Tuesday, August 24, 2010

WHO ~ second set of DQs

5.  Why do you think Margaret and the children receive such a chilly welcome when they finally return to the village from the Maori camp?

6.  Several matches proposed in this book seem made for convenience:  Portia and Henry, Margaret and Captain Fisk of the Sacramento, and even Nancy and Henry, at least in the beginning.  Do you agree?  If so, why do you think that is?

7.  At what point do Margaret and Nancy start to get along?  What sparks their friendship?

8.  Though it's a wretched situation for everyone involved, which Mrs. Oades do you think suffers most?  Which of the two do you most identify with?

9.  Was there a better solution for Mr. Oades and his non-traditional family?  Or did they make the best possible choice?  Would there be a better solution today?  What would it be?

10.  The claims of the Daughters of Decency seem ridiculous to modern ears.  Can you think of any recent court battles that might seem as hysteric and unnecessary a century from now?

11.  What, in the end, do you think was the main theme of this book?  Were you surprised?

12.  What part of the book do you think you'll long remember?

The Help - Discussion by Susan

Unbidden images of Gone with the wind popped into my head and played out at first while reading the stories of Aibileen and the other black maids, until I found them reading the classics and discovered that some were even college educated. I have to stop and think, this is in fact 1962, almost a hundred years since the slaves were set free. So what has happened in 100 years? According to this story, the subservient slave labor is alive and well, except these black women are employees instead of property.

This book was written from the perspective of several different characters, each taking turns to narrate a chapter or more - just like in House Rules. Does this style of writing have a name? Once again I found myself engrossed in the story, only to have to look back at the beginning of the chapter to see who was doing the story now. A little frustrating, but overall I like the different perspectives it provides.

I really enjoyed this book, it is funny and sad and serious and suspenseful and totally believable. As I am sure the author intended, I found myself rooting for the maids and abhorring their white bosses. For such an oppressing topic, it was a thoroughly great read.

~posted by Susan of patchwork reflections

The Help - 2nd set of Questions/Answers by Susan

Aibileen is my favorite character - she didn't hold grudges, tried to see the good in things, and especially tried to teach her 'white babies' self-worth and confidence and character. My least favorite was Hilly - I don't know what her problem was, except maybe she wanted to be in charge of everything and everyone. Minny was a hoot! I would root for her to tell her boss what she was really thinking, but of course that always got her fired, so she would try real hard to hold her tongue. The Terrible Awful Thing she did was a funny story, don’t think about it too much - gross - but in the long run, worth it! She definitely had enough reasons to mistrust white people.

Racism is definitely taught, handed down from generation to generation - I still see it today, living in rural Appalachia where rebel flags and rednecks rule.

~posted by Susan of patchwork reflections

The Help - 1st set of Questions/Answers by Susan

My long wait on the 'hold' list at the library is over! I finally received my copy of The Help a few days ago and couldn't put it down!

Discussion on the first set of questions:

On Minny's mama's advice or rules - just reading them makes me sad and mad and shake my head, that there was a time that people were treated like this and that mothers had to teach these rules to their daughters. Minny followed her mother's advice pretty well, all except for the sassing of course! Minny's strong personality lost her quite a few jobs over the years. She sure knew how to cook though, and I would get hungry just listening to what she was making, fried chicken, pork chops, biscuits, all except for the chocolate pie, I would have to pass on that!

When I was reading Minny's many uses for Crisco, I thought to myself - I need to write some of these down! My favorite one was - lights get cut off, stick a wick in it and burn it like a candle.. and after all that, it'll still fry your chicken.

Like Minny, Skeeter also had a strong personality. She knew what she wanted to do and did not want to compromise her goals or beliefs to please others. Skeeter went off to college and accomplished what she set out to do, bring home a degree, instead of what her mother wanted her to come back with - a husband (albeit both would have been nice, too). Skeeter eventually sacrificed a lot - her place in society (Jr. League, bridge club), marriage to the senator's son, all of her friendships, and even her hometown, but she had the satisfaction of doing the right thing, and ultimately her dream of moving to New York City to become a writer was her reward.

