22 July 2011

Love For #fridayreads (If Not For THE HELP)

If you hang out on Twitter among bookishy folk, or are an SMDB*, you have probably either used #fridayreads or follow someone who has used the hashtag. #Fridayreads is a trend started by Bethanne Patrick (@thebookmaven) in which everyone is invited to tweet what book(s) she or he is reading on Fridays with the aforementioned label. #Fridayreads discussion combines three things I like, namely books, social media and nosiness. (Naturally everyone who participates in #fridayreads chooses to do so, which sort of negates the third, but I admit to searching the hashtag sometimes just to see what perfect strangers are reading.)

A few weeks ago I tweeted for #fridayreads, "I finally read The Help and...I still don't know what the fuss is about." Because I did I was able to connect with follower @shalahowell, who happened to be in the middle of reading it, and when she finished we had a chat as the last two women in North America to have read Kathryn Stockett's bestselling debut and forthcoming movie. (Although, ironically, we "discussed" it on Goodreads, finding Twitter's character limit to be a roadblock.) We ended up splitting on our overall opinion of the book, despite liking some of the same things about it, but it was more fun to digest

Here's my essential non-spoilery objection to THE HELP: The novel, which takes place in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, is narrated by three characters, two African-American maids who work in white households (the titular "help") -- Aibileen and Minny -- and Skeeter, an interchangeably spunky college graduate who decides to write a book about "the help" instead of trying to get married as her parents want. Aibileen and Minny's cooperation is essential not only to Skeeter's book, but to her rising understanding that the society she has been raised in is racist all the way down, that the way "the help" is treated is wrong and that she (as a white woman in the segregated South) is guilty in both those respects. So, not only do they have to help Skeeter achieve her dream, they also have to teach her what is apparent to readers from the first page. Their reward is... ah... well... Skeeter is really grateful to them! And they are both happy, in the end, to have helped her.

This is a less egregious example of what Spike Lee used to call, in film, the "magical mystical Negro" archetype -- think Bagger Vance, or (thank you Wikipedia) Bubba in "Forrest Gump." The book's essential message was, "If you try to change the status quo, not only will you not get anywhere, the best you can hope for is for nothing to get worse." One could argue this outcome is reflected in other literature of the Segregation-era South such as the conclusion of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but Harper Lee didn't make me feel that way, even while that plot mechanism was underway. And yet even to the end, Skeeter isn't thinking about Aibileen and Minny and the risks they have run in helping her, but instead of why the "help" who raised her left one day and never came home, because she misses her. It's all about Skeeter, and despite the time Stockett invests in splitting the narrative, in the end it's still all about her.

Such self-absorption is a criticism I have heard lobbed at Twitter a lot, but that's the opposite of my experience there. I started using Twitter not because I needed another venue to broadcast my thoughts in (I already had this blog, for instance) but because some of my Internet-savvy friends were using it, and I wanted to know what they were saying. I'm not going to claim we're all hashing out how to save the world over there, but if I have a question about books, New Jersey, knitting or how long the line for Tina Fey at Barnes & Noble is, I know where to go. (I have asked and gotten answers to all of these queries. And by the way NJ, Cheesequake State Park is still silly.) You may get around to asking your friends anyway what they're reading, but initiatives like #fridayreads strengthen that sense of community in allowing a venue to say, "Hey! I read that" or "I'm about to read that, how is it?" in hopes that, as happened to me, a conversation opens.

*If you have to read this you aren't, but it's social media douchebag.


Elizabeth said...

I guess it's good that I'm not on Twitter, because my posts would read:

May 27: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
June 3: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
June 10: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
June 17: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
June 24: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
July 1: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
July 8: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
July 15: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads
July 22: Atlas Shrugged #fridayreads

The library very kindly allowed me to renew it one more time yesterday. I'm hopeful that that will be the last renewal, because I've finally reached *SPOILER ALERT* "This is John Galt Speaking", which means I have only a couple of hundred pages left. (Unfortunately, the first two pages of his speech don't bode well for the next 83.)

Ellen said...

Elizabeth, I'm sure you would find something funny to say about ATLAS SHRUGGED each week. I believe in you! But I haven't read it yet, so I have no suggestions.

jess s said...

I love #fridayreads even though my friends slack off more often than not. It is so interesting to hear what people are reading and thinking about. My friends in day-to-day life are not that forthcoming about what they are reading (and mostly they don't read or read oprah's books). It scratches a similar itch that goodreads scratches - social networking, community, book conversation.