Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Help

Thanks to the Doctor for hosting a really fun and chock full BC on Monday! El Jefe's always glad to rearrange the date so that everyone can come. It was great to have the whole group (minus our Sun Valley exile--we missed you, Blondie!) together to start off 2010--our 8th year of The Club of Books! While we caught up on each other's holiday gossip, we noshed on a bountiful platter of dips, spreads, olives, and possibly the most delicious rosemary crisps around. And speaking of delicious, if we ever got a cook book going, the Doctor's pulled pork orichiette would, in my humble opinion, be the starring recipe. It was a meat and pasta lovers' dream dinner. Oh right, and a hearty salad and homemade chocolate cheesecake topped with mixed berries for dessert. Thank goodness El Jefe's New Years resolution is not a diet, and apologies to anyone whose was.

And on to the book, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. This book was extremely well-received, getting an average score of 8--which for our group, whose tastes in literature are all over the map, is fantastic. Despite its imposing length (made none the more comfortable by being in hardcover), almost all of us either finished the book or made very good progress, which made for a great discussion. We talked a lot about the book, mostly during the ratings, which took us all the way until dinner to complete. It must be a good sign when people have so much to say that they can't sum it up in a nutshell. One of the obvious points that impacted everyone's reading experience was the author's use of the southern black dialect (NOT Ebonics, as we learned!) which she phonetically spelled out during the chapters that the maids Aibeleen and Minny narrated. Law, it seem like it gone drive everyone a us crazy during them first few chapters. But then, once people became accustomed to reading the dialect, it quickly grew to be less obtrusive and became a unique and endearing feature of the story. We talked about whether it was controversial for a white author to use such dialect in her work (although El Jefe notes that white southern authors have been using black dialect for decades--this was hardly a new convention, perhaps just the most extreme example). We also talked about our various favorite parts in the plot and that this book, whether intentional or not, is just begging to be made into a movie. There were plenty of engaging characters and storylines that kept the pages turning, from Skeeter's prank of delivering 32 toilets to Hilly's lawn, to Celia Foote throwing up all over her cleavage-enhancing pink sequin evening gown, to Minnie baking up the Terrible Awful. And on top of all of this was the revealing look at what it might have been like to have been born into a different time, a different place, and a different color, and to have had to suffer the back-breaking work, humiliation, and often times violent discrimination that the "help" experienced in 1960's Mississippi. Truly this was a story that made us think about our past and our present, and made us feel sad, lucky, ashamed, and hopeful all at the same time.