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Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Book, Many Different Views

Yesterday the book discussion group from the Leelanau Township Library met at Dog Ears Books, due to the fact that the library remodeling project is almost but not quite finished. The book to be discussed was Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. The librarian and I admitted—and discovered that we were the only ones who felt this way—approaching the novel with some trepidation. Could the white author truly portray black women’s experiences? I won’t give my answer to the question (quite honestly, I’m still mulling it over), but this morning I found a review online which is followed by a very long and completely fascinating series of comments which cover a wide variety of responses. There are comments by both black and white respondents, those who loved the book and those who hated it, mostly women but a few men. I haven’t finished reading all the comments yet but have been struck by many and recommend reading them all, as I intend to do. Whatever you do, don’t miss Malathy’s response. Okay, I’m going back now to read the rest....

I’m coming back to say more about these comments, in hopes that a lot of people will go read them. What is most striking to me is that there is no uniform opinion in any one group, divide the respondents up how you will. Southern white women: different opinions. Southern black women: different opinions. Northern blacks: different opinions. Northern whites: different opinions. Men vs. women: no clear-cut agreement within gender. Educational level: did not determine reaction positively or negatively, as far as I can see.

Thinking further about this, I guess what I love about the diversity of comments is that it completely explodes any notion that a particular group of American readers will fall into a monolithic response, based on gender or race or geographic region or any other way anyone might be tempted to draw the lines. This alone should tell us something, although I’m not sure exactly how to put that “something” into words.

8 comments:

Karen said...

There is also no such thing as a"red state" or a "blue state!" Great observation, Pamela! I read the book and will be interested in reviewing these comments.

P. J. Grath said...

I hope to hear from lots of you on this. Thanks, Karen, for being the first to comment. Come back after you've read the site!

Karen Casebeer said...

Pamela...I have a reaction to Malathy's response: "Accepting people for who they are – HUMANS!! – and seeing the good in people, books, literature, history is something that is portrayed in this book."

I agree with her point of view wholeheartedly, but would like to offer just a slightly different view. I would say we should see the DIFFERENCES in people and finding those differences good and enriching.

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, do you want to stress difference rather than commonality or along with it?

Karen Casebeer said...

Pamela...While we have so many commonalities, we have so many differences too. I think we often take the commonalities for granted, but it's the differences in race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. that get us in trouble with meshing with each other. That's why I focused on the differences vs. the commonalities. Sometimes, too, when we focus on the commonalities, I think, we are being blind (color blind, as some would say)to these differences. It's sorta like saying we are all human so what's the big deal. To me, what's important is to see these strong differences among us, and find good and value in them. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

I see what you’re saying, I think, Karen. If we stress only our common humanity, we fail to acknowledge and appreciate our differences. Is that it? And I agree. I guess, though, that this is yet another question where I take (sigh!) a boring, middle-ground position, because I also think there is danger in stressing difference to the point of failing to acknowledge and appreciate what we have in common. Maybe which needs to be the focus of conversation and investigation depends on context: either way, if we get too comfortable and think we know all there is to know about each other, we’re going to miss each other completely.

Kathy said...

Pamela, I read "The Help" and liked it. My mother read it and liked it. Our book club is reading it now. I think. They are always picking out books that I have already read, so I forget.

I LOVE it that the diversity "explodes any notion that a particular group of American readers will fall into a monolithic response." YES! My sociologist son would probably be shaking his head at me. I am always insisting that everyone is an individual and he is always insisting that we're part of a much larger pattern. I suspect we're both right...

Thanks for this book review, Pamela.

P. J. Grath said...

Let's just clarify, Kathy. I didn't review the book but only provided a link to a review. Yes, I suspect you and your son are both right. Anyway, stay tuned, because I will have a lot more to say about this book and about the discussions it has sparked in my next post.