New York Times best-selling author, slow cooking expert, mom of three
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A Year of Slow Cooking

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Club Discussion: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett


Good Morning!

I LOVED THIS BOOK.

This was the first book I've read in a very long time (maybe since college?) that I could tell was actual literature. I read quickly, and can fly through pop fiction rather quickly, but I found myself taking the time to absorb each page, paragraph, and sentence while reading.


This book was not just well-written, it was crafted. I have no doubt that it will live on for generations to come, and become assigned reading.


Thank you to everyone who wrote in suggesting
The Help. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to finish the book, you might want to steer clear of the discussion. I'd hate to inadvertently spoil anything for you.

Tonight at 5pm Pacific, I'll be leading a live Twitter discussion
@stephanieodea under the hashtag #thehelp. I hope to see you!

in the mean time, here are a few thoughts to get your brain buzzing:

1) I usually don't like books where the point of view shifts. I get distracted easily while reading and quickly get lost. This was not the case with this book, and I loved how Stockett stuck with the same point of view for a few chapters at a time before switching. I had no trouble following along, and marveled at how well the story unfolded through each character.


2) I sometimes get bogged down with dialect. I have skimmed pages before, waiting for the dialect to end so I could just "get back to the story." Not here. I don't know if this is an authentic interpretation of southern dialect in the fifties (some cranky Amazon reviewers said it isn't) or not, and I honestly don't care. It was perfect to me. I could read and understand it and I could hear the voices in my head. That's good enough for me!

3) I found that I could relate to all of the main characters, and rooted for them in different ways.

I related to Skeeter the most.
I know what it's like to gnaw at your fingernails waiting for weeks to hear back from faceless NY publishers, I understood her relationship with her mother, I often have the "I don't fit in here" feeling she does in social situations, and I loved the way she handled the Miss Myrna job of faking her way through it.

What about you? What were your impressions of the book, and which character resonated the most with you?


new recipe: Boston (book club) Tea Punch

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really loved this book, too. I read slower than I usually do, but I think mostly at first to sound out the spelling for the speech of the characters. It was one of the best books I have read in a long time, and a really interesting perspective you don't hear.

jybquilter said...

I, too, enjoyed "The Help." At first I found the dialect to be distracting, but it began to flow and then the story took off. I also enjoyed the shifting points of view because I think it rounded out the story. I would like to know what Hilly's pov is, as well as Elizabeth's. They puzzled me and I still don't understand them. My book club read this book recently and most of us liked it.

scmom (Barbara) said...

I just finished it yesterday and loved it, too. I think I related to Aibileen, ironically because I am neither black nor domestic help, but I guess that just goes to show that we are not all that much different.

Lyndsay said...

I loved it too! I hope I can join you tonight.. I see an hour of video games in my daughter's future!

Katy Mary said...

I didn't read your review because I wasn't sure if it would give anything away but I really want to read this book. I have heard good things about it! Love your Blog by the way, we just got our first slow-cooker as a gift from our Engagement Party and I can't wait to try out some recipes.

Lisa said...

I read this book because I saw it on your blog while searching for a drumstick recipe. I am so glad that I did! The Help reminded me that there are actually good books out there whose authors make me care about the characters without a bunch of gratuitous violence, language or "adult situations." I loved this book!

Stephanie O'Dea said...

Anon, I agree. I found myself savoring the words and the speech, instead of flying through to get to the plot meat.

jybquilter, you're right that the shifting pov really helped to round out the story. I would love to know Hilly's pov---maybe her perspective 15 years or more later? My hope is that she's embarrassed by her younger views.
I'd also like to learn more about Lou Anne---it seems like she and Skeeter think a lot alike, but don't discover it until the very end.

Barbara, I related to a lot of Aibileen too. In college I nannied to some pretty wealthy people and found myself nodding along while she described some of Elizabeth's stand offish behavior.

Lyndsay, you'd be fostering self-control and independence! :-)

xoxo

Stephanie O'Dea said...

cross-posted with Katy Mary and Lisa!

