Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
Penguin, 2009

I don’t listen to a lot of audiobooks; it’s not that I have a philosophical stance against them, I’m just old-fashioned, so the first inclination is to pick up the book.

But what I do quite enjoy is having both options, so that if I am particularly enjoying a story, I can read or listen, and less often have to completely set it aside. So, when smitten by Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, I could read on my commute and then switch to listening when no longer riding but walking.

It’s not that I don’t value listening to a text as much as I value viewing and reading the text, it’s just that I have a long-time habit of reading, so I only listen when I can’t read: the reading comes naturally and the listening is circumstantial, almost accidental.

But. Listening to the audio version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help has changed all that.

If you were anywhere between my home and my workplaces in the last month, on pavement or on transit when I was travelling between my usual destinations, you would have seen me listening to this (whenever it was too crowded to hold a book in my hands, or when I was actually walking rather than riding) and quite often grinning like a fool as I listened to this novel. It was overwhelmingly satisfying and I broadcast that fact.

This novel takes on some serious themes (eg. racism, classism, death of a child, heartbreak, illness) but there are some quietly amusing parts of this novel: combine that fact with impeccably delivered performances, different performers, and there are countless moments when I just wanted to stop a stranger on the street and say “Hey, just listen to this”. It was truly an experience. If I’d been watching it, I’d say it was more like live theatre than seeing a DvD.

And, to start with, Kathryn Stockett’s novel is worth the time. It reminds me of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, and Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle: the kind of books that you can recommend widely and enthusiastically. The voices are powerful, the setting memorable and, most of all, the story is big-hearted.

I’d lost track of the accolades I’d heard about it before it was nominated for this year’s Orange Prize. In fact, it had been recommended so often and so vehemently that I had started to avoid it because surely it couldn’t live up to “all that”. But it’s well done: it really is. People are talking about it for a good reason.

So if you’ve already read this, you’re probably not surprised to hear me echoing the praise. And one of the reasons that I’m not saying much about the novel is that you’ve probably already heard all about Minny and Aibileen and Skeeter. But what it’s less likely that you’ve heard is the outstanding audio version of the book. I know that’s true because I know I’m not alone in my old-fashioned inclinations.

But if you loved Kathryn Stockett‘s The Help and you’d like to revisit it right now? Or if you loved it and you’d like to revisit it after some time has passed? Or if you haven’t loved it yet but you’re thinking about loving it? Try the audio version, narrated by Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Jenna Lamia and Cassandra Campell: it’s truly remarkable. Really, truly.

What about you? Do you listen? Often? Sometimes? Never?

On Mondays and Thursdays, in April and May,
I am Buried in Print. Bookchatted so far, 8;
Now reading, 2; Still to read 6; Can’t find 4.