Books Made of Paper

Kathryn Stockett: ‘The Help'

Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve heard of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and may have even been on a library waiting list to read it. But if you haven’t read it yet, perhaps I can explain what all the fuss is about.

It’s a book that takes place in the ’60s in Jackson, Mississippi, and focuses on the lives of well-to-do white ladies and their “help.” The book is told through the eyes of two maids, Aibileen and Minny, and one young white woman, Skeeter, who is the only un-married, living-at-home gal among her friends who were all married during or the minute college ended. She’s twenty-two, which basically makes her a spinster.

Anyway, what I think people love about this book is that it drops us into a world many of us do not know that much about. I learned about the civil rights movement in school, but that’s different from getting in the heads of the people who lived it. The way in which some of the white women depicted in this book treat their maids, and the way they think about race, is astounding when you really imagine yourself in the moment, which is exactly what Stockett allows us to do.

From the film: Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer & Viola Davis (left to right)

Of course the book is fiction, but Stockett is from Jackson, Mississippi, and the book reads with authenticity. It also moves very quickly, with lots of visual detail and cinematic drama. While I often shy away from movies based on books I’ve read, this one I’m dying to Netflix. It doesn’t hurt to know that it won oodles of awards with a cast including Viola Davis as Aibileen, Octavia Spencer as Minny and Emma Stone as Skeeter.

The suspense is mainly around a book (titled Help) that Skeeter, an aspiring journalist, has decided to write. An extremely dangerous project, given that it’s a collection of local maids’ stories about their experiences and writing it necessitates secret meetings between Skeeter and the black maids of her town. Even the slightest sympathy with the civil rights movement was considered punishable by jail to Skeeter’s friends, who had the influence to make the court of law function in their favor.

Race is still an issue–we all know that, though we’ve also come a long way. Some friends were recently talking about gay rights, and how long that’s taking to get up to speed, but just like civil rights moved slowly but surely, we are getting there. After all, we have an African American president, which no one in a million years would have believed in Jackson, Mississippi, in the ’60s.

It’s this change that is infectious in The Help, because you know it’s coming. You know that Skeeter, and everyone fighting with her, win in the end, regardless of the impact. It made me think about all the other things that need to change in this country and the world, and what I should be doing about it.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? What did you think?

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