Friday, February 12, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

If our area library group The Big Read had not chosen The Help by Kathryn Stockett as its community book, I might never have listened to this audiobook about the lives of black maids in Mississippi in the 1960s. I rarely read fiction and usually avoid anything on the fiction best seller lists other than books by Alexander McCall Smith or J.R.R. Tolkien. But they did, and I did, and I'm pleased with how it all worked out. The Help is a fascinating book with interesting characters and a generous serving of history.

Being a baby boomer, I knew a lot of what Stockett writes about The Help - the Civil Rights Movement, the Jim Crow laws, the KKK, ladies bridge clubs, etc. I grew up in West Texas, which was a bit removed from the Deep South, but we still had segregated schools and neighborhoods for the few blacks in our small town. The concern of the Jackson, Mississippi ladies for segregated toilets in their homes was a revelation to me. My grandparents were the only people I knew in Big Lake with a toilet in the garage, but they never hired maids. My grandfather liked to run the Hoover himself when he came in from the ranch.

While I enjoyed the characters of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny, I think Hilly Holbrook may the name to remember years from now. Early in the book I wondered if Hilly would just be a pathetic comic target, such as Frank Burns in M.A.S.H., but her evil expands as the narrative progresses. I hope to never cross anyone of her kind but to have courage of my convictions if I do. I also enjoyed the comic touches in The Help. Stockett changes moods very effectively throughout the book.

I listened to The Help on an audiobook featuring four readers, one each for the three main characters of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter and another reader for the chapter about the Junior League benefit for children in Africa. When I saw that the audiobook was over nineteen hours, I expected to be listening for several weeks, as I only spend about an hour driving and cooking each day. After a couple of days of listening, I starting extra housecleaning and finding other quiet chores so I could continue listening. I even stopped and just listened without multitasking, which I rarely do for an audiobook. I finished the very entertaining audiobook in only nine days.

I think everyone in my library's adult services department has read the book now. Perhaps it will be one of the most remembered books from 2009-2010 decades from now, a symbol of common experience.

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help: A Novel. Penguin Audio, 2009. ISBN 9780143144182

1 comment:

Sara Evelyn said...

@katiecouric: Kathryn Stockett

Kathryn Stockett, bestselling author of "The Help," speaks with Katie Couric about her successful novel and her childhood in Mississippi. Stockett also answers questions from book club readers.