Skeeter wanted to be a writer and had to start somewhere, so she scoured the newspaper ads which were separated by gender - the female jobs paying much less than the male ones. The separation of the ads has changed, but men still make more money than women in many jobs today.

~posted by Susan of patchwork reflections

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

WHO ~ first set of DQs

I found this photo of Maori people on a New Zealand travel guide.

1.  On the voyage to New Zealand, Mrs. Randolph, a fellow passenger, cares for Margaret as she miscarries.  Later, when Margaret tries to explain her frief over her new friend's death to Henry, she thinks, "the small transactions between women, particularly mothers, cannot adequately be explained to a man.  Some, like hers with Mrs. Randolph, will bind women for life."  Do you agree with Margaret?  Can a strong relationship between women be forged in a matter of hours?

2.  When my face-to-face book club discussed The Wives of Henry Oades, someone remarked on how much it showed women supporting other women.    Name some of the places that's true of the book.

3.  Why do you think Henry Oades misidentified Mim Bell as his wife?  How could he have made such a grievous error?

4.  Margaret teaches her children lessons every evening:  grammar, mathematics, and etiquette.  "It was her duty to prepare them for their return.  She refused to accept the possibility that they might grow old and die a natural death here.  Margaret never once considered setting her children free to be slaves."  She refuses to allow her children to live the life before them, planning, instead, for the life she hopes they will claim.  Why do you think Margaret remains so steadfast during their captivity?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Suggestions for our fall reading list

It's time to choose our next books.  So far these are the books that have been suggested, but we need more suggestions.  Some of these may be too new, meaning you'll have a hard time getting them from your library, so check availability before you tell us which to read.  Please comment, so I'll have some idea what interests you.  Do any of these sound good to you?

The Postmistress ~ by Sarah Blake, 2010
Synopsis from the author's web site:  What would happen if a postmistress chose not to deliver the mail?

It is 1940. While the war is raging in Europe, President Roosevelt promises he won't send American boys over to fight.

Iris James is the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts a small town at the end of Cape Cod. She firmly believes her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Faithfully she stamps and sends the letters between people such as the newlyweds Emma and Will Fitch, who has gone to London to help out during the Blitz. But one day she slips a letter into her pocket, and leaves it there.

Meanwhile, seemingly fearless radio gal, Frankie Bard is reporting the Blitz from London, her dispatches crinkling across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention. Then in the last desperate days of the summer of 1941, she rides the trains out of Germany, reporting on what is happening to the refugees there.

Alternating between an America on the eve of entering into World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, an a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin.
The Housekeeper and the Professor ~ by Yoko Ogawa, 2003
Synopsis from the publisher's web site:  He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem--ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.  She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.

And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities--like the Housekeeper’s shoe size--and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.
Finding Nouf ~ by Zoe Ferraris, 2008
Synopsis from the author's web site:  When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. When the coroner's office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened.

He quickly realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner's office who is bold enough to pursue the investigation on her own. Their partnership challenges Nayir, as he confronts his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs. Fast-paced and utterly transporting, Finding Nouf is a riveting literary mystery that offers an unprecedented window into Saudi Arabia and the lives of men and women there.
American Wife ~ by Curtis Sittenfeld, 2008
Plot summary from the author's web site: On what might become one of the most significant days in her husband’s presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led her to the White House–and the repercussions of a life lived, as she puts it, “almost in opposition to itself.”

A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice learned the virtues of politeness early on from her stolid parents and small Wisconsin hometown. But a tragic accident when she was seventeen shattered her identity and made her understand the fragility of life and the tenuousness of luck. So more than a decade later, when she met boisterous, charismatic Charlie Blackwell, she hardly gave him a second look: She was serious and thoughtful, and he would rather crack a joke than offer a real insight; he was the wealthy son of a bastion family of the Republican party, and she was a school librarian and registered Democrat. Comfortable in her quiet and unassuming life, she felt inured to his charms. And then, much to her surprise, Alice fell for Charlie.

