Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Club! - The Help

Completely shifting gears from where I’ve been lately, I should disclose that I have, in fact, become a little old lady in my mind. I joined a book club. I am by far the youngest member, but so far I’ve quite enjoyed it! Perhaps this is a result of being in a profession where I am always about 10 years younger than my peers, so I’m used to it. I actually missed the last meeting where we discussed our latest read The Help, so I thought I’d talk through my thoughts here instead. Technically, New York Times bestsellers count as pop culture, right?

The Help is a series of blended narratives exploring life in the South during the 1960s, with an emphasis on African-American housekeepers and their relationships with the white families they care for. Although the layered narrative approach had the potential to alienate and further exacerbate racial stereotypes/tensions, I thought the author did a good job of balancing those issues in a way that brings in a casual reader. Perhaps my favorite moment of the book was when one of the African-American women explained very carefully how you never, ever crossed a white woman. The series of events she articulates align tightly with our cultural understandings of “mean girl” behavior among white women – passive aggressive ways of controlling the behavior of other women, particularly with respect to the relationships they build and sustain with men. I also enjoyed the undercurrent of education throughout the book – one of the main characters teaches the white children in her care to think in “colorblind” terms, in a sense, emphasizing that the progress we make on race relations (or any other kind of social acceptance for marginalized identities) begins in educating the young to think outside the boundaries of what society currently defines as acceptable within any cultural moment.

It really is a wonderful read – I picked it up here and there before bed for several weeks. There were plenty of places to pause if I needed to, and plenty of spots to keep me glued to the page if I had more time to invest. If you’re looking for a well written text with poignant social themes without the heavy-handedness of a lot of social commentary fiction, this book is for you!

1 comment:

  1. If it makes you feel any better, in my mind I've been an old lady since I was 20. :)

    This sounds like a great read. For some reason, reading your description reminded me of Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees which I really enjoyed. Adding this to the TBR list.