Friday, May 01, 2009

A Recommendation

I hate reading posts about people being sick, but man. I think I'm getting worse instead of better. I'm guessing it's some sort of sinus infection. My head is pounding, I'm coughing, I'm congested, and then today I woke up with what I'm thinking is pink eye, unless I've inadvertently scratched my cornea again.

So, I spend my days doing most of the stuff I always do, intermittently lying on the couch. Yesterday I put on my pajamas at 5 p.m. and took my laptop to bed and worked there. So...good times.

In the meantime though, I read one of the best books I've read in ages. I loved this book so much that, as my friend Jacquie says, "I want to eat it."

It is called "The Help," and it is the first novel by Kathryn Stockett. I saw it sitting on the "on hold" shelf at the library for someone else, came home, looked it up on amazon to see what it was about, then reserved a copy at the library for myself. I picked it up on Monday, started it yesterday, and finished this morning.

Here's the Washington Post's review of it:

Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide. Newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English but neither an engagement ring nor a steady boyfriend, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to her parents' cotton farm in Jackson. Although it's 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement, she is largely unaware of the tensions gathering around her town. Skeeter is in some ways an outsider. Her friends, bridge partners and fellow members of the Junior League are married. Most subscribe to the racist attitudes of the era, mistreating and despising the black maids whom they count on to raise their children. Skeeter is not racist, but she is naive and unwittingly patronizing. When her best friend makes a political issue of not allowing the "help" to use the toilets in their employers' houses, she decides to write a book in which the community's maids -- their names disguised -- talk about their experiences. Fear of discovery and retribution at first keep the maids from complying, but a stalwart woman named Aibileen, who has raised and nurtured 17 white children, and her friend Minny, who keeps losing jobs because she talks back when insulted and abused, sign on with Skeeter's risky project, and eventually 10 others follow. Aibileen and Minny share the narration with Skeeter, and one of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue. She unsparingly delineates the conditions of black servitude a century after the Civil War. The murders of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. are seen through African American eyes, but go largely unobserved by the white community. Meanwhile, a room "full of cake-eating, Tab-drinking, cigarette-smoking women" pretentiously plan a fundraiser for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa." In general, Stockett doesn't sledgehammer her ironies, though she skirts caricature with a "white trash" woman who has married into an old Jackson family. Yet even this character is portrayed with the compassion and humor that keep the novel levitating above its serious theme.

What that review doesn't convey is how many times I laughed out loud, the times I had to wipe away the tears, and the soul of these women that I will be carrying around with me for awhile. It's one of those books where, once you finish, you don't want to read anything else for awhile because you don't want anybody new intruding on your thoughts.

I saw one reviewer compare Stockett to Harper Lee, and...hold the phone because never in my life have I said this...that comparison is completely justified.

This is a beautiful book and one I wish everyone would take the time to read. Not to mention, there are so many fantastic food descriptions in there that if I read one more, I was going to have to go out to my kitchen, sinus infection and all, and whip up a caramel cake.

Go forth and read!


Alysa said...

I am going forth and reading ... just placed it on hold at my library ... will be reading soon! thanks for the recommendation.

Kacie said...

And I already had it on my "to read" list on based on another blogger review!

Alice said...

You guys will love it--can't wait to hear your thoughts! Too bad we can't have a book club!

Jill said...

Thanks for the reading suggestion, I'm all into reading lately..more than ever in my life I think. :) hope everyone is feeling healthy soon...we have sickness here, too..not much fun!

Jill said...

Thanks for the reading suggestion, I'm all into reading lately..more than ever in my life I think. :) hope everyone is feeling healthy soon...we have sickness here, too..not much fun!

Ann-Marie said...

Ugh! Hope the creeping sickness has moved on! I, too, will put this on my list. I am desperate need of new books to read, so I am SO thankful for the recommendation! Feel better, if you don't already. :-) Thoughts and prayers to your sweet mom, too!