As Alice learns to make her way amid the clannish energy and smug confidence of the Blackwell family, navigating the strange rituals of their country club and summer estate, she remains uneasy with her newfound good fortune. And when Charlie eventually becomes President, Alice is thrust into a position she did not seek–one of power and influence, privilege and responsibility. As Charlie’s tumultuous and controversial second term in the White House wears on, Alice must face contradictions years in the making: How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona?

In Alice Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld has created her most dynamic and complex heroine yet. American Wife is a gorgeously written novel that weaves class, wealth, race, and the exigencies of fate into a brilliant tapestry–a novel in which the unexpected becomes inevitable, and the pleasures and pain of intimacy and love are laid bare.
The Lacuna ~ by Barbara Kingsolver, 2009
Book description from the publisher's web site:  In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, newspaper headlines and howling gossip, and a risk of terrible violence.

Meanwhile, to the north, the United States will soon be caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. There in the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself in America's hopeful image and claim a voice of his own. He finds support from an unlikely kindred soul, his stenographer, Mrs. Brown, who will be far more valuable to her employer than he could ever know. Through darkening years, political winds continue to toss him between north and south in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach—the lacuna—between truth and public presumption.

With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time.
The Great Gatsby ~ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
This novel was first published in 1925, but didn't do well until the 1950s, when it was republished. Set on Long Island's North Shore and in New York City during the summer of 1922, it is a critique of the American Dream.  It's the classic story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan.  Nick Carraway is the cynical neighbor observing the decadence and excess.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ by Betty Smith, 1943
This novel, first published in 1943, is the coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan during the first two decades of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia:  "The main metaphor of the book is the hardy Tree of Heaven, of Asian origin, now considered invasive, and common in the vacant lots of New York City."

The Dark Is Rising ~ by Susan Cooper,1973
This is a five-book fantasy series for grade five and up, but the second in the series is also entitled The Dark Is Rising.  The second volume is about 11-year-old Will, who discovers he's one of the Old Ones. My library's description of this children's book:  "On the Midwinter Day that is his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers a special gift -- that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark. At once, he is plunged into a quest for the six magical Signs that will one day aid the Old Ones in the final battle between the Dark and the Light. And for the twelve days of Christmas, while the Dark is rising, life for Will is full of wonder, terror, and delight."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Wives of Henry Oades ~ by Johanna Moran, 2010

Our book for August is The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran (2010). Here's the synopsis from the publisher's web site:
When Henry Oades accepts an accountancy post in New Zealand, his wife, Margaret, and their children follow him to exotic Wellington. But while Henry is an adventurer, Margaret is not. Their new home is rougher and more rustic than they expected—and a single night of tragedy shatters the family when the native Maori stage an uprising, kidnapping Margaret and her children.

For months, Henry scours the surrounding wilderness, until all hope is lost and his wife and children are presumed dead. Grief-stricken, he books passage to California. There he marries Nancy Foreland, a young widow with a new baby, and it seems they’ve both found happiness in the midst of their mourning — until Henry’s first wife and children show up, alive and having finally escaped captivity.

Narrated primarily by the two wives, and based on a real-life legal case, The Wives of Henry Oades is the riveting story of what happens when Henry, Margaret, and Nancy face persecution for bigamy. Exploring the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, the changing world of the late 1800s, and the strength of two remarkable women, Johanna Moran turns this unusual family’s story into an unforgettable page-turning drama.

The Help ~ answering questions

TH ~ first set of questions

1.  When Minny was 14 years old, her Mama gave her some advice (pp. 38-39). ... do you think (so far) that Minny is following Mama's advice?
One of her mama's rules (#5) was "you eat in the kitchen." It reminds me of Cornelia and makes me want to cry. Neal, as we called her, was my mother's friend. Not only did she visit us, but we visited her and her husband at their house. Yet Neal never, ever sat down to eat with us. Not even when I was grown, with children, and invited her over. On her last Christmas, knowing she'd never sit at the table with us, I had us all eat in the den, holding plates on our laps.  Cornelia's grin went ear to ear.  She cleaned people's houses (though I never saw her wear a uniform), and I can only believe she had the same instructions not to even think about eating with the white folks.  And she never did, even though we were friends.

