S4L Book Club – The Help

Ziggy has recommended The Hunger Games as our next book. I think it’s a great choice. I read the series some time ago, but would enjoy reading it again, so how about we plan this for June?

She also suggested we each talk about whatever books we’re reading in May. I love this idea, too! I think everyone should write a post and email it to me at mail AT funkandweber DOT com so that I can post it here. Will you do it? Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease?

I think this will be a great way to get some suggestions for our TBR lists.

In the meantime…

One of the criticisms I’ve read about The Help is that the dialects used made for difficult reading. I wouldn’t know: I listened to the audio book.

I’m on the fence about dialects. On the one hand, people talk all kinds of different ways, and it’s both accurate and interesting to try to depict that in writing. The way a person talks is part of his/her personality. It seems like a valid literary tool.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to read. Sometimes, when Mike reads oddly-spelled words aloud, they don’t make sense to him. Looking at them, he doesn’t know what those words mean, and he has to stop and translate. Oftentimes, I can recite back to him what he’s said. It made perfect sense to me because the sounds, while technically incorrect, made sense, and I, as a listener, don’t have the added confusion of misspelled words to contend with.

Because I listened to The Help, the dialect problem was all on the heads of the readers–there were three–and they handled it superbly. For me, the dialects were definitely a plus. They seemed natural to the characters, appropriate, and were entirely enjoyable.

Writers are cautioned to use dialects sparingly. Sometimes, we’re advised to start with them and then reduce the usage with the expectation that the reader will take the cue and “hear” it without having it actually (mis)spelled out.

I don’t cotton to that fading-out approach because it feels like a dropped story thread, but I suppose the “use sparingly” advice is good. You don’t want a reader to have to stop and translate frequently.

So what did you think? Was the use of dialect a delight or a drag? Did it improve the book or weaken it?

Have you had any significant experiences, good or bad, with dialects used in other stories?

Categories: Reading

7 replies »

  1. A definite delight. I don’t think the story would be as real, otherwise. I didn’t find the dialect burdensome at all; in fact, I hear some language quite like it today.

  2. When we talked about dialect in stories we read Sounder? It was a book with a boy and a dog that took place in Virginia and it had some dialect in it. I think audio book would be good for that because you still can’t get all of it just reading it. I like Jasper Fforde some of his Fairy Tales were written in a bit of dialect. Well he’s English and a lot of it takes place there so you get the British words. Most of it’s not too hard. I think the hardest thing I read was the Priest in Princess Bride. You had to read it out loud so you could hear it and know what it was you were reading. It’s one thing to giggle over Twu Luv speech in the movie but quite another to read it.

  3. This entry got me to thinking about Huck Finn, way back in 8th grade (or was it 9th?). (And I think that the subject of dialects got me to writing like this.)

    Man, how I despised the way we read that book. I think the method of our classroom dissection of the story, and the forced scrutiny of symbolism, flat-out ruined the ruined for me. So each time I was reading Huck Finn, I was in a disgruntled state of mind. But I do recall struggling with the dialect as I read the story. That dialect, or the way it was written, greatly slowed down my reading cadence. That, too, took away any possible enjoyment of the tale.

    Now I wonder if, had I been reading the book in a better frame of mind, the dialect would be so cumbersome. Hmmm. Maybe I should head back in Mark Twain’s direction to check out the story. Maybe when one is reading for enjoyment, and nothing else, the dialect is easier to digest.

  4. It’s been awhile since I read this, but I really don’t remember the dialect, which I take as a sign that it wasn’t a problem for me.

    It’s interesting Shelly brought up Huck Finn – I, too, remember struggling with that as a high school reader. I would have said in part, that I’m a better reader now, which makes a difference in understanding and interpreting dialect. But, I think it’s a really great point that possibly it’s easier, or maybe I’m willing to work harder, when it’s a book I’m reading for pleasure as opposed to required reading.

  5. What class was that, Shell? I know I read Huck Finn, but I have no recollection of reading it. I tended to appreciate in-class reading because I wasn’t much of a solo reader at the time.

    I imagine it’s also easier to read a dialect that’s familiar to us than one that is foreign. I wonder if The Help dialect is more familiar than Huck’s.

    The books that come to mind when I think of dialect are those by Charles Dickens. The dialect in those can be rather difficult, but I love working them out. Of course, it’s all for pleasure, and I’m a huge Dickens fan.

    There are puzzles that I love to make that use the concept of writing sounds instead of words. Here are some pro sports teams written by sound:

    Menace Oat Hut Wins
    Oh Clan Death Let Ticks
    Tennis Eat Eye Tans
    Air Is Own Hug Harden Halls
    Tour On Tome Ape Pull Heaves
    Sand France His Cove Four Teen High Nurse

    I love making those puzzles!

  6. It was a class with Mr. Clark, but I don’t know which one. American Lit, maybe?

  7. @Shelly – I remember Mr. Clark being big on symbolism. I liked his classes and the writing we did in them.