Reader name: Elizabeth
Hometown: Norfolk, Massachusetts
Favorite genres: Very eclectic! I like historical fiction, mystery, international fiction or nonfiction—books that expose me to something new. I think as Americans, we are very self-absorbed so I like learning about history or international affairs that will broaden my thinking.
Favorite books: The Help, Cutting for Stone, The White Tiger, The Secret Life of Bees, The Language of Flowers, The Forgotten Garden, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. In nonfiction: Unbroken, Infidel, The Looming Towers, Team of Rivals.
Favorite authors: Geraldine Brooks and an author I read years ago, Anya Seton.
What books can you recommend for me?
We love an adventurous reader! Since it seems like you don't shy away from difficult nonfiction, let me propose Steve Coll's The Bin Ladens (Penguin Press). Though Bin Laden is perhaps the "figure of the past" Coll predicted he would become in our 2011 interview, understanding the Middle East is still of vital importance—and the Bin Laden family provides a fascinating lens for doing so. A more recent release, Katherine Boo's National Book Award winner Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House) opens up Mumbai slums to readers. And Andrew Solomon's latest book, Far From the Tree (Scribner) may not take you to an exotic location, but the lives of the families it features are guaranteed to broaden your mind and experience.
For fiction, fans of Geraldine Brooks might want to check out Debra Dean, whose novels about Russia are historically accurate and emotionally compelling. And author Susanna Kearsley is a modern-day Anya Seton—her epic historical stories are also achingly romantic. One more novel that is sure to take you to a world you didn't realize existed is Irma Voth by Miriam Toews (Harper)—it's set in a Mennonite community in Mexico!
As for the international fiction you crave—if you haven't read The Shadow of the Wind (Penguin Press), do so immediately! Carlos Ruiz Zafón's portrait of Spain between the wars is among the many things that make this novel a modern classic. We also loved Patrick Flanery's debut set in South Africa, Absolution. Other can't-miss authors who bring the world to readers include Dai Sijie (Communist China), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (West Africa) and Kate Grenville (colonial Australia).
Put your name in the hat for you own book fortune by sending an e-mail to bookfortunes (at) bookpage (dot) com.
The 84th Annual Academy Awards are on Sunday, and since six out of nine of the Best Picture nominees are based on books . . . I thought we'd do a little book-to-film celebrating!
Keep scrolling for trailers of all nine Best Picture nominees, along with corresponding book tie-in information (when applicable). Which movie are you pulling for? What movie-based-on-a-book got snubbed? (Ahem, We Need to Talk About Kevin.)
Baesd on The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE
Based on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Based on The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
THE TREE OF LIFE
Based on War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
On Wednesday night I heard Kathryn Stockett speak at Vanderbilt as part of their university lecture series. (The mission of the series is to bring individuals to campus who "spark poignant dialogue and debate.") As you might imagine, the ballroom at the Student Life Center was packed, although I was able to get two copies of The Help signed without having to wait too long in line.
Anyone who has seen one of Stockett's numerous media appearances (like this one with Katie Couric) knows she is articulate and funny. Here are a few other tidbits from her talk:
• Stockett gave two pieces of advice to all of the college students in the audience: Read everything you can get your hands on (especially banned books) and understand the process of rejection. After all, she said, The Help was rejected by 60 literary agents before she signed with Susan Ramer. What if she'd given up on #50? Also, she said, if following your dream means writing and not getting a "real job"—go for it! You won't believe how long you can string along your parents' pocketbooks. :)
• Stockett is at work on another book. From the PenguinUK website, I already knew a bit about the plot: "It also takes place in Mississippi, during the 1930’s and the Great Depression. It’s about a family of women who learn to get around the rules, rules created by men, in order to survive." At Vanderbilt, Stockett revealed that she's terrified of working on her second book, because she knows she'll disappoint some readers after The Help.
• Interesting fact: Stockett said that the character Skeeter was not incorporated into her story until she'd written many drafts and unsuccessfully queried many agents. Also, the character of Minnie came about when the character of Aibileen started "talking back" to Stockett. Octavia Spencer is a long-time friend of the author's, and from the beginning Stockett imagined the actress in this role (although she did have to audition for the movie, like everyone else).
