Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

This summer has basically played out like a summer reading list for me. It seems everywhere I go, I go with book in hand. Everything I've done has been marked by what book I'm reading. Therefore, I've decided to review a non-Pulitzer winner.

The Help
begins in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. Skeeter has just come home from graduating college to find the maid who raised her, Constantine, has been fired. Aibileen is looking after a new white child while still grieving over the loss of her own son. Minny has just lost another job and fears she won't find another because of her reputation for speaking her mind.

Skeeter begins to find herself silently questioning her two lifelong best friends. How they raise their children, how they gossip about their friends, how they treat their colored maids. But most of all, she wants to find a way out of her mother's house. She wants to move to New York City and become a writer. When the editor of a publishing company in New York suggests she begins writing for her local newspaper, Skeeter finds herself as the author of a housekeeping advice column. A subject about which she knows nothing about. Enter Aibileen, Skeeter's best friend's maid.

Aibileen reluctantly begins to help Skeeter with her column. It is around this time that Skeeter slowly realizes what she should really write about; what it is like to be a colored maid in the deep south. But who will talk to her? When Skeeter's best friend, Hilly, does something terribly inexcusable, all the maids in town volunteer to talk. Though they meet in secret and remain anonymous, each live in fear of being found out and rightfully so. One maid's young grandson is brutally beaten and left blind for accidentally using a white bathroom, there are rumors of people's tongues being cut out and a prominent member of the NAACP is shot in front of his family on his front lawn.

Stockett's writing is so incredibly personal, accessible and informal. Her characters are real, concrete. I found myself gasping when Hilly's maid, Yule May, steals a ring to send her twin boys to school, "Of course, now, neither of my boys will go to college", laughing when Minny describes the "Terrible Awful" trick she plays on Hilly, "...and then I go head. I tell her what else I put in that pie for her", crying when Skeeter's friend tells her she knows her maid is in the book, "When I read what she wrote about me...I've never been so grateful in my life."

Stockett writes from three different perspectives, each so clear and distinct I can hear Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny speaking in the back of my mind. It's as if they are old friends, calling me to fill me in on their day at work.

A professor once told me the purpose of theater is to make us think about things. To make us want to shake up things, change the status quo. After reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I have resolved that rule applies to books, too. It made me think about how I treat other people, it made me wonder if I could ever be a Hilly, wonder if I could be Hilly's friend. Most of all, it made me wonder if I could do what Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny and all those other maids did. Would I care enough? Would I be brave enough?

And since I am technically challenged and couldn't figure out how to upload a video on here, this is a link to the movie trailer, it's due out in August, just in time for my birthday: The Help movie

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides (2003)

So, I'll be the first to admit it. I'm really awful at starting things and finishing them. And I'm trying to not let that happen here, folks. That's why, upon the challenge of a friend last week, I am reviving my abandoned blog.

Here goes.

Middlesex is the story of Calliope Stephanides, a hermaphrodite born of Greek descent in Detroit. Cal is living in present day but he (formally known as she) is telling the story of his lineage starting with his grandparents' exodus from Greece during World War I.

His grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona, immigrate to Detroit at the height of its economic boom. Lefty and Desdemona move in with a cousin, Lina, and her husband, learn English and settle into their new American lives. They get jobs, they have children.

The kicker? Lefty and Desdemona are brother and sister. Then their son marries his first cousin once removed.

Yup, you read it right. The Stephanides family is screwed up. The twisted thing here being that Lefty and Desdemona fled Greece when the Turks were burning their city and country to the ground. They left everything they knew behind, including their brother/sister relationship. They got married on the boat to Ellis Island. They told no one except for their cousin, Lina, with whom they moved in. She had her own dirty secret to keep.

I have not finished the book, so I can't tell you how it ends yet. But I can tell you this book did not start off so well in my opinion. My mom bought and read it before me and told me she thought it was hilarious. It did seem incredibly boring to me at the beginning. But it has won me over. Cal, who narrates the story, does so seamlessly and flawlessly. The language he uses is so beautiful, I have to stop every couple of pages to get a pen and underline similes and metaphors.

Cal's voice is so littered with good-natured sarcasm sometimes it's hard to tell if he is bitter about his situation or just thinks his grandparents are crazy. I've come to love Lefty, Desdemona, Lina, Milton, Tessie, and most of all, Cal.

I can't wait to finish Middlesex.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Magnificent Ambersons...Tarkington's first amazing prize-winner

Well folks, it's been a while since I've posted anything of substance on here.

The truth is, I haven't had much to say. I've had a hell of a time trying to locate the first book on the list. The thought didn't occur to me that I wouldn't be able to find any of the books...they ARE Pulitzer Prize winners, right?

So since March I've been treading my way through the second book on the list, Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons. And when I say "treading", I mean it. It's May and I'm still only halfway through. Everything that I've read about Tarkington raves about him (or her...I'm not sure, is Booth a male or female name?) and I haven't been able to figure that out yet.

