I’m not sure how it all happened, really, but about two years ago, I became a cog in a book-trafficking machine. The process started with a local library that couldn’t handle all the book donations it received. A friend of mine, outraged that the books would go to waste, started picking them up and distributing them to various places, including the college where we both worked. When she left her job, I took over her duties, both official and unofficial. So for the past two years, I have been getting books from her to bring to school, which are then placed on a free book cart for anyone to take or contribute to.
Because I’ve been getting first crack at the books for this entire time, I’ve had to buy new bookshelves to house my burgeoning collection of books, which is increasing at an alarming rate. I’ve found a few gems, and I’ve also ended up with books that I may not have otherwise picked up. One of the more recent examples of this is Steve Martin’s Shopgirl. It’s a slim volume, and I’ve always thought that Martin is an extremely talented and intelligent performer. I thought I’d see how he did with fiction-writing. Continue reading
(This is a copy of the review I posted on Amazon for The Help, which I read for a book club. I was not nearly as intrigued as the majority of reviews, as you will see. There were other issues that I didn’t touch on for the sake of brevity, but I’m open to discussion on other aspects of the book.)
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help has a simple but intriguing message: relationships are complicated. Specifically, she seems to want to explain that the relationships between white employers and black maids in Jackson, Mississippi during the start of the Civil Rights era were much more complicated than they might seem to an outsider. This is sure to be the case and an insider view of the complex dynamics of this relationship would have been a insightful and thought-provoking novel. However, what was delivered fell far short of that goal. What ends up being “compelling and revelatory” about Stockett’s book is the idea that – gasp! – black maids have opinions on their white employers! Some of them hate their employers and some don’t! The potentially powerful exploration of the issue becomes diluted to the point of meaninglessness by the subservience of character development to plot development. Stockett knew what she wanted to happen in the book and by golly, it was going to happen, even if it meant that she created stereotypes instead of fully-fleshed out characters. If she were Tom Clancy trying to create an action-packed exploration of strategic submarine movements during the Cold War, this sin would have been forgivable. However, in a character-driven novel, one that claims to focus on the inner feelings, motivations, thoughts, and desires of the people, the failure to create believable characters ruins the effort. Continue reading