Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Help, Race, Southern Authors, and Popular Opinion

The HelpI was recently attempting to look up books "like The Help"  with the idea of reviewing a couple here, and was sad to discover that many sights were just listing other book that are being made into movies at the moment. 

The help has been fairly big in Denver for a while now, as it was chosen as the 2011 One Book One Denver.  It was a bit controversial at the Library.  It had already been heavily circulated and the general opinion was that too many people had already read it, and too recently, for it to be chosen.  Even more interestingly, most of the African American women who work at the library, and can remember the 60's, seemed to be of the opinion that the subject had been talked to death.  They didn't like the book, they didn't want to talk about it.  They didn't want to read about another black maid.

The Bluest Eye (Vintage International)I am a guerita, a white girl that is, and being from Arizona I rather infamously thought we were all Mexican for a length of time only possible for a white girl.  I wasn't born in the 60's, and had been raised on Disney Sunday Movies and children's literature that solidly demonized racism as a conquered thing of the past, a strange reality which seemed to have existed, if at all, only in the deep South at a comfortable distance in the past.

The Black Girl Next Door: A MemoirI later went on to join Teach For America in the Houston projects and then earned a MA in Sociology which began with an interest in stratification and segregation.   I consider myself better educated on the subject of racism and race relations in America now, but I still remember being surprised by the reaction elicited by The Help  in the Black women of the library.  The book was receiving almost unanimous ravings by white patrons and workers of all ages, and I don't remember hearing anything either way from younger black women.  I began to wonder about the racial and generational divide with respect to readers of The Help, and what this divide says about our national collective understanding on the subject.
I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsThe Queen of Palmyra: A Novel (P.S.)
Perhaps some people in the blog-o-verse would be interested in discussing the subject?  Comments are welcome!  What does it say about our collective consciousness with respect to race relations if the appetite for civil rights era literature is a mainly white phenomenon?  Or is that even an accurate statement?  Perhaps the women of Denver Public Library are an anomaly? Is there  also a generational divide?  It seems to me that white America practically runs from discussions of race in our own time, yet has a fairly healthy appetite for stories about the racial tensions of the past.  Meanwhile black Americans are much more likely in my experience, to discuss current events without running from race.

What other southern writers would you recommend to readers of The Help?  I was thinking these might be some good author/book suggestions.  Some of them are fairly obvious, but still.  I would love to hear from you, what do you recommend for readers who loved or hated The Help?
    Everything That Rises Must ConvergeBlack Like Me (50th Anniversary Edition)

  • Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye)
  • Flannery O'Conner (Everything that rises Must Converge)
  • Rebecca Wells (Little Alters Everywhere)
  • Twain (Huckfinn)
  • Eudora Welty (Optimists Daughter)
  • Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster)
  • Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees)
  • Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes)
  • Minrose Gwin (The Queen of Palmayra)
  • Mildred D. Taylor (Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry)
  • Jennifer Lynn Baszile (The Black Girl Next Door) 
  • Maya Angelou (I know Why The Caged Bird Sings) 
  •  John Howard Griffin (Black Like Me)


    1. Jamie, I am a Southern White woman or German-Irish-English-Cherokee-Mutt, whichever suits your particular politically correct view. I am a believer of psychohistory, that we are a sum of our parts, including ancestors.
      That said, let me explain something about The Secret Life of Bees, one of my favorite books and movies. Sue Monk Kidd got it right. Characters behaved realistically for the time period, location, color and situation. People not familiar with the South and its intricate melancholy drama with race do not understand that we are different and that it is okay. So many people want us all to be just alike, like socialism looks on a beige page, drab. The South is alive with differences that we appreciate about the other.
      Fried Green Tomatoes is another favorite. The oppression of women is a struggle still much alive, no matter the color. I loved the restaurant's workers' team work, the tone, the radical lead character and the ending.
      In my Southern novel, Black Purse, racial conflict is explored while delivering a message. Of course, to get the most from the read, I will not disclose the intended message.

    2. Excellent review.
      We all seem to like it in Canada and maybe it worthwhile to educate us about this part of history.
      I have subscribed to your blog and perhaps you will reciprocate.
      Also I would like permission to repost this review on our site.....Jim

    3. Hi,

      Great topic, a book that I recently read (and reviewed) is Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself. What is really interesting about this book, is that she could read and write and so was able to relate her story.

      Check out my review if you are interested:

      Thanks Linda

    4. I haven't read The Help yet, but want to soon. I absolutely loved Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (and the other books in the series) when I was growing up. I could not get enough of them. I liked the characters and felt like I knew them. It also helped me to learn about a time in history and connect with the people that lived through it.