• The iconic purple and yellow book jacket has "nothing to do with the story." (In other words, you can stop looking for symbolism behind the birds.) In fact, Stockett was originally loathe to include that color combo on the cover, since it reminds her of LSU.
• When an African-American Vanderbilt professor (whose mother and mother-in-law had been domestic workers) asked about the varied response she'd gotten from black readers, Stockett was forthcoming. She has heard from readers who felt she'd accurately captured the experience of black "help," and she'd heard from readers who couldn't finish the book because they felt her writing in black dialect was not right. At the end of the day, Stockett says she has the right to imagine another person's experience in her fiction—and readers are entitled to different opinions.
Overall, it was an engaging, interesting talk. Have you had a chance to hear Kathryn Stockett speak, or have you been to any good author events lately?
By the way, if you live in Nashville, you really ought to keep your eye on the Vanderbilt lecture series. Lorrie Moore will be there on January 19. I can't wait!
This post needs little introduction—in fact, you've probably already skipped this sentence and hit "play" to watch the trailer for the movie version of Kathryn Stockett's The Help:
Here are my initial thoughts:
1) It's more upbeat than I expected. Although The Help is moving and uplifting, it is also really sad at parts. (Granted, this is only a 2.5 minute trailer.)
2) Where is Celia Foote?!
What are your thoughts?
The first paragraph of BookPage's review for The Dry Grass of August immediately caught my attention:
When a new novel gets compared to some of the biggest hits of the last 10 years like The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, its author has some awfully big shoes to fill. Throw in comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the stakes are raised so high that readers may be skeptical that any book could be so good.
Set in 1954, The Dry Grass of August is about a 13-year-old girl who travels to Florida with her family and Mary, their black maid. Harrison writes: "As the trip progresses, it gets harder to ignore the color of Mary’s skin. In the wake of a violent and hateful crime, Jubie is exposed to injustice and intolerance of which she had been blissfully unaware, and hairline cracks in the Watts family shatter open, bringing shameful secrets to light."
The April print edition of BookPage also includes an interview with Anna Jean Mayhew, who is a 71-year-old debut author. You can read an extended Q&A on BookPage.com, in which the author tells us how she stayed passionate about a project for 18 years; why she chose to write about race relations in the South of the 1950s; and how she feels about using the "N" word in historical fiction. It's a very interesting interview and I'd recommend you check it out.
The Dry Grass of August is on sale today—do you want to read it? (Here's another point in the novel's favor: It retails for only $15!)
This week, IMDb released nine images from the set of The Help, which hits theaters August 12, 2011.
Kathryn Stockett's The Help was BookPage readers' favorite book of 2009. If you haven't read it and you need another reason to pick up the novel, how's this for an anecdote: I read it last November (in one day) and mailed it to my mom so she could have it over the long Thanksgiving weekend. She read it and loved it, then gave it to my aunt who promptly e-mailed: "I love the book, The Help. I don't want it to end. Do you have another suggestion for reading?"
I'll let the photos do the talking:
View the rest of the stills at IMDb. Is that how you envisioned Aibileen and Minny? Do you think Emma Stone can pull off Skeeter? (You know, I was skeptical at first, but now I believe it. Even Kathryn Stockett approves. She said in an interview with People magazine: "The minute I met [Stone], I knew I couldn't see whatever Skeeter looked in my head as a blonde because she was replaced by Emma . . . She was so clearly that person. And her mom is from Baton Rouge, so she's got the accent.")
Photo from DreamWorks Studios via IMDb.
Readers, I have a confession—I don't like audiobooks.
Or rather, I haven't given audiobooks a chance since my days of long family trips, when my grandparents wanted to listen to thrillers in the front seat and I wanted to read Nancy Drew in the back. Try figuring out a mystery when a different plotline is pounding in your ears.
This weekend, however, I have decided to turn over a new leaf. A friend and I are driving 550 miles on Friday, and 550 miles on Monday. (We're going from Nashville to Charleston.) That'll be at least 18 hours in the car, which I figure is enough time to listen to at least one audiobook.
