Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

As our book club organizer and lover of books, The Help by Kathryn Stockett hit the top of my list for the richest discussion book for our group in 2010.  I am glad it was made into a movie for all those souls who don't or won't read the book, but I just can't imagine that the movie could be better than the book.  On the other hand, I will never be able to judge because I've read the book and all the suspense and surprises have been reveled to me.

This great book is extraordinarily rich in character development, with a width of characters spanning black and white, caring and deviously racist, selfless and self serving, all working to spin Stockett's tale about a young journalist, Skeeter, who is writing an undercover story about the maids in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960's.  Skeeter's story is great, but the stories about the maids are real page turners. I can't recommend this book enough. 

This is a setting and era that many of us need to be reminded of with a clear nonprejudicial mind.  Though this is a story taking part in the historical era of Jim Crow Laws, at a time where many white people believed with all their hearts that black people were less intelligent, and not deserving of simple human considerations (such as using the same toilet as they, or drinking from the same water fountain, or sitting in an adjacent bus seat), we need to also be understanding to the era of ignorance.  However, I can't seem to extend any amount of understanding to some of the hateful destructive women in this novel.

Many white people did not know better, just as many people today are victims of their own background and ignorance.  We can move these issues to the year 2011, where this is not a white problem, but a problem that spans races.  It is a problem of poor education, socio-economic challenges and deep cultural prejudice.  Today, "The Help" comes in many shades of colors, so we should take a lesson of humanity away from this book.  In other words, we are all human and deserve to be treated as such.

I have discussed one of many issues touched in this book.  However, read this book and you will have incredible diverse discussion material.  Read this and you won't be able to put it down.  This book will always have a place in my private library.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Turn of the Century New York City Crossword Puzzle for you!

Hi there book friends!  I've worked super hard, and made a crossword puzzle based on the book Clara and Mr. Tiffany written by Susan Vreeland.  The puzzle keeps with the theme of 1900's New York City.  It was a lot of fun to make, but more work than I thought!  I will post the answer key in around a week.

I would use google to help with some of the answers (esp if you didn't read the book).   Not all clues are applicable to the book, but they keep in the theme.

If you would like a pdf version, email me and I will be happy to send that to you. At this time, I do not have a link to this file that you can download ;-(

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Destruction, Disaster, Armageddon, No Hope At All!

That is my summary of this book!  Before I go and say some good things about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I would like to make a definite statement that this would not be a good book club read - at least not the kind of book club I would like to enjoy, where the novel is considered a work of art that has the ability to help enhance and understand our own lives through member relationships and discussion. 

First, it was well written, set in a rural Wisconsin dog breeding and training farm.  Nice, right?  Then, let us make this even more interesting with great and unusual characters.  As this 560 page novel worms its way into the reader's life, he/she learns to care for these wonderful characters.  The most interesting is Edgar, a mute boy who is quite literate in writing and signing.  Almondine, Edgar's closest friend and canine nurse maid, has a true voice in the story.  There are other interesting dogs and Edgar's caring parents, Trudy and Gar.  Time is spent developing the history of the family and the farm.  Wroblewski even gives us a great plot with the addition of a villain, Uncle Claude!  All these pieces make a wonderful story.

Now, let me explain why this book ticked me off so much.  In the last chapter, he totally ruins his plot, the tale's mood, and any hope for any of the characters. I would never suggest to an author that his ending should change.  After all, this is fiction, the authors slate, to do with as he pleases.  Frankly though, I feel betrayed by this book's ending, to the point that twenty years from now, if I have the pleasure of still being part of the human race, I will remember the horrible ending to this book - it was that dramatic.  I will never again read another book by Wroblewski.  Others can enjoy his art, and then see him throw a stinky dog turd right into the middle of the Mona Lisa.  Crap.  I won't make the same mistake twice.

Since this blog is about good books to read, I would like to suggest Watership Down.  This classic book, published in 1972, is an excellent read about talking rabbits who have been displaced from their warren by a farmer.  This novel is totally worth the 608 page reader investment.  It is a classic that can be reread with great pleasure.  So, readers, spend your time reading something that is truly a great book.  Though talking rabbits sounds crazy, the book is really about human nature and ethics and is enjoyable for adults as well as high school students.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New York City Fiction, Love, War, Magic and Guts

Hamill's entertaining novel, Forever,  delves into the history of New York City starting in 1740 and concluding with the fateful day of 9-11-2011.

To show us the history of the city, Hamill most cleverly created an immortal Irish character, Cormac O'Connor.  The story starts in Ireland where Cormac is a child living under English Protestant rule, but secretly schooled in the Gaelic religion.  This part of the book was absolutely fascinating, taking me into a world I have never read of before this time.  Cormac comes to New York City, and at that time is granted eternal life provided he does not leave Manhattan.  This contrived situation acts as a great setting for the author to share the history of New York City with his readers.

This book was imaginatively constructed, entertaining and educational.  Hamill wove his tale with care.  It was quite fun to be introduced in a fictional setting to indentured slavery, the black slave trade, the American Revolution, the cholera epidemic, Boss Tweed and his group of faithful political crooks and even more.  The book seemed a bit choppy as it went from one sub plot to the next, with the setting moving forward in time often in great leaps and bounds, but if viewed as a collection of time glimpses into NYC, it was quite nice.

Other acclaimed books he has written that aren't quite such a reading commitment (this was a 640 pager) are A Drinking Life and Snow in August, though he has twenty books under his hat! Snow in August would be my choice for a good reading group discussion book due to its length and clearer material focus (as opposed to Forever which was focused on the history of NYC, and took forever to read!). Set in post WWII Brooklyn, this coming of age novel is rich with moral, racial and ethic issues as the relationship between an Irish Catholic boy and a Rabbi are developed into a tale. 

Hamill has a nice web site,, where you can catch some video and get to know a little more about this prolific author and his latest works. He knows NYC, and writes about what he knows!