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Archive for November, 2009

Kindling

I already decided that I don’t want a Kindle (you know that electronic book-reading thing that you get from Amazon); however, I thought I would try it out while on vacation with a kindle-owner.  I read part of a New Yorker, but found that it wasn’t quite the organic experience that I’m used to – the cover wasn’t in color and was essentially meaningless, the cartoons were separate from the articles, plus the little sidebars didn’t show up, although they’re probably in there somewhere.  I like to read the magazine back-to-front sometime, or skip an article and go back to it, which wasn’t as easy as with the actual magazine.  Of course, I probably wasn’t utilizing all of the tools that are available, like search and bookmark.  One cool feature is the built in dictionary.  I also read part of a book, which was enjoyable (The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie and Literary Society –this has to be the worst title ever).  It’s weird not to know what page you’re on, but you always know what % of the book you’ve read.  I am always searching back through a book to find a memorable phrase or passage and Kindle lets you bookmark, which would save a lot of time.  Of course, the big plus is taking it on vacation – I lugged 2 hardcovers and 3 magazines in my backpack, whilst they had a world of books at their fingertips.  (Of course, you don’t want to take it to the beach!) The power is intoxicating, just one click and you can be reading a new book instantly (your credit card information is saved for ease of ordering).  For me, that power is also a negative.  I feel like my reading budget would instantly become a problem, especially since I tend to rely on the library for my reading and listening.  From a totally self-serving point of view, it is too bad that the Kindle reader can no longer lend one a book; if you borrow someone’s Kindle, they usually must be otherwise occupied, and it also creates a gift-buying problem for your friends or family members with Kindle; I could always fall back on a book as a gift, but now I guess a gift certificate to Amazon will have to suffice.  Thusfar, I only know two Kindle-owners and haven’t see anyone else sporting one in public places, but with the competition increasing, perhaps the price will come down and Kindles and other devices will become more prevalent.  This leads me to a final, admittedly minor, quibble:  if everyone on the plane or train is reading a Kindle, you really have no way of discreetly peeking at what they’re reading, which for me is one of the joys of travel.

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The Help

I finally read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  It was a compelling read, with much suspense and a real sense of the danger that Aibileen, Minny and the other maids were courting through their covert writing project.  The beating and blinding of one maid’s son for using a white bathroom provides a serious counterpoint to the ridiculous notion of the Junior League President that all households should have separate bathrooms for the help, ‘for sanitary reasons.’ One felt that even Skeeter, the young white woman who persuades the maids to tell their storis, might be in serious trouble, but there is also a sense of change trickling down, even to the provincial backwater that Jackson seemed to be. One of the strengths of the book is an undercurrent of national and even local events – of social upheaval on many fronts – hearing a Bob Dylan song, learning of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington. This premonition of the future is most poignantly expressed when Aibileen says goodbye to ‘her last white baby’, Mae Mobley, and has a visionof the modern world that Mae will inhabit. (In the fictional book, “Help”, that is being written by Skeeter and the maids, the editor declares that the best section is by Sarah, Aibileen’s pseudonym, and her voice is the one that I remember most from the book.)  The ending was a bit patched together, with Skeeter heading off to New York, her Mother apparently not dying, and the maids piecing their lives back together somehow.  While not entirely believable, the interwoven stories from different viewpoints works pretty well; however, it is disconcerting to have one chapter, the Junior League benefit where so many of the plotlines come together, suddenly in the third person, with an omniscient narrator telling us what different people were doing and thinking.  I also wonder if it would have been a better book with just two viewpoints –  Aibileen’s and Skeeter’s; it would have been harder to write but I think it would have been a stronger. All in all, though, the writing was good, with many insights into actions and motivations and a lot of humor. Elizabeth not recognizing herself in the book was perfect!  So, between, the topic, the times – early sixties in the South–and the characters, it adds up to a good, even an important book, well worth reading.

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