To Obama, Crowley, Gates: 'Please, let some good come out of this'

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Those are the words Heller McAlpin used at the close of a review of "The Help," a novel by Kathryn Stockett, in the Monitor last March. They were spoken by the story's protagonist, a young white woman who stirs up Jackson, Miss., by interviewing African American maids there in order to write about their stories of life working for white families. The book she produces is considered "inflammatory," to say the least.

Her words came back to me this morning for two reasons. One is because yesterday's USA Today had a piece on the recent ascent of "The Help" on bestseller lists. (They call it "the hot book this summer.")

But that plea ("please, let some good come out of this") seemed strikingly relevant for another reason as well. It felt like a message I would wish to send direct to Washington, D.C., at about 6pm tonight. That happens to be the moment that President Obama will sit down on the White House Lawn with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police officer Sgt. James Crowley to discuss their racially charged encounter.

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Heller wrote of "The Help" that it is a story about "crossing lines – racial, societal, emotional." That certainly describes what happened in Cambridge the other day as well. But like the protagonist of "The Help" (who became a social agitator whether she intended to or not), let's hope that something good can come out of this.

(On the reading front, those looking for additional good summer book titles might also want to check out NPR's 100 Best Beach Books Ever.)

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