Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Kathrine Stockett’s The Help

Thank you so much Sharla of Winter Write for giving me this book! I absolutely loved it!

Stockett weaves this story through the voices of three very different women:

Minny-a pillar-of-strength, no-nonsense woman who’s mastery of the kitchen regularly prevents her from loosing jobs due to her constant need to speak her mind.

Aibileen-surrogate mother to 17+ white children. After decades of waiting on white families she looses her only family, her son, when his white employers fail to see that he receives proper medical care following a farm accident. After this “a bitter seed is planted deep in her heart,” and she struggles to come to terms with the rules of her world.

Miss Skeeter-a young, freethinker who–at 22-years-old–holds a bachelors degree in one hand, but will fail to impress her mother until she has a ring on the other.

Upon returning home from college to find that her own, beloved maid has suddenly disappeared and those who know why are too afraid to answer her questions, Skeeter starts to see some of the injustices of her world and way of life. So after assembling a great deal of courage, Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen set out to do their part to end the injustice by publishing a book filled with the stories of southern black maids.

It was good to hear, from an inside perspective, about life in the South during the 1960’s. For some time I’ve held on to all kinds of questions about that culture and time. This book answered many of them.

It blows my mind that after 20 or 30 years of work, a black maid can only dream of earning minimum wage. I wonder at the complexity of the love/hate relationship between a black maid and the white woman who is helpless without her, but feels superior to her nonetheless.

I marveled at the Catch22 of a black maid raising up white children—sometimes with more love and care than their own parents—knowing that eventually these white children would become white adults and learn to debase her for her race and profession. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this situation is that the black maid must give so much to the care of a white family that her own family must go neglected. Her own children must forfeit the attention of their mother, because she is bound to someone else’s children.

My favorite part of this book must be contrasted against the prevailing facades, hypocrisy, and dishonesty of the white folk in this book. Aibileen tends a young girl who longs for her mother’s approval but goes largely ignored and brokenhearted, because her mother is too caught up in the foolishness of her society to provide attention for her daughter.

In a most loving and unselfish way, Aibileen finds the quiet moments to whisper in her ear that she is a special girl, a smart girl; a girl who can be confident and do great things. I just love Aibileen (and the real woman who inspired her character) for giving such a valuable gift to someone who could easily make her life miserable later. My hope is that instilling that little girl with confidence will help her make her own choices about race someday and not just parrot her parents’ views.

It’s clear that Stockett knew her characters well. She does a brilliant job of giving each woman her own distinct voice, heart, and feelings. I appreciate the clear view she provided of everyone in this book. I sympathized with all different perspectives: black maid, white southern belle, white trash, and redneck.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova has earned her stripes and proven her skill with the well-researched masterpiece that is Still Alice.

However, this book confirmed for me that I am far more afraid of loosing my ability to think than I am of pain or infirmity. I will try to bare well any challenge that is thrown my way, but I crave the luxury of retaining my memories and ability to think and reason throughout. I place much value on the minds of older people. I would like to serve future generations the same way my predecessors have served me.

After watching my own sweet grandmother fight a loosing battle with dementia and Alzheimer’s I found myself nodding my head a lot throughout this book. I drew many parallels and have gained a greater appreciation for my grandmother’s experience.

Watching Alice go through this and realize her own uselessness was horrifying to me, because I thought of how helpless my grandma must have felt while her disease was progressing. I’ve honestly never considered what Alzheimer’s must have been like for her. I’ve calculated what it meant to my parents, their relationships with siblings, and other relatives and situations. But what must it be like to watch your independence fade and realize what a burden you are becoming and will be to your loved ones? I pray I’ll never know.

Another common experience I shared with Alice’s family is how much communicating can take place without thinking, through feelings alone. In the later stages of my grandma’s experience I remember that even though my grandma couldn’t remember anything or anyone from the present, it wasn’t hard to figure out if she was being treated with respect or condescension because of the way these incidents affected her mood and self-confidence.

My grandma didn’t need to remember any part of a bad or good experience for it to affect her. These experiences drove home to me exactly how important it is to not allow these people to slip through the cracks in our attention.

One important positive feature of Alzheimer’s that the book brought out is the unreserved love these people can offer the world. They love like few others can.

Likewise, I remember well, that as my grandmother’s expectations and ability to evaluate my decisions dwindled, the love she showed for me increased and multiplied over and over. That love was sincere and fully accepting. It never felt false or inappropriate to me. It was beautiful and so meaningful during my teenage years.

I’m so glad that the end of the story brought Alice’s family together and peace to her life. Her family worked hard to help her maintain her quality of life and demonstrated several ways she could add value to their lives.

