Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"The dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect"

This blog has been a compilation of my loves and hobbies, however I have managed to write about just about everything except the one "hobby" I've always claimed.  When people ask what I do for fun my first thoughts are "sleep... eat... watch trashy tv..."  but you don't say those things.  "Reading." I always say- not because it's socially acceptable, but because it's socially acceptable AND true.

I've loved books with a deep passion and been insatiable for them since I was a kid.  My mom used to take me to the library and let me check out books before I could even write, I must have been about three.  But I wanted every book, all the books.  My chubby, grubby little hands couldn't hold as many books as I needed.  Eventually she got sick of having to deal with her books and my books and she took me to the counter to get my own library card.  The librarian very kindly told my mother that unless I could write my name- no dice.  My mom, never easily deterred, took me home, taught me how to write my name and had me back at the library the same day.  The woman handed me the card, I wrote my name on the back, and then gripped it for dear life.  That card was gold- it was my ticket to life.  Mom and I would go to the library every week with a basket big enough for me to sit in and we would fill it to overflowing with books.  I'd get in the car and start "reading" them all.  Mom would read three books to me every night just about and the following week we'd start over.  I love books, have I mentioned that?

Oddly enough when I moved to Fredericksburg I developed a friendship with a girl named Ashley.  The love was immediate and complete.  And then I found out her mom was a librarian, and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  The daughter of a librarian is pretty much required by law to love books, so Ash and I shared that and in high school Rebekah joined us and we had ourselves a little book lovers group- such nerds.  Everytime we see each other we ask how things are, what's new, how is the family, have you read any good books recently?  We've been doing that since we were 15- again- such nerds.  Needless to say I've managed to surround myself with fellow book lovers- not just my best friends but my mother and sister, my husband, my mom's friends.  Anytime conversation dies down there's always the question of recent reads.

My taste in books tends to be a little dark for most of the people in my life.  My sister and I were discussing an audio book I loaned her and how much she loved it.  I told her that I had tried to get Mom to read it years ago but she never "got around to it."  Maggie (my sister) kind of hung her head a little and said "El, I have to tell you something... Mom thinks you only read really difficult and heavy books... so anytime you recommend something... well... she kind of ignores you."  I thought that was hilarious and called Joe in to tell him because he thinks the same thing, that all I read are books about child abuse, sexual assault, abusive men, suicide, blah blah blah.  But it's not entirely true.  I mean yes... I do enjoy reading books about difficult things.  I think there is such beauty in overcoming such darkness.  BUT!  It's not all I read.  And Joe has started to believe that I don't always seek these topics out, they find me.  I recently read The Art of Racing in the Rain which was an amazingly different story of love and devotion told from the perspective of the family dog.  It wasn't a "heavy" read, I chose it because it sounded so neat.  Halfway through the book the father was accused of child molestation and when I told Joe he immediately said "Oh God... another one Ellen?"  It finds me, I swear.

So anyway, I read a lot.  I like books.  I have diverse tastes in books.  I love a good book recommendation.  Maggie is in a book club and she tends to really enjoy what they read and ends up passing them on to me.  Under her direction I read Shanghai Girls, which I loved, as well as a couple others.  But most recently she gave me The Help.  Now let me start by saying I don't usually read a lot of stuff that I hate.  Most recently I read Housekeeping, which I truly hated, but I'd venture to say that's the first book in long time that I've despised (although I was no fan of Never Let Me Go).  So frequently I enjoy the books I read, maybe even really enjoy, but The Help... I loved.

The Help is set in Mississippi in the mid 1960s while the Civil Rights Movement is just revving up.  A white woman returns home from college and decides to work with the African American women who work as maids for white families in town to create a book of their stories.  And that is a very very brief summary.  When I was talking to Joe about it I was saying how when I think of severe racism and segregation I see it all in vivid... black and white.  I don't see it surrounded by air conditioning and color televisions.  But this novel reminds you, without beating you over the head, that racism was not dead just because skirts were getting short and hair was getting long- especially not in the south.  It is a beautiful account of love, faith, family, pain, heartache, and above all strength.  While I was reading I kept thinking "I don't know if I could have survived during all of this."  White women characters would make comments and I wanted to hit them, hard.  Children would be colorblind and I would want to praise them.  Women would put their lives on the line to tell a story, and I would be in awe of their strength.  Would I ever be that strong?

I enjoyed the book from the start, but as it started to come to a close I couldn't put it down.  I found myself laughing and crying at the same time, curled up on the couch in Joe's bathrobe with a box of Kleenex next to me.  Joe kept looking over at me like I was an absolute lunatic.  It isn't every day that a book comes along that allows to feel every emotion in the book and love every second of it.  And of course, when I was done I was sad it was over.  I was glad I am not living during that time.  And I was mad that society is still not all that different.  I won't get on my political soap box, as I've promised myself I will not do that in this forum, but I can say that different is not equal.  It wasn't in 1965 and it isn't now.  However- different is beautiful and I am so glad that I was lucky enough to grow up in a place where color was just that- a color, not a definition.

Read it.