Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help — the book literally everyone and your mother is reading right now — will be signing the mega-best seller 5 p.m. tomorrow (May 14) at Garden District Book Shop.
The Help is this year's Eat Pray Love in that it's a book club hit that "really makes you think" — Eat Pray Love about finally taking that trip to Italy; The Help about being nicer to your domestic servant — but not too hard, because it's an easy read*. Also like Eat Pray Love, The Help got a film adaptation (see the trailer above) starring an A-list actress (Eat Pray Love had Julia Roberts; The Help has Emma Stone).
The book follows Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a recent college grad and aspiring journalist living in Jackson, Miss. during the 1960s who decides to write a book documenting the stories of black maids working in the homes of the area's wealthy white women. The story is told by three narrators: Skeeter; Aibileen Clark, the housekeeper of Skeeter's friend; and Minny, a friend of Clark who is also a housekeeper.
The Help has generated as much controversy as success. Some say the book is racist, taking issue with the Stockett's choice to use what The New York Times' Janet Maslin calls "thick, dated dialect" in her portrayal of the black maids. In February, ABC News reported that Ablene Cooper, the nanny for Stockett's brother, was suing Kathryn Stockett for using her identity in the novel without her permission, calling the depiction of the similarly named Aibileen character "embarrassing."
The website Jezebel posted Jamilah Lemieux's essay that takes down the the "magical negro" cliche employed in The Help, saying the book and others like it "allow white folks to feel good and satiates their guilt, while failing to challenge their racialized worldview":
You want a tale of good white folks helping 'de blacks? Where's the John Brown film? Or the book about General Oliver Otis Howard and other whites who worked to help start Historically Black Colleges and Universities? Where's the story of those whites who risked their own freedom to support the Black Arts/Black Power Movements? You want heartwarming tales of cross-racial friendships? How about the many black and white people from similar socio-economic backgrounds who attend school, work and worship together each day? Why can't we see blacks and white working alongside one another? Why must there so often be either a white savior and/or a "magical Negro?"
The criticism seems to have not deterred readers, who have kept the book on the New York Times Best Seller list for fiction — it's currently number 5 on the list, although it came out nearly two years ago.
For the Garden District Book Shop event, the book must be purchased at the store in order to get a ticket for the signing. People can bring their own copies of the book, as long as they also purchase a copy at the store. Call the store (895-2266) if you are unable to attend but would like to order a signed copy of the book. You'll be the envy of your ladies book club.
*Full disclosure: I have not read the book, although it has been foisted upon me several times by well-intentioned female family members.