Archive for September, 2011

Book review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Deemed: Enjoyed, With Reservations

From the book jacket:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

I’m of two minds with his book.  On the one hand, I love Southern fiction, quirky characters, and complicated female friendships.  On the other hand, there are some problematic issues with the book, especially with the ending.  However, I did find myself really enjoying the story and the characters.

First, the parts that I liked. The story was compelling and descriptively rich.  It was easy to picture 196os Jackson, even if it was a rather tame version of it.  The cast of characters was well-developed.  The three narrators were entertaining and sympathetic.  I felt myself drawn into their stories almost from the moment I started reading.  The minor white characters don’t suffer from lack of description, either, though I would have preferred more description of the friend and family of the African American characters.  The story is humorous, sad, and heartwarming.

As far as the rest, I actually read this book a few weeks ago and I’ve been trying to think of what I want to say about the issues and criticisms and I’m still not entirely sure. There are those I agree with (that the dialect is too exaggerated, the ending is too white-washed) and those I don’t (that it’s inappropriate for a white woman to write anything other than a narrator who is a white woman), but ultimately I guess I just don’t really know how to feel. As I mentioned, I do think people are focusing on certain things they shouldn’t. However,  I don’t have the experiences or the history they do. I know how infuriating it is when a man tries to tell me I shouldn’t be upset or feel that something is wrong as a woman because obviously he doesn’t understand what it’s like. I don’t want to marginalize someone else’s experience because I can’t relate, either. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book.

 

Online School vs. Traditional School

A couple years ago when I decided I wanted to pursue my MLIS, I checked the ALA’s list of accredited Master’s programs only to discover that there were only two in the entire state of California and neither was in my area.  Not wanting to put off my education for another three years until we would be able to move, I started looking into online schools.  Originally I was wary of going that route.  I’d heard horror stories of uninvolved professors, unusable classroom sites, and finance offices from hell.  Then, of course, there were the endless stories about the stigma of an online degree.  Despite all t – and helped by the fact that the online programs were all offered by “traditional” schools who were ALA accredited – I decided to go ahead and enroll in an online program.  Two years later and almost 2/3 of the way through my degree, I’m so glad I did.  I’ve learned so much in my program and I’ve learned quite a bit about online school in general.  I thought I’d share some pros and cons from my experience.

Just a note: As I am taking an online program from a traditional school, my experience would probably be different from someone who went to an online-only school.

 

Pros

A more open schedule. I work full-time in order to pay for school.  I also volunteer and have other personal commitments.  If I tried to fit a set class schedule in there, something would surely have to go or at least suffer.  I’ve found I really like that I can sign into the class on my own schedule, often at times when a regular class wouldn’t be held – during my lunch break, at night when I get home, Saturday mornings, etc. This also gives me time to think about and research my responses.

More reading-centric. I learn best when I can read the material myself rather than listening to someone else explain it.  While a few of my professors have held online lecture sessions, most post their lectures in a Word document or PDF.  This is in addition to the texts and the articles they post.  Not only am I able to better understand the material this way, it’s also considerably easier to take notes.

New technology. Obviously, I’ve learned to use new classroom programs such as D2L and meeting programs such as Elluminate.  My school also has a SecondLife.  However, I’ve also have the opportunity to use other programs I might not have encountered in a regular classroom.  My classes still require presentations on occasion.  Since we’re unable to do the typical stand in front of the class and give a speech type of presentation, these often involve some type of presentation software.  It can be as simple as a Powerpoint, but many times I’ve been able to incorporate programs such as Jing, Prezi, and Livebinders.  This set-up also means that our professors are better able to share, and often demonstrate, websites and other online programs while we view and use them on our computers at home.

A diverse student body. While a traditional school will have students from all different backgrounds and areas, they typically all live and work in the same area while in school.  With online school I have classmates who are currently living and working all over the world.  When we discuss an issue that libraries face, I can hear from classmates how their libraries handle it in the city where I live, a library across the country, or one on the other side of the world.

Cons

No actual classroom meeting. Though a more open schedule is nice, I do miss attending an actual class and interacting with my professor and classmates.  Though there is online interaction and group work, it can feel much more impersonal.  It can also be more difficult to arrange times to “meet” with the professor or group members, since there isn’t a set time each week when I would see them.

Difficulty contacting professors. I’ve been lucky in that most of my professors have been very timely in their post and email responses, however it can be frustrating that those are often the only way to contact a professor.  If the professor doesn’t hold periodic “office hours” during which he or she will be available by chat or through the meeting software, students must almost solely rely on emails or posts to the classroom site in hopes that the professor will answer as soon as possible.  This can be difficult if the question is time-sensitive and the professor is away from the computer.

Disconnect from the campus.  I receive emails from the various student organizations at my school and often those emails include information about events occurring on or near the campus.  As I am living about 8 hours away from campus, I’m unable to attend any of those events.  I’m also unable to visit any of the offices I need to speak to in person. I don’t have a student ID.  I’ve never even seen the campus.  This can lead to a feeling that I’m not really a part of the school, not in the way I was with my undergraduate university.

 

The pros have greatly enhanced my experience and the cons have taught me a new way of working around those issues.  No school experience is perfect, but all in all I am glad that I chose to go ahead and pursue my degree online rather than waiting.

Well, hello there.

I’m Kim.  I’m currently working on my MLIS.  I spend a lot of time talking about libraries, technology, and books, to the point that I was driving my husband and friends crazy.  I decided to start this blog to give myself a place to share my thoughts while sparing them.  So, here we are!