Katy Mary, congratulations on your engagement! You'll wow your husband (and yourself!) with the great stuff you can make in your new slow cooker. I'm glad you found me. :-)

Lisa, LOL on finding a book to read while looking for a drumstick recipe. I agree, the writing in this book blew me out of the water. I also agree that there was *nothing* "icky" in this book. I'd happily pass it along to my daughters (at an appropriate age), and my mom and grandma.

xoox

EG said...

I listened to this book, and that way the dialect wasn't distracting at all, because I could hear their voices. I think 5 different women read.

The audio book has a post-script from the author explaining that she grew up in Mississippi and a black woman raised her. So yes, I think the reviewers on Amazon are just grumpy.

I don't Tweet so I can't join in the discussion, but I did really enjoy the book.

Elaine said...

Like your blog, have your cookbook.
I read The Help. Very good book, hope she will write another one to follow up.

helderheid said...

EG, I too listened to it rather than read it. Having each character's parts read by different readers was delightful. It took me all the way from Utah to Oregon on my road trip and I didn't have to worry about what my kids might hear. Loved. This. Book.

Mrs. Farmer said...

I loved the flow of this book. I probably wouldn't have picked it had it not been chosen for our book club. But I'am so glad we read it. I'm a fast reader also and I found myself savoring it. Not wanting to miss a page. This was beautifully written. And I have to say it's probably the longest set up for a poop joke in history!! I LOVED it!! And I have recommended it quite a few times.

Stephanie O'Dea said...

bwhahahahaaaa! on the poop joke set-up!

I've got it on hold at the library for the audio version.
the wait for the recording isn't nearly as long as for the book.

Amie said...

I don't know that I'm most like her or anything, but I loved Minnie's point of view and her story. She's such a spitfire!

D. said...

This has easily made it to my list of favorite books. I really enjoyed reading from all the different perspectives - typically, most authors struggle with this because they can't build a good description of each character but I felt that Stockett did a great job of character development without it being too overwhelming. I loved the ending, too!

Anonymous said...

I loved it! It was so good & I want to go back & re-read it just because I feel I might have missed something.

So glad you liked it. When I read here that you were reading it, it was waiting for your review.

Have a great day!

~Christi in California~

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say, although I don't Tweet so I won't be around later, I absolutely loved this book. Its so wonderful to see things from a perspective that you never thought of before. I loved Aibileen's stories, but probably the character that intrigued me the most was Hilly. I'm sure behind that big ego is a more thoughtful and well rounded person as well.

SaraK said...

Loved, loved this book. I was blown away. I loved how accurate she got all the voices. And the book really touched me. I cried more than once and I felt physically uncomfortably (but in a good way) at the way she portrayed the difference between the races.
The writing is wonderful and the story is compelling.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book! I am from Jackson and it was so fun to put "maybe her" faces with the characters. It was one of the best books I've read. I hate books or movies about the south made or written by people who dont know anything about the south. You can tell Kathryn is from here. It was all very authentic. Loved it! Definately a reread!

Kivatar said...

I downloaded the audio version of The Help from www.audible.com and highly recommend it! The narration is sheer perfection, and boy did I hate when the book ended. I would sometimes skip a day of listening just to make it last longer. Since it's been awhile, I need to listen again before I jump into any book discussion, but I, too, have recommended this book many times, and it is my current favorite. Also thrilled it is currently casting for the movie version! I hope they do right by it!!

GetSoaked said...

I LOVED this book. It's now one of my favorite. I am hoping that she writes a follow-up book. Wouldn't it be cool if Aibileen wrote a book for the next one?

Melanie said...

While I flew through The Help and enjoyed it on its surface, the literature PhD in me was cringing at the totally unHELPful cultural work being done.

Stockett did a poor (indeed, nonexistent) job of problematizing both Skeeter's privilege and her ambition. If Skeeter were not a woman of education and means, she would not have had the opportunity or ability to write the book. And if she hadn't had ambitions of being a writer/editor/journalist in New York, she wouldn't have cared to write the book/tell the women's stories. She didn't do it out of any sort of noblesse oblige (although Stockett certainly is), but because it was a means to an end. That she had a civil rights-related semi-awakening was incidental.

