I’m not sure how I was talked into reading this book so suddenly and completely, given that the number of books I’ve finished with upwards of 700 pages I could probably count on one hand (and all read in some other format than a printed book at that…e-books and audiobooks). I jovially call it a curse that I can’t finish books with too many pages, but I think that the real issue has to do with pacing. Long books with slow pacing inevitably have boring stretches, and I don