The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

{ 2009 | Putnam | 464 pgs }

I would never trade sleep for reading a book.

Well, anyway. I did this time, like many times before. The Help, as you probably know, is set in the South in the 1960s. So of course it’s about race. There are lots of books like this. Unlike The Secret Life of Bees, I felt like The Help had a more original approach to the subject, and it was enjoyable. Unless you are cut off from both books and movies, I assume you know that The Help is about a young white woman and the experiences of black servants in Jackson, Mississippi.

While the book was enjoyable, I didn’t come out feeling like I’d learned any lessons or gained any insight (aside from the “Thank heavens for the civil rights movement” thought the author intends you to have). The thing is, I’m more interested in how this same inequality is perpetuated today. I can’t help but think that it must still be there – here? – in a different form. Don’t you wonder how racism still affects people now?

P.S. It’s been a little while since I read the book. Can you remind me why there are birds on the cover? Is that relevant?

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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

{ 1899 | Blackwood’s Magazine | 136 pgs }

Heart of Darkness appears on just about every list of “Books You Must Read to Be Considered a Real Reader,” and I know a lot of people read it in high school. Not me. I didn’t even read some of the assigned reading for my English classes (yes, you, Scarlet Letter). I naturally assumed that saving this classic for a time when I’m a mature and knowledgeable person would permit deeper understanding and appreciation for the book. Sadly, I appear to have been wrong.

Maybe CliffsNotes would have helped me?

I think I just didn’t quite connect with the book. It’s been a few months since I read it, and it feels…unmemorable. Except the memorable parts. I like the story-told-in-a-story format, but I missed the point of the literary technique here.

I’d really love to hear input on the significance of the book, what I ought to have gotten out of it, how I can look for a better connection or more meaning if I read it again (which will happen only if you’re very persuasive). Was this assigned reading for your high school English classes?

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