Spoiler Warning

Book reviews and discussions may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Help Discussion

Hellloooo are y'all here?

Let's begin this discush right now.

My Two Slices: Jespy’s review of The Help

If you’re someone who is wary of character-driven novels, have no fear, The Help will not bore you to tears. In fact, you will have a hard time putting it down, and when you finally do, the characters will stay with you for a long time. And so will Minny’s chocolate pie. I will never forget her pie for the rest of my life. The phrase “two slices” has a whole different meaning to me now, just like hraka did after we read Watership Down.

I was trying to figure out why this book was such a page-turner. Yes, yes, the characters are multidimensional, engaging, likable, etc. But there is something else that Stockett did to make this book hard to put down. She didn’t wait until the end to satisfy our need for justice, but instead fed us little bits of satisfaction along the way, just to wet our appetite before she finally hit us with the grand finale: Two-Slice Hilly.

I loved the old, thick, Southern dialect she used. I’ve never seen dialog written quite like this, yet I hadn’t a lick a trouble pickin' it up. Law!

And, yikes, that’s bout all I have time for. See ya in the discussion!

Help

Ooh I actually have time to write a review! 

Okay so I loved the Help.  Definitely recommend it as a solid historical fiction piece as well as just a plain ole page turner.

What I loved:
All characters.  My favorite is Mr. Johnny.  And Minny.
The slow paradigm shift of Miss Skeeter.
The juxtaposition of women passing off nursing a baby, one of the most intimate bonding experiences of motherhood, to a person that is not allowed to use the facilitees.

What I hated:
The reality of it.  That this kind of thing actually happened and the attitude that still occurs among some wealthy white folk in the south.

What I am sad about:
Miss Skeeter's lonely existence and the lack of satisfaction knowing that her tall, frizzy-headed ways didn't land her no man when she was simply delightful.

I was also embarrassed to tell people about the book because everytime I recommended the Help people thought it was like the Secret.  Some kind of self-help book.

An anecdote:  My cousin married a guy who is half Austrian, half Rhodesian.  For those ignorant folk, Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe.  Anywho, my cousin is a super lib who has worked for Homeless Shelters, has a Master's Degree in Women's Studies, and has worked to insure death row inmates their due process, all of which she has accomplished by living in San Francisco.  So one day her MIL says to her "that food is so disgusting I wouldn't feed it to my servant."  My cuz got all bent out of shape because the servants in Africa get treated like #*$% and as the super liberator that she is, it hurt her being.  This book made me feel the indignation of my cuz, something no book has every done before.

Thanks Tiff for putting this all out on the table and reminding us of the great strides we have made in civil liberties over the years.  Also, great story. 

A deep review of The Help

Law, I done think this is one of my most favorite book yet. And that done be all I's gonna write on it, see'n hows I just am barely finishing it in time for the meeting.

Landee Wants Her Own Bathroom...


...but not a crappy one out in the garage.  I want one that is free of little boy pee sprinkles and toothpaste globs.  But that has nothing to do with anything except that maybe I wouldn't mind some "help" myself sometimes.
No, this isn’t exactly a bright spot in our nation’s history.  Segregation.  It seems like a million years ago but it was only 50, if you can believe that.  Had my mother been raised in Mississippi she may have had her own Aibileen or (heaven forbid) a Minny.  Just kidding.  I adore Minny. 
While it isn’t something we like to remember as Americans, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I loved the writing—Mark Twain-ish with the dialect but not so much you couldn’t understand it.  I loved the characters—they stuck with me for a while after finishing.  Even the ones I hated I loved because I hated them so much.  Hilly?  Oh my.  Elizabeth Leefolt was pathetic.  Stuart.  What a jag.  And then I adored all the coloreds (‘cept Leroy).  Oh how I wish I had Aibileen whispering in my ear that I was good and important while I was growing up.   I guess I could do that to my own kids? 
Nah. 
The beauty of this book is that while various tragedies occur (Yule May going to jail, for example) it ends up that everyone gets theirs in the end.  The good and the bad.  Two-Slice Hilly being the crowning achievement, of course.  Terrible.  Awful.  Beautiful.  And her own mother bidding on that pie in her name??  Priceless.  Reading this in 2010 was a spoiler alert though.  I knew times were a-changin’.  I was just worried they wouldn’t change fast enough and Aibileen would be getting a brick through her window--or worse--before it was all over.
This book also made me start to wonder what kind of “white lady” I would have been had I been in the League in Jackson, MS in the 1960s.  I would hope that I’d be like Skeeter (but with Celine’s body) but I’d settle for LouAnne (minus the depression & suicide attempts)  but who knows?   You’re raised a certain way, you believe certain things, you hang out with a B like Hilly and maybe you’re Elizabeth and it can’t be helped.  Or maybe you ARE Hilly.  ::shudder::  Makes ya think.