Here's what I've picked up from the library. I figure I'll have to be nice and let my traveling companion choose what we listen to . . .
Read The Help and loved it, but I hear the audio is excellent. Octavia Spencer is the voice of Aibileen, although she'll play Minny in the movie.
What are your audiobook recommendations for a road trip?
As a former fiction editor, author Harriet Evans knows what makes for a compelling story. After a more than a decade of publishing women's fiction at Penguin UK and Headline, Evans left the industry to become a full-time writer. She has now published four books, the most recent of which is I Remember You.
In a post exclusive to The Book Case, Evans shares her all-time favorite vacation reads.
Perhaps you’re like me and reserve a lot of your reading for the summer holidays, when you can freely indulge in a pageturner, get sucked into it and devour it in a way you can’t the rest of the year. I was a very moody teenager who didn’t much like summer holidays with my parents and sister but was too pathetic to go off and do something exciting by myself, either. (How nice she sounds, I hear you cry). So all summer long I’d read instead (or write terrible poems, but don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict any of them on you), and that has stayed with me ever since. I’m quite particular about a summer read. I want something not too heavy, but it can’t be totally brainless, either. Here are a few books and authors I’ve enjoyed on my summer holidays over the years, which I remember as part of the holiday as much as the ouzo in Crete, or the spaghetti in Florence…
Have a great summer.
Harriet Evans is the internationally bestselling author of I Remember You and three previous novels, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic and The Love of Her Life. Find out more about Harriet at harriet-evans.com. Do you have a favorite summer reading selection? Tell us in the comments!
Anyone looking for a great book to read this summer read would benefit from a scroll through the comments sections of our Mockingbird post and contest. More than 300 readers have contributed their thoughts on which contemporary books will still be highly regarded 100 years from now.
An unofficial tabulation shows Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel The Help as the runaway top choice of Book Case readers, once again demonstrating the book's broad-based appeal. Linda writes, "I believe THE HELP will become a classic — to be read and studied in classes and in book clubs for generations to come. 100 years from now it will be interesting to see how much progress we have made when it comes to race relations. Hopefully, nobody will believe people treated other people this way!" June writes, "I agree that The Help is a 'must read.' We who lived in the Northern part of the U.S. were not really aware of the injustices in the South during that period. A lesson in that book for all!" And we loved this comment from Morgan: "Without a doubt I would pick The Help as my new classic. Skeeter Phelan is Scout Finch all grown up and she isn’t about to let anyone tell her what is right or wrong, she already knows it! I have been in the book business for 8+ years and have not found a book since To Kill a Mockingbird that I have fallen in love with this much, it will be a classic!"
Though there are far too many choices to list them all here, these are some of the other contemporary books that have received mentions from multiple readers:
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Beach Music by Pat Conroy
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robinson
The Road and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
It's interesting to see how our reader list overlaps (or doesn't) with The Millions list of books that have won the most literary prizes from 1995 to the present. Edward P. Jones' novel The Known World tops the prize list but was chosen by only one of our readers, while Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is second on the prizewinners list, but didn't get a mention from any of our readers (though it would certainly be on my own list of future classics. Could there be a book that better captures the waning days of the 20th century?)
The contest closes Monday, so there's still time to add your thoughts.
Here's another update for Kathryn Stockett fans. (I keep thinking The Help may have lost some momentum—but then someone new will recommend it to me, not knowing that I've read it, or beg for a book suggestion because they just finished The Help and they loved it. No wonder Penguin's holding the paperback release until January 4, 2011. . . nearly two years after the hardcover's publication.)
Anyway, the news is that Octavia Spencer has been cast as Minny Jackson, Aibileen’s feisty best friend and Celia Foote's maid. According to Entertainment Weekly, Stockett and Spencer have known each other for "close to a decade" and the actress "served as the inspiration for the outspoken character." (She's also Minny's voice on the audio version of The Help.) Spencer has appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, but she's probably best known for her role as Constance Grady in "Ugly Betty."