Monday, May 30, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and I just gotta say WOW. I totally understand why this is a top ten best seller. I give it a 10. I will reread it; I may even fork over cash money for a copy to add to my personal library (high praise from me, indeed).

This is a story about a lot of things, love at first sight, the indignity of becoming elderly, finding friends in the oddest places, the struggles of a nation slogging its way out of the Great Depression, man’s inhumanity to man (and animals), and the satisfyingly karmic concept of what comes around goes around. But mostly it’s about a guy who ran off and joined the circus and found a life.

If you’ve read my earlier post on what I like to read, you’ll recognize what I have to say here. Since I was listening to a recording, I drove my husband a bit nuts with my verbal responses to the story. I laughed out loud. I “yessssed” and “aaawwwed” and gasped. Fortunately, he was not around for the part where I had to stop what I was doing because I was sobbing too hard to continue. The story was told vividly, the characters felt real to me. And while no one in the story gets to live happily ever after, some of them get to live contentedly to a ripe old age.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Second entry

I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett today. I understand why it is a best seller. I give it an 8. This is a bit surprising as The Help is Ms. Stockett’s first published novel. It usually takes a few books for an author to get this good.

The story takes place at the beginning of the civil rights movement. A white woman with aspirations of becoming a journalist, and the unlikely name of Skeeter, begins chronicling the lives of thirteen black maids in Jackson, Mississippi.

Getting the maids to share the stories of their lives and interactions with the white families for whom they work is not an easy job. At that time in Mississippi, a black person could be jailed, maimed or killed simply for using the wrong rest room.

These maids sharing stories - good, bad and indifferent – about white employers is a sure way for them to lose their current job and ensure they will never be hired for another. Vindictive white employers could not only fire a maid and refuse a reference, but also arrange for spouses and children of those maids to lose their jobs or have their families evicted from their homes. The only recourse was through a white run police and court system that was completely stacked against them.

Telling their stories was an enormous risk. But this was the dawn of a new age, and with assurances that all names and places would be disguised, this small group told their tales to Skeeter. While the writing was being done, the relationship between Skeeter and her two main “informants”, Aibelene and Missy, moves from stiff, uncomfortable and suspicious to actual friendships. While these friendships are forming, the tension is building. If anyone discovers what they are doing, things will not go well for any of the women – black or white.

Skeeter eventually gets a publisher in New York to agree to publish the book. There is great rejoicing and greater fear. As the stories are read by the people about whom they are written, recognition starts to dawn. There are consequences for having broken the unwritten rules of the South. Most, but surprisingly, not all the consequences are bad ones.
The story ends with Skeeter being offered a job in New York. Her new friends encourage her to go, though she is hesitant to leave them there to bear the consequences of the book without her. And life goes on.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I began reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett and had to pause immediately. At the end of the first paragraph I thought “Good heavens, this is written in Southern Black patois.” Shortly thereafter the scene shifted to a group of rich women, playing bridge, and complaining about having to share the guest bathroom with the black maid. One of them believed every home should have a separate bathroom for Negroes. It would improve general hygiene for black and white both as well as increasing the value of the property. I was rolling my eyes more than I have since I was a teenager!

I have a resistance to anything written in dialect whether it’s Cockney, Southern Black or snooty rich filled-with-foreign-phrases. I also have a problem tolerating intolerance in others. Strikes one and two for The Help. However, I also have a personal rule, developed before I was a teenager: I will not give up on a book before reading three full chapters.

I was waiting for the lady from the carpet store to come measure rooms for the carpet we’re buying. I had about 20 minutes to wait, and decided to plow through as much of the “required” three chapters as possible in that time. Once again, I am glad I developed the rule. By the time the carpet lady arrived, I was hooked. I’m only about a third of the way through, but can say I find the story so far compelling and well told. I can’t wait to find out how things turn out.