The Help—a non-review book review

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. You’ve all read it, I’m sure. Probably years ago, right after it was published, when it was on the best seller list for many weeks, months, years. I knew about it, of course, even watched the movie, which was wonderful and made me fall in love with Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. Why on Earth did it take me so long to pick up this book and start reading it?

I never used to watch a movie based on a book without first reading it. Back when I used to read two or three books a week, before chat forums, before blogs, before social media, before menopause. Menopause, or actually peri-menopause, those days of hot flashes, night sweats, brain befuddling, short-term memory loss, was my first downfall. After being a voracious reader since I was six, when I suddenly understood that all those black marks on the page actually meant something, and were orderly and brought joy to a little girl who didn’t have much, but had the public library, all of a sudden, I couldn’t focus on reading more than a paragraph at a time. I would pick up a book only to put it down a few minutes later, because my mind was on twenty different things that I should be doing, anything rather than reading. That went on for years. I still loved books. Still bought them, still checked them out of the library, but they mostly went unread.

Then came the idea that I wanted to have my own chickens. By this time we had moved to the country again, the Bear Swamp Road mini-farm. I was raised a farm girl with chickens running around my feet, but I knew absolutely nothing about raising them myself. I bought a couple of books from Tractor Supply, but I needed someone with first-hand experience. I was getting into the computer in a small way, after resisting for many years, so I Googled “raising chickens.” Such an innocent term, little did I know that the first thing that popped up would be a forum on the Backyard Chickens website. I latched onto that forum and soaked up all that knowledge like a dry sponge and spent many, many hours there, and when I finally got my sixteen chicks, all that I had learned really helped me not make too many mistakes. I also met a woman on there who had a blog. After reading some of her posts, I thought, I could do this blog thing. And I was ready to leave the forum. There were people on there with whom I didn’t agree, and I didn’t like the way some things were going, so it was time to move on.

That was the beginning of Bear Swamp Reflections. I jumped in with both feet, not really knowing what I was doing, but plunging ahead anyway. I loved it, and when I finally started getting some attention with the help from a few lovely blog friends, it felt wonderful getting positive feedback from others who were doing the same thing, and who really seemed to like what I had to say. I don’t have a lot in common with my family other than memories and family history, and now I had a new family. It was a wonderful way to communicate my thoughts and feelings, and I learned a lot about writing.

Then, along came social media with Facebook being the foremost. I resisted for a long time, but my sister and my niece wooed me with pretty words about getting in touch with old friends and staying connected with family. One hit was all it took, and I was hooked. I was looking up old school friends right and left, posting pictures, pithy sayings that I borrowed from other clever people who put them on instantly postable pages. Pretty soon I was posting to my blog less and less. I just didn’t have time anymore to write. Facebook was my new addiction, and I had to have it morning, noon, and night. I discovered that I’m an all or nothing kind of girl, and apparently with the attention span of a gnat. Then the new started to wear off. I suddenly remembered why I had never stayed in contact with most of the people I went to school with (and a lot of my family). Because I really didn’t like them all that much. I was popular in school, but most of them didn’t know my nerdy side, and the ones who did didn’t really understand it, or me. I went back and forth sporadically, quitting Facebook for a few months, only to let something drag me back into it, usually my sister. Then, all of a sudden, about six months ago, I decided that was it. I was done, and I wasn’t going back, no matter what. I was going to read.

I started in on the hundreds of books lining my shelves, but was slowed down again in the move process. Then I realized a few months ago that an extension of my reading was my writing. I really, really missed it. I know I’m never going to win any awards or publish any books (remember the attention span thing?), but I missed being funny and snarky and talking about things with like-minded people, my loyal and true blog friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin, who have been there to laugh at my silly musings, who have cried with me and shared my broken heart and made me feel a little better with your virtual hugs and beautiful words. You are a big part of my family.

What The Help comes down to is family. The families we were born with, where sometimes we don’t seem to fit just right, where we love our parents and our siblings and extended family, but sometimes the connections are because we are related by birth, and not by ideas. Skeeter loved her family, but she came to love the family of comrades with whom she collaborated to write her book, “the help”, those women who sometimes sacrificed their own families to care for their white families, and were most often treated like less than the family pet. Women about whom she had never given a second thought until she lost her beloved Constantine, the woman who loved and raised her from an infant. This book moved me so much, to tears on a few occasions. Of course, I knew about the injustices of living in the South and being born with the wrong color of skin, but hearing the stories in those women’s voices really touched me. And I will end with this, my highest praise for a book, I wanted it to never end. I wanted to keep on reading about Skeeter and Aibileen and Minny until I could no longer read. My second highest praise—I will probably read it again.

See you soon,

Susan