Maids, and why I want one

I adored this book. It's funny, because it kept coming up in the "people who liked this also liked___" on my amazon searches but I just hadn't gotten around to it. So, when it was chosen as our book this month I was essited! This is why I like reading so much. It consumes me. It takes me to another world. It is an escape from my mundane daily tasks. I enjoyed this book about as much as a hot fudge brownie sundae. Which is to say that the plate was licked clean by the end and I coulda had another. But I don't like nuts in my brownie. Which brings me to the naked guy.

Never mind.

Why can't I have a BFF who is also the help that will cook and clean and iron everything in my life? I would treat her awes and give her lots of time off and Christmas bonuses and everything. And I'd only let her raise my kids on the bottle weaning and potty training parts.

But srsly, I think no matter how you "slice" it, this book had me laughing and crying and also, tho I hate to admit it,...thinking. Not necessarily about race but about people's perceptions of each other. You just NEVER KNOW how or why another person thinks/feels/acts like they do. What they've been through. And I like that. Because don't we all compare ourselves to others too often? And make choices too often based on what other people may think of us? And put poo in pies?

Oh wait.

Anyway, I hate to get too serious but I am really enjoying a little bit more grit and substance to our book club choices lately. It's a nice change.

A REVIEW OF A REVIEW ON A BOOK ABOUT A BOOK

The following review was written by me just moments ago. It reviews the February book of the month for the Smart Remarks Book Club. It’s clearly not the best review ever written by me, but it’s not the worst either.
I like the way it compares and contrasts the last two books we’ve read, and points out the great variety we have in the SRBC. On the other hand it was rather short, and shallow. It didn’t go into any of the characters and what made them unique and interesting.
I made brief mention of how race relations might still be the same and how they’ve changed since the early 60’s, but without giving any specific examples or personal accounts. I didn’t address what having a black president means for our country today given the state of race relations only a short 40 or 50 years ago.
The review seemed to ramble a bit without any central theme or coherent conclusion. I'm also baffled by how I could write a proper review of The help without any crass remarks about rotten coochie or pecker pie. And the bit about the Smart Remarks Book Club being like So You Think You Can Dance was plain indulgent nonsense.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The SRBC is much like SYTYCD in its wondrous variety. In SYTYCD you can watch a, Ballerina and a Latin Dancer doing a Lindy Hop followed by a Tapper and a B-Boy performing a contemporary piece. With the SRBC you can read a book about a flying okie tweener one month and one about WWII German occupation another. Migrating rabbits, vampires & werewolves, teenagers battling to the death, a thief falling in love with the queen that chopped off his hand, frontier life in Arizona, to be or not to be… Pretty, and zombies gone wild are just a few of the topics we’ve covered so far.
This is the way I’ve read since I discovered a love of books; from Jane Eyre to Harry Potter, Great Expectations to The Hobbit, Les Miserables to Tarzan. I love variety and I love the SRBC, and even though this makes two books in a row that are rather serious in comparison to say alien parasite invasions, I thoroughly enjoyed The Help.
I thought it was interesting that besides its status as a historical piece based on actual events, it shared some other commonality with our previous read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”; primarily that it was a book about writing the very book that you are currently reading. They both contained a bridge (I think that’s the proper term), much like the Seinfeld episodes about pitching a show about nothing to NBC executives that would star Seinfeld himself and be about the daily lives of him and his friends. And like TGLAPPPS, The Help contained a large dose of drama and heartbreak, mixed with a lot of humor and very endearing characters. Also… Adelaide Addison / Hilly Holbrook.
The Help was a good book, an important book, and like To Kill A Mockingbird one that highlighted an ugly part of our American history – or perhaps for certain parts of the nation, maybe not completely history. I wonder if illegal Mexican laborers are playing the same role today that black domestics used to play 50 years ago; and are perhaps treated similarly sometimes.
I’d like to think that reading The Help has made me a better person, more conscientious about how I treat others who are different from me in race, religion, or social status, and how I treat the people (person) who cooks my meals, washes my clothes, does my shopping, and cleans my house. I’d also like to think that Oprah would be proud of me.

