Book Reviews: The Hype

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

So often in the blogging world one book seems to pops up everywhere. It looks interesting and so EVERYBODY decides to read it. Then the hype begins. People start touting it as "the best book ever!!!" and seriously overusing punctuation. Then the opposite reviews begin. You know, the ones saying, "I don't know what everyone is talking about. This book is only so-so."

This is the vicious cycle of hype. Books are built up, people go into them with expectations teetering on high heels and they don't evaluate the books fairly. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, but I can't really think of a solution.

I try not to read reviews of books that are in my TBR list. Instead I bookmark them and return to them after I've read the book. That way I can participate in the discussion, but I'm not influenced by their opinions before I form my own. But it's hard to avoid hype for really popular books. That's one con to the hundreds of pros that an active book blogging world gives us.

That being said, here are my reviews of too hyped books I recently read...

The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake

The book is set in Europe and Massachusetts at the beginning of WWII. The plot follows three women, the local postmaster, Iris, a young doctor's wife, Emma and Frankie, a radio reporter stationed in London.

The sections revolving around Frankie were by far my favorite. Blake has her travel, by train, back and forth throughout Europe trying to talk to Jews who are being forced to flee their homes. Frankie also experiences a disconnect with regular society, similar to a soldier returning home. I also loved the minor character of Otto, an Austrian Jew living in the US. His character reminded me of Joe Fenchel, the German-American in East of Eden.

I never felt very connected to Iris or Emma (especially Emma). Their experiences seemed so distant from the passionate experiences of Frankie. Emma seemed to float along, never making any actual decisions in her life. She let things happen to her and then felt victimized afterwards. I did like Iris' interaction with Henry, a man in the small Massachusetts town, but was frustrated by, what seemed to me, like a really unnecessary ending.

I felt like the plot, which supposedly revolved around a postmistress deciding whether or not to deliver a letter, wasn't the true plot at all. It was one tiny part, that shouldn't have been the center of the book. That whole premise felt like a distraction rather than the central moving force of the story. To me, the point was Frankie's experiences, her struggle to understand what she had seen and decide what she should share about it. The book had some wonderful parts, but over all I didn't love it.

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

It's 1962 and deep in Mississippi two black maids, the sweet Aibileen and the saucy Minny, rotate the narrative of their experience during the Civil rights movement. The third narrator is a white socialite and aspiring journalist, Skeeter. The three women come together when they decide to write down the true stories of black maids' experiences while working for white people.

Stockett's characters and descriptions are addictive. I fell hard for these characters from the first page. Minny is struggling to hold down a job after getting fired for being accused of stealing from her last employer. Aibileen is grieving the death of her son, while at the same time having to bite her tongue while her white employer ignores her toddler. Skeeter longs to do something important with her life while her friends and mother tell her all she needs is to find a husband.

The reason this book had such an impact on me is because the characters were so well developed. Each one had a unique voice and a fascinating story. With a rotating narrative it's easy to have a favorite character and to dislike the others, but I loved all three women. They were so layered that they often surprised me. The harsh Minny showed unexpected tenderness to her employer, Aibileen had a quiet strength and stubbornness. Only the best characters can truly surprise you. This book had me laughing out loud in parts and trying to hold back tears in others.

Ignore the hype and read this with no expectations. It's a joy to read and its message packs a powerful punch.


Jenners said...

I know what you mean ... the pendulum swings both ways on overhyped books. But so far, I swear that I have never seen anyone who didn't really like "The Help." I really must read that soon!

Michelle (my books. my life.) said...

I think the hype impacted my view of The Help. I just picked up The Postmistress from the library today. Trying to ignore the hype this time.

nomadreader said...

I still haven't read either of these, even though they're staring at me from my shelf. I think what bothers me most about hype is it kills the experience of reading it for me. I love being able to find books for other people and knowing only a reader's end reaction to a book overwhelms the process of reading itself. My opinions on books often change as I read them, but when there's too much hype, I find myself feeling daunted for not having the same emotional reaction when truthfully, the best emotional reactions come at the book's end.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I'm with you nomadreader. It's impossible to read the books, knowing how popular or unpopular they are, and be completely objective. The best is when you stumble upon a book, knowing absolutely nothing, and end up loving it.