Additionally, Stockett relies on old tropes/stereotypes of the black woman. Aibileen is the sexless Mammy. Minny is the hypersexualized, fertile black woman with the stereotypical drunken, abusive husband. They are both "less than one but double": reduced to stereotypes while also being hyper-infused with meaning (see Homi Bhabha). It's post-post-colonialism.

Stephanie O'Dea said...

wow. You use big words. ;-)

I understood immediately that Skeeter is from a privileged background and readers learn in the first chapter that she is an aspiring author/writer, who is keeping this desire from her parents.

As a writer, you (me. I'm kind of ditsy) walk around in a daze trying to find something, *anything* to write about. When Skeeter learned that there was a "story" behind Constantine no longer working for her family, her curiosity was piqued and she began questioning. Through this she realized there was something marketable to share.

From the instant we meet Skeeter, Aibileen states that she was one to "talk to the help."

as for the stereotypes you mention? I'm okay with them. But I'm a walking talking stereotype myself!

great food for thought! What is your dissertation about?
xoxo

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Wow, so much here, Steph. I thoroughly appreciated this book and like others said, it made me feel uncomfortable at times, but in a way that made me introspective. I am totally amazed that this was Stockett's first book. Even if she shared info based on her own experiences with a black nanny, it's beautifully written in my opinion. It gives you enough, but still holds back on the characters appropriately. It could have gone back for melodrama, but it did not, and I'm grateful for that. When my husband was growing up, there was still a lot of black "help" who supported his extended family. They were loved and respected as far as I know, but I wonder what the help's perspective would be after reading the book. One wonderful lady actually was hired to work at our wedding, preparing food, washing dishes, etc. She is spoken of with great love and admiration and was fabulous, but again I wonder what she'd have to say if she really shared how she felt and her experiences over the years.

I identified with Skeeter and Abileen. Skeeter couldn't sit back and just let things happen without at least documenting them. When her fiancee dumped her, it made me sad, but it didn't surprise me. Abileen towed the line, not stirring up trouble, but was ready to share the info in secret with Skeeter. While I'm sure there's a back story to Hilly (there always is, right?), I didn't feel sorry for her. I've seen folks like her and they appalled me. They still exist and get away with their horrid acts. Minny was a super compelling character. Strong and forceful in her assignments and always getting in trouble, but yet beat down in her own life.

I'm next in line to hear the audiobook within my girlfriends' library and I can't wait. I always pick up more on good audiobooks.

Shirley

Anonymous said...

I am from the south too. While I did enjoy the story, I agree with the poster who had issue with the use of stereotypes.
My parents both grew up in Jackson during the time period of the story and thier lives were nothing like this story. Neither of my parents came from extreme privelage. All of my grandparents worked and, yes, someone came to help with the children. But pretty much that was all they did. No cooking, no cleaning, no errand running, etc. They came and helped while the grandmothers were working, one in a family owned business and one in a bakery.
They were just like babysitters today. While both of my parents have fond memories of these women, none of them ever replaced my grandmothers the way these women did in the story.
Yes, I enjoyed the story, but no, I don't think it can be viewed as a wonderful piece of literature. It was a nice read, but nothing heavier.
Chrystal in AL

Renee said...

Loved The Help. One of the best I've read in a long time. Can you believe it was her first novel? Wow!

Vicky said...

I just saw this book sitting on the library shelf about 2 months ago and grabbed it.
I enjoyed it, but then again a book needs to be really bad for me not to LOL
I just found it facinating comparing it to the way aboriginals here in Australia were treated around the same time.

D said...

I loved this book! I read A LOT! This is the best book I've read in years.SO that's saying something

Melanie said...

Stephanie, very broadly speaking, my dissertation is on how recipes are used in women's writing. So, I look at cookbooks, novels, and food blogs! In fact, my research is taking me to BlogHer Food in October! Yay!

Stephanie O'Dea said...

Oh interesting, Melanie! I have a book that I got for a Christmas gift called (I believe, the baby is sound asleep in the room with the books) Over a Hot Stove (or something. I'll look in the morning) that might be helpful to you.

