters to be annoying, but I thought it was a good way to explore each woman's perspective more than a traditional narrative could have. My one regret is that she didn't write anything from Henny's point of view. I would have loved her perspective on the toilet episode. Ah well.
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(no subject)
10:32pm 08/08/2010 (UTC)
I can see it that way (the black ladies saving the white lady). I did like the part where she realized that she had been doing what her "friends" had been doing, talking about them like they weren't there even though they were standing right next to them.

I think the saddest part about this book, was the the realization that Elizabeth (mother of Mae Mobley) didn't realize that it was her in the second chapter even though that part about the table was in there.

Again, I like it, just don't think I would buy it. I don't think it's a book that I could read again, unlike Harry Potter :)
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(no subject)
11:19pm 08/08/2010 (UTC)
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I also thought it was sad that Skeeter's Mom didn't realize how incredibly racist she was towards Constantine. She was more concerned with her social standing than any kind of introspection. She firmly believes Constantine's daughter was out of line and sought to preserve the racial boundary. Okay, I know she ends up dying from cancer in the end so you can't speak ill of the dead or whatever, but I thought that was a too-convenient literary device to shift attention back to the book project.

I was also bummed Skeeter wasn't able to sway her boyfriend's racial perspective. But I guess that would have made it too fairy-tale like.

Ultimately, I wonder if this book was written for sheltered white women. (It's marketed to women; that's why I left out the men.) There are so many people I encounter who believe that race is a moot point in America. A book like this shows just how recently separate bathrooms were a huge issue. And talking in front of the help like they're not there... plenty of my white students talked about "the Mexican problem" without ever acknowledging that a good 1/3 of the rest of the class was Latino.

I didn't buy the book either. I just got it from the library. Next on my list is Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. Also from the library. ;)
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(no subject)
01:25am 09/08/2010 (UTC)
ooo I didn't know Ehrenreich had a new book. Need to put that on the list.

The mother wouldn't have seen it as racist as it had never been any other way. Skeeter's beau, well,I think for him (besides a race issue) it was also that his ex cheated on him with someone like what Skeeter was trying to do. I think it was just another level of hurt for him. Then again, he was hiding behind his father's political career to make excuses for why he left his ex.

Have you seen the trailer for "The Joneses"? In it, you see the hair stylist and later he's at a party. Uh, no, in that part of America, the stylist is not invited to the open house. For you and me, MAYBE, but in that world, no.

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(no subject)
03:35am 10/08/2010 (UTC)
Why We Cite: Hypnotic Squares
The other thing that kind of bothered me was that the book was written in chunks based on the character. So Skeeter is one section, Minny is another section, etc.

Oooh--that annoys me, too. Some authors can pull it off well enough, but if they don't, it just gets difficult to keep up with and makes suspension of disbelief that much harder, having to jump from character to character so frequently.
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