I love to read. I read pretty much anything. That said, it's not often I read something that gets stuck in my head. Last week, I read not one, but two novels that I cannot. Stop. Thinking about.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett follows three women living in Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights movement. One is a well-to-do young white woman, while the other two are black domestic workers. The relationship between these women is not only unusual but downright dangerous in that time and place.
The thing I can't stop thinking about is, this was the 1960's! In America, for God's sake! It wasn't the dark ages. I can't help but wonder, how would I have lived, had I been raised in that time, in that place? I like to think that I would have believed what I believe now: that people are people, regardless of their race, beliefs, sexual orientation, et cetera. Reading this, I was appalled at the way the black women were treated. Of course I'd heard about segregation, but, I don't know, I guess the magnitude of living that way never really sank in. I can't imagine having someone working in my home, raising my children, who was not allowed to use my bathroom, or eat from my dishes. I like to think that I would have challenged those ideas, recognized that they were wrong. But you know, I didn't grow up in that time and place. Maybe, had I been raised to view segregation as normal......I don't know. It bothers me. I had to keep reminding myself that this happened during the sixties. Only fifty years ago. It feels impossible to me. Yet I know it happened.
Right after I finished The Help, I picked up The Real Minerva by Mary Sharratt. This book also followed three very different women, but this one was set in Minnesota during the 1920's. The women in this story are complicated and spirited, and their relationship to each other is at turns complex and as basic as breathing. I was completely consumed by this story.
One of the things that struck me the most was that these women all lived outside of the convention of society at that time. In very different ways, they tossed aside the traditional roles of women in their respective positions to forge their own path. It was interesting to see the reaction of the other townspeople. Two of the women were basically shunned, while the third was held up as a role model of sorts.
Both of these books have earned a permanent place on my book shelf. I can't wait to read more from both authors. But for now, I think I'll be going for something lighter. =)