The language that Tarkington uses is beautiful. It's not one of those oh-my-gosh-i-cant-wait-to-get-through-this-paragraph description. He's good. Just not as amazing as I expected. I keep waiting for that moment in the book where somebody thought, "Wow, this thing deserves some type of award! Pulitzer it is!," but so far, I'm confused.

I guess I'll just have to get to the end to figure it out. If the library will even let me renew more times than I have already...that reminds me. When is it due back?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"I Need to Read"

It is long. Here is the abridged version:

I love to read. I have loved to read since I was a kid. When I was in elementary school, I used to get in trouble for reading chapter books during class.

I love to spend the first 30 minutes after buying a small electronic device reading its manual.

I read a particularly fascinating article in Highlights magazine not too long ago. And the magazine that AARP puts out once had a very insightful article on how to save money while traveling.

Sometimes, I like to pretend I'm the main character in a novel I'm reading and that I have their special powers, or their cool clothes or I live in their city or their time period. I love any kind of quick-read book by Meg Cabot or Helen Fielding but I also love the kind of resounding literature that Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger wrote. William Shakespears and Tennessee Williams' plays also top my list of favorite reads.

If you go to a movie with me and I see that the movie was based on a book, you better believe I'm going to the library after that movie and checking out the book.

I am usually the first person my friends will ask about current events because they think I probably read an article about something somewhere. They're usually right.

I recently checked out four books from the library without considering when I would have time to read them. In order to finish them all and turn them back in on time, I've left one at home, one in my book bag, one at work and I keep one in my car for lengthy stoplights. That way, I'll always have something to read. And that's how I like it.

That part about reading the book in the car? I really do that. :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reading podcast

I just remembered that I wrote and recorded a podcast for my feature writing class about how much I love to read. I got an "A" on it and my professor said she liked it.

I shall post it when I am not feeling lazy and actually am within arm's length of my jump drive.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I just checked out The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington from the library and am awaiting His Family by Ernest Poole. I want to read them all in chronological order to get the full effect.

Prize-winning list

From I have only read two of them:

2009 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)

2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Riverhead Books)

2007 The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Alfred A. Knopf)

2006 March by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar)

2004 The Known World by Edward P. Jones (Amistad/ HarperCollins)

2003 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar)

2002 Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Alfred A. Knopf)

2001 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Random House)

2000 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin)

1999 The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

1998 American Pastoral by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)

1997 Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser (Crown)

1996 Independence Day by Richard Ford (Alfred A. Knopf)

1995 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (Viking)

1994 The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (Charles Scribner's Sons)

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (Henry Holt)

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (Alfred A. Knopf)

Rabbit At Rest by John Updike (Alfred A. Knopf)

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (Farrar)

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (Alfred A. Knopf)

Beloved by Toni Morrison (Alfred A. Knopf)

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor (Alfred A. Knopf)

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster)

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (Random House)

Ironweed by William Kennedy (Viking)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Harcourt Brace)

Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike (Knopf)

A Confederacy of Dunces by the late John Kennedy Toole (a posthumous publication)
(Louisiana State U. Press)

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (Little)

The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever (Knopf)

Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson (Atlantic Monthly Press)

(No Award)

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow (Viking)

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (McKay)

(No Award)

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty (Random)

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (Doubleday)

(No Award)

Collected Stories by Jean Stafford (Farrar)

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (Harper)

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron (Random)

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (Farrar)

Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter (Harcourt)

The Keepers Of The House by Shirley Ann Grau (Random)

(No Award)

The Reivers by William Faulkner (Random)

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor (Little)

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Lippincott)

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (Doubleday)

The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor (Doubleday)

A Death In The Family by the late James Agee (a posthumous publication) (McDowell, Obolensky)

(No Award)

Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor (World)

A Fable by William Faulkner (Random)

(No Award)

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner)

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (Doubleday)

The Town by Conrad Richter (Knopf)

The Way West by A. B. Guthrie (Sloane)

Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens (Harcourt)

Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener (Macmillan)

1947 All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (Harcourt)

1946 (No Award)

A Bell for Adano by John Hersey (Knopf)

Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin (Harper)

Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair (Viking)

In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow (Harcourt)

(No Award)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Viking)

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Scribner)

The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand (Little)

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Macmillan)

Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis (Harper)

Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson (Simon & Schuster)

Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller (Harper)

The Store by T. S. Stribling (Doubleday)

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (John Day)

Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes (Houghton)

Laughing Boy by Oliver Lafarge (Houghton)

Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin (Bobbs)

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (Boni)

Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield (Stokes)

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (Harcourt)

So Big by Edna Ferber (Doubleday)

The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson (Harper)

One of Ours by Willa Cather (Knopf)

Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington (Doubleday)

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (Appleton)

(No Award)

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (Doubleday)

His Family by Ernest Poole (Macmillan)

(No Award)