I'll be at BlogHer food in Oct.

xoxo steph

Panamenos said...

I enjoyed this book a lot. I can see what the two posters were saying about it following stereotypes, but, personally, I felt like the message of the book was the exact opposite...to show that people, all people, are more alike than different. In fact, it really made me think about myself and whether I hold stereotypes that I'm not even aware of. I teach in a very low income school with many immigrants and I started realizing that I (as well as most of us) have labels for some of these families... Don't get me wrong. I honestly love my students and I love teaching, but subconsciously I find myself thinking that I'm a better parent than their parents are because I do A, B, and C. Anyway, I did a whole blog post about this book and my thoughts when I read it ( a few months ago)... feel free to check it out if you'd like:

http://panamenos.blogspot.com/2010/05/labels.html

USA Kiwi (aka Kylee) said...

I loved the book too, practically inhaled it I read it so fast!

It's being made into a movie, that just began filming this month!

CINDER said...

I loved this book and felt as I were there; part of the group-
I was sad for and proud of Skeeter that she "found her way" Basically learning about true friendships
and that life takes the most un-expected turns!!

sue said...

I, too, loved this book and was disappointed when I finished it and it was over. I wanted it to go on.
I, too, read more slowly than normal with this book because of the dialogue -- I think I would enjoy hearing the audio version even though I've already read the book.

Melanie said...

Stephanie, I will look for you there! I think I've at least skimmed A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, but not recently. Shall check it you!

Alice said...

I grew up in Mississippi and I had a lady that took care of us (5 children) for over 40 years. She died last year and they program from her funeral told of how much she loved us and how much we loved her (she didn't have any children of her own.) I miss her terribly along with my mother. I really enjoyed the book and felt that it was very true to what life was like at that time in Ms. Unfortunately, there were and still are very small, mean-spirited people everywhere, including Ms. I am glad that many people have enjoyed the book and it has definitely gotten people to think about things.

"Guppy" Honaker said...

" . . . not just well-written, it was crafted." I agree, it's a magnificent book! BTW: I use a solar oven here in Phoenix. Just like a slow cooker, but you don't need electricity (on a sunny day, anyway!).

- David

Aloe Vera 101
Holistic Health Info.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this book. I grew up in VA in the 50's and 60's. I was not from a "wealthy "family but we did have Help. I loved Nanny & Annie Mae and we felt like they were family. Nanny worked for my friend's family also and the only fight that friend and I ever had was over who Nanny loved the most. I think the book would make a great movie.

sara said...

I loved, LOVED this book. when I was done reading it, I was so sad. It was like losing a best friend and no book could measure up for a while!!

I still laugh when thinking about the "terrible awful"!!

mb said...

Amazing, Amazing, book. Must read.

Lisa said...

I didn't see anyone else mention this: A movie based on "The Help" is currently being filmed in Greenwood and Jackson, Miss. It's supposed to be in theaters in 2011.

Carroll said...

Here's the link for the cast of the movie that's in production:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1454029/fullcredits#cast

Interesting to look through and see who they have left out, which presumably indicates scenes that won't be in the movie (Skeeter's meeting with the suitor's parents, for example -- sorry -- it's been a while and I loaned my copy of the book to someone else so names have escaped me)

I too loved the book and am nervous that a film version will not measure up. There were so many nuances in the character development -- I just can't imagine that even a 2 hour film can do justice to that.

I am "of an age", and grew up in Boston with very prejudiced parents who nonetheless employed "colored help". Hypocrisy was rife, and patronizing attitudes were the norm. SO glad to have escaped that poisonous atmosphere!!

"Our Ora" polished the silver I shocked my parents by declining to inherit.

(shudder)

What a world!

cassieb said...

I'm nearly finished the book, and it has to be one of my favorites. So well written, and a wonderful story. I have been having a hard time putting it down. I'm really anxious to know what happens next.

Another favorite of mine was "The Secret Life of Bees"

My next to read, (and I've heard wonderful reviews) "Sugar"

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