There are some valuable lessons to be found in this book. Anyone who’s life was/is touched by this cruel disease should pick this one up.

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Is Reading Essential to Good Writing?

This blog entry from Perpetual Prose has got me wondering about a battle that pops up in all creativity-based professions (writing included), and I would love to hear your take on this: bored womanDoes one need to study the masters of one’s profession in order to become proficient, or does the studying of others rob one of his/her uniqueness and reduce him/her to a parrot?

Wow. That’s wordy. Let me try again: If I read a lot, can I still write with my voice, or will I just regurgitate what I’ve read?

I read quite a bit and I can’t imagine turning into pen and ink parrot. It seams incredibly pompous to suggest that I would even be able to! I’m no expert, but the more I ponder this, the sillier it seams.

On the flip side, how would someone who’s never read, know anything about writing? To some degree we all learn by example, don’t we? We can’t learn everything by trial and error. Perhaps I’m not considering everything. Please feel free to point out what that is.

All that we read rattles around in out head and together with our experiences forms our voice. Since no two sets of experiences and repertoires of books read are alike, I don’t believe we should be troubled about mimicking others.

The more important question should be: Where is the balance between reading too little great literature, and reading to the point of distraction. How do we know when we are reading enough to understand what is valuable in a work of literature and leaving ample time and energy to practice writing ourselves.

Obviously that has to be a personal choice, as does the definition of value in literature. So perhaps one can be a great writer without reading after all! We just have to allow for that person’s definition of value in literature. If he/she is happy with what they produce, then so be it.

However, if he/she wants to appeal to an audience or get paid for their writing, they’d better widen their definition of value and start doing some research. Namely, reading.

What do you think?

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Writer’s Block

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We all dread that moment. You know the one. You’re staring at the empty page or screen, painfully aware of an impending deadline, ie: a commitment to publish a blog post on a certain day every week (Oops, sorry again), but you have absolutely nothing to say. Aarg! What do you do about that?!

I’ve noticed a trend when this happens to me. There’s almost always something in the way. I’m hungry or tired or angry or stressed out. Often there’s just too many thoughts rattling around in my head.

So the first I do is address my needs. I eat or take a power nap or go for a walk to calm myself. If there’s too much going on inside my head, I take a minute and write down all the thoughts that demand attention. Once my needs are addressed, and my mind is cleared, I am almost always able to write.

Of course more often than not, I cannot meet all my needs before beginning. So in that case I turn to a few exercises to get me going:

  • If I have any great lines I want to include or points I want to make, I get those down first. For example, I wrote the last paragraph of this post right after I wrote the second paragraph of this post. Who says anything has to be written in order? I’m rarely able to think in order, so I rarely write that way.

  • I make an outline. Even if I’ve already done that. When there’s a few parts written out, I start fitting those into place and summarizing what needs to go in between. Once the in between parts are labeled and identified, it gets easier to write those parts.

  • My husband gave me a brilliant suggestion last night. He said if worse comes to worse, start writing alterations (the healthy, hungry hippo has to hijack a houseboat) or rhymes or work on some other literary trick. Write an elaborate description of an event or place. The point is to get the wheels turning in your mind. I haven’t tried this yet, but it makes sense to me. I bet it works.

  • John August suggests setting a time limit. He pledges to attempt writing for 20 minutes and then gives himself 10 minutes of freedom. I think it would be wise to use that 10 minutes of freedom to do something very non-mental. I would listen to music and stare out the window or at the ceiling for 10 minutes. I’d be ready to mentally engage after that.

  • David Hunter of The Writer’s Den suggests shuffling through discarded ideas and removing distractions like internet, phone, and TV.

  • And while reading David’s post from The Writer’s Den (don’t visit if you hate colorful language, sheesh!) I thought of another good idea: switch mediums! If you always type, try good ‘ole pen and paper for a bit, ect. Ask someone to take dictation. It might just be enough of a change to refresh.

  • Brian Clark of Copyblogger warns that writer’s block may be a sign of fear. (fear of rejection, fear of mediocrity, fear of success) He says don’t allow yourself to be your own worst enemy. Work past your fears.

  • Melissa Karnaze, also of Copyblogger actually believes a block can be a “secret weapon.” In her post she gives some great steps to reach clarity, find what it is you want to say, and most importantly, remember why you wanted to write that piece in the first place.

Well that’s it for me. Of course if none of this works, and the words still won’t come, listen inward. Maybe you shouldn’t write your story or paper. Maybe the timing is off, or your heart’s not in it. Trust your instincts. Put the thing aside. But good luck explaining that to your boss or professor! Now there’s a real problem!