Now here's a book that doesn't need my help at all.

The only problem with "The Help" by Kathyryn Stockett is that it ended. I could have kept reading another four hundred pages and been perfectly content. I think this is one of the best character driven stories I've read in a long time. Kathryn Stockett really had a grip on who each of her characters were and they gave honest performances throughout the book. They had me laughing and crying and cheering.

The main characters were amazingly complex and layered, yet true to form. I liked watching them change when their environments changed and the people they were with changed. It was like unwrapping a piece of chocolate every time I turned the page. For example, I watched Aibleen transform while she was with Mae Mobley, Miss Leefolt, Miss Hilly, Minny, and Miss Skeeter. Also Minny was transformed around Aibleen and Miss Celia and Miss Skeeter. In each instance they acted completely different than I had seen them act before but it was completely believable and true to how people really are. I also saw it with Miss Skeeter and Stuart and Miss Skeeter with her mom vs her dad. Miss Celia, one of my favorite characters, acted one way around Minny, and a different way around her husband, Mr Johnny (who I adored). The relationships between characters also change over the course of the novel as the characters mature and evolve down different paths. I think it was this richness and unique portrayal of how people interact differently to different relationships that impressed me most. Each character was perfectly flawed, multi-dimensional, and believable.

I especially appreciated the interactions between Miss Skeeter and her mother. So often in our lives we can be unhappy with someone we love and dislike what they do, but still fervently love them. I liked how Miss Skeeter was disappointed but accepting of her mother. I felt I could really relate to that.

Besides the excellent characterization in this book, I loved how it explored the lines and boundaries we as human beings create. It explored the stereotypes and the people behind them-- Rich Girl, White Trash, The Help, Miss Popular, Feminist-hippy, etc. The message was soft, yet clear. It taught that "we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought."

Law!! SRBC Better Listen Up!

Now how did this month go and git away from us?  I will tell y'all how.  We was too busy readin' and thinkin' bout The Help! 



I made us some of my special chocolate pie and we gone be discussing the book and eatin' it tonight at 8pm PST.  I suggest you have two slices and post your review fore someone else does and takes all your good points.   And don't be askin me what my secret ingredient is neither.

Monday, February 1, 2010

February's Book by Miss Landee Lu

Now I ain't gone put this up to no voting or nothin.  This here book is the book for February.  Seems perfect to me seeing as how February is Black History Month.  Law!  I can't believe we went and got ourselves an entire month!  Things have shore changed, ain't they?

 

Now don't be scared.  I know what you thinkin. You be thinkin, "Miss Landee!  How we gone get through that whole book in the shortest month a the year?" Well, I guess you best just get goin on it now, child!  The white folk library done got a 300+ waitlist here in CO, I spec it's the same in your part of the world.  I'd suggest getting it at Costco (Law, I love that place!) for $13 or Amazon for $9.50. 

The fact is, you won't regret a single second of using your precious time to read this book.  And you will be passing it around to all your friends after you be done too.  This here is an important book.  This here is a book that makes you feel.   You gone question lots a things.  

Now go on & git.

See you at the end a the month.  I'll be ironing pleats and polishing the silver while I wait.


Discussion for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Potato Book Review

Who would have thought that a book that had "Potato Peel" in the title could invoke so many emotions from me? It was beyond my expectations, in a very good way.
The letters created a personal connection to the characters that was very unique to my reading experience. It was so real and intimate to read someone's letter and feel the emotions they were feeling at the time. We don't normally get to read other people's letters. And what a wonderful way to show us their different personalities through their writing styles. I loved reading this book. Normally I read very quickly but I found with this book I wanted to make sure I comprehended every word and pictured what they were describing.
The difficult subject matter was communicated in a way that was both soft and gut wrenching at the same time. My heart broke when we heard of the pregnant woman who had died frozen to the floor in the camp. I have read and seen so may stories and movies about the Nazi command but I only let it get to me so far. This book made it very real for me because I was so connected to the characters. Elizabeth...wow, what an amazing woman. I wanted to know her, feel her incredible humanity.
Juliet was the girl everyone wants to be friends with. She was so funny, such a girl - worrying about her clothes, hair and yet caring and compassionate. I love that she was best friends with a gay man and they way we found out - priceless! So nonchalant...just one line and prior to that I had no idea. I was on board for the Juliet and Sydney love connection.
This book made my laugh, tear up and feel so incredibly thankful for the life I have.