Okay, I didn't exactly answer the question.  Minny went her own way, pretty much, but mostly she tried to do what it took.  More or less.  She was a character!
2.  Did you pick up on all the ways Crisco can be used?  We could learn a thing or two from Minny, who, early in the book, tried to teach Miss Celia to cook.  Share something you learned from Minny's list of ways to use Crisco (pp. 43-44).
Besides being a reader (I should say bookaholic), I also has a bookstore. I think about stuff like how to remove old price tags stuck to books and chose to mark prices in our used books in pencil on the inside top corner, rather than "defacing" a book with a hard-to-remove sticker. At the store, we used Goo Gone to remove sticky stuff, so I noticed when Minny said Crisco would do that job.
3.  Why did Skeeter's mother object to her college degree?
She sent Skeeter to college to snag a husband!  To get her "Mrs. degree."  Here's their conversation:

"Four years my daughter goes off to college and what does she come home with?" she asks.
"A diploma?"
"A pretty piece of paper," Mother says.
"I told you.  I didn't meet anybody I wanted to marry," I say. (p. 55)
Skeeter:  "I'll never be able to tell Mother I want to be a writer.  She'll only turn it into yet another thing that separates me from the married girls" (p. 56).
4.  Newspaper want ads used to seperate Help Wanted: Female from Help Wanted: Male. ... (p. 59).  Do you remember those days?  Or have you heard an older person talk about what it was like?
Oh, yeah, I remember those days.  When I read this part of the book, I looked back at the dustjacket and saw that the story is set in 1962.  Skeeter was 22 in 1962, so I was her age that year.
TH ~ second set of questions

1.  Who was your favorite character?  Why?
I would have like to know Constantine better.  I was tall like Skeeter, and I loved what Constantine told her when she was crying about being five-eleven:  "Well, I'm five-thirteen, so quit feeling sorry for yourself" (p. 65).  I'm five-nine, but I never cried about my height.  I also liked Aibileen a lot; besides having lots of gumption, she had common sense and really cared about the children in her care.  I also liked Skeeter and what she said near the end of the book:
"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought" (p. 419).
2.  What do you think motivated Hilly?
She was a mean one.  I kept trying to like her, but most of the time I just wanted her to somehow become aware of what it was like to be in the other person's shoes.  I liked toilet seats on the lawn, but the pie?  Now that may have been going too far.  (But you could say she got her just desserts.)
3.  How much of a person's character do you think is shaped by the times in which they live?
A lot, especially what we grow up with in our families.  If I'd lived in Europe during the Dark Ages, I'm sure I would have insisted -- with vigor -- that the earth was flat.  By reading, we open ourselves up to "new worlds" that we haven't actually lived; the stories help us imagine another way of living, another way of doing things.  I don't think we have completely gotten "past" the racist times this book shows us, but at least some things are better.
4.  Do you think Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?
Yes, because we could see it in the story of their lives.  On the other hand, how do we learn to trust each other?  With those racist attitudes then (and to a big extent, now), how can we start to trust?  The "trusting" problem exists with any groups of people who haven't treated each other as equally human:  Israelis and Palestinians, Iraqis and Iranians, and any other group that's "them and us."
5.  Do you think racism is inherent or taught?
I think it's taught.  Children don't recognize differences in the beginning, not until they pick up on what adults say and do.  I remember wondering why dark-skinned people couldn't swim in the pool in my town.  I wondered if the darkness would come off and stain the water or something, like a red shirt tossed into the washer.  It didn't make sense to me.
6.  What did you think about Minny's pie for Miss Hilly?  Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?
What I think?  See #2 above.  No, I wouldn't have gone that far.  I wouldn't even have imagined it, though I agree with Minny's assessment of Hilly:  "She evil, that woman!" (p. 252).  The most evil thing in the book, in my opinion, is when Hilly wouldn't let Yule May borrow $75 -- all they lacked to send their twin sons to college -- and then got the "regular sentence" of six months for petty stealing bumped up to four years in the penitentiary.