A Letter for You

My Dear Friend,

It’s getting close to that time of night when the kids go to bed and peace, once again, seeps back into the house. We’ve just come from a dinner out and I am uncomfortably full. Despite these two distractions, I had to write you immediately. I recently found a collection of the most delightfully touching letters! They captivated my attention for days. I could hardly put them down. I feel it is only out of my loyal duty as your friend to share these letters with you. How lovely it would be to meet up for lunch and discuss them in great detail!
The letters center around a witty and assertive woman named Juliet. She is so pleasant to read from. I dearly wish she were in our close circle of friends. I think we would enjoy her company so much. She is a writer, which only makes her casual letters that much more entertaining. By either accident or coincidence, she meets (through letters, of course) a group of wonderful people. They all have the most interesting personalities. I’m entirely convinced that a trip to their little island would be just the sort of thing we could do together. I found myself daydreaming about staying in one of their charming little cottages, digging in a garden and gazing into the sunset. One of the best details about these letters is that they take place in post WWII. The people discuss their experiences and feelings and their stories are painful and wonderful all at the same time. Oh yes! Another great character is a woman named Elizabeth – someone whom I would also dearly love to meet. I know you will love her too!
Certainly, I can’t give too much detail because it might ruin the experience of reading the letters for yourself.
I do miss you, and I look forward to hearing from you soon! The letters are already on their way and I will await your reply, with pencil and calendar in hand, so that we can schedule a ladies lunch to discuss!

As ever yours,

Stands

Love in the form of a book

When I first started reading this book back in July/August (when I was trying to decide on a book for the month) I barely new the love I would have for this book or how desperately I wished I was Juliet. Not only for her letters but for all those that loved her and her friendship. I wanted to be Sydneys best friend...especially after I found out he was "happy". I wanted to go to Guernsey and spend time with all these characters and hear there stories and fall in love with them as much as Juliet.

I love you Potato book...FOREVER.

A word-savoring, smile-inducing, tear-choking-back book

Jespy's review...

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (aka the “potato book” or “GLAPPS”) is easily one of my favorite books we’ve read in the history of SRBC. In fact, I was only a few letters into the book when I realized I was in love with it and began declaring it a masterpiece via text to all my reader friends. And then I continued to read it real slow-like, because I did not want it to end. Alas. It did.

Of course, I do recognize that a part of me fell in loved with it because it reminded me of our own ragtag group of misfit book clubbers, practical strangers bonding through our mutual love/hate of great/bad books. But reading all the letters from the GLAPPPS who had just discovered books for the first time in their lives… it made me recall exactly how I’d felt when I first discovered my love of reading. I still remember the first book, where I was when I finished it, what the weather was like, how desperate I was find another one exactly like it, how poor I was, how car-less I was, how Kmart was within walking distance, and how I could just make grilled cheese for dinner again so I would have money to buy another book. There were no literal Nazis involved (only figurative Nazis), but still. Twas life-changing, that moment I discovered books.


I loved that GLAPPPS was told through letters, and many POVs and that all the characters had distinct voices. Did having two writers help accomplish this? I wonder if they took on different characters or if both wrote for both. Who was the voice of Juliet, I wonder.


I loved that the book was unpredictable with lots of twists and surprises, even though some of the surprises were hard to swallow and made me stare off into space for a few minutes while I came to terms with the news.


I loved watching these friends persevere.


Juliet. Witty. Charming. Real. How can I be more like her? Is it too late?


Sydney. I think the author(s) did that on purpose. Made us fall in love with Sydney, and then pulled the rug out from under us. Well I’m still in love with him, so the jokes on them.


Dawsey. He is an amazing human being, and super hawt. His letters implied this, Juliet confirmed, and I trust her judgment.


Isola. Strange, funny lady. She won me over when Sydney confided in her. He wouldn’t have told just anybody what he told her. And she made me laugh a lot when she began her “detection notebook” and determined she would be a better detective if she lowered her eyelids and looked out of the corner of her eyes. “Practice this!!!” she wrote. And then how “skittering” her eyes sideways all the time eventually caused strain and eyelid-ache.


Favorite exchange between Sidney and Juliet (severely paraphrased):


Sydney: Trip home delayed. Fell off horse. Broke leg.

Juliet: Which leg? So sorry.

Sydney: It was the other one. Don’t worry.

Juliet: So happy it wasn’t the one I broke.


^^Spoke volumes. Brilliant writing.


Thanks Shel/Sam/Meg. Love love loved it! See ya tonight!


From Andrea to SMBC

Dear SMBC Members,
First and foremost, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Andrea, and I don't go around dressed like a lady of the night, or resemble by any means an 80's Solid Gold Dancer despite my blogger profile picture. The picture is so classic that I can't hide it under a bushel.
I am still a fan of gold though. I have 4 kids. And a dog. And a husband named Dave. I also do hair (as Landee can attest.) And while I speak of the legendary Landee, that is how I came to find out about Smart Remarks.
And I do love to read! One can find me at the gym on a machine with a book (and getting annoyed that the club's air conditioning turns the pages for me), or listening to a book on my iphone as I shop or do whatever. So I am forever grateful for the suggestion of joining the infamous SMBC.
Loved Loved Loved the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society despite finding it difficult to remember and be able to verbalize the title.
I don't have a lot of time to give a full review, however, here are some highlights of my favorite character Juliet:
  • Juliet's sense of humor: So many examples in this book but I'll go with the first that made me laugh; "word of God or crowd control?" written in the margin of a 10 commandments book.
  • Juliet's integrity: "if Juliet says she will, she will. If she says she won't, she won't." Even her enemy said in her letter of reference that she was honest.
  • Juliet's kindness: In not wanting to drag her first fiance's name through the mud when she very well could have. Her giving a box of blocks of wood for Eli. This is another category that has a crazy amount of examples.
  • Juliet's self-restraint: In wanting to throw porridge at him but instead whispering, "Get out".
  • Juliet's bravery when she sprinted towards the flames of the bombed library. And proposing to Dawsey! Not a chance women were doing that very often during that time.
  • Juliet's compassion: Her concern for a person she'd only read about, Elizabeth. Also, in wanting to adopt Kit.
  • Juliet's sunny nature and light heart. :) according to Dawsey.
And just as Newsday put it so profoundly.... so beautifully, "I could not put the book down. I have recommended it to all my friends."
Indeed. :)

Yours Truly,

Andrea

P.S. I have a newfound love of letters and found myself wanting to write them all the time since reading this book.

P.P.S. I loved all of the P.S's.


About the authors...

Mary Ann Shaffer

In 1976, inspired by a newfound fascination with Guernsey, Mary Ann Shaffer traveled to the island in the English Channel, only to be stranded there due to inclement weather. Waiting for a thick fog to lift so she could return to London, Shaffer read all the books in the Guernsey airport bookstore. Jersey Under the Jack-Boot sparked a particular interest in the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

Years later, prompted by her book club to write a novel of her own, Shaffer turned to this subject in creating the vivid world of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Told entirely through a series of letters -- because, Shaffer confessed, "for some bizarre reason, I thought it would be easier" -- the novel skillfully renders the characters and concerns of Juliet, Sidney, and the other residents of Guernsey who have just emerged from the horrors and hardships of the Second World War.

Mary Ann Shaffer made a career working with books—as an editor, librarian, and bookseller—before her death in February 2008. She died knowing that her novel was scheduled for publication and in the good hands of her niece and coauthor, Annie Barrows. (From Barnes & Noble.)



Annie Barrows


A voracious reader (but an admittedly poor speller!), one of Annie Barrows' first jobs, while she was still in school, was re-shelving books in one of her favorite haunts, the public library. After college graduation, she went to work for a publisher, editing books in many different fields.

Bitten by the writing bug, wrote several books on such diverse topics as fortune telling, urban legends, and opera before branching into children's literature. In June of 2006, she released Ivy and Bean, the first award-winning book in a series about two young girls who become best friends in spite of their differences. In 2007, she published The Magic Half, a standalone children's fantasy about the middle child (between two sets of twins) who travels back in time and befriends a young girl in need of her help.

In addition, Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer, collaborated on a post-WWII epistolary novel entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Conceived by Shaffer, the novel was accepted for publication shortly before Shaffer fell ill. Barrows stepped in to complete the project, and the book was published in 2008 to positive reviews. (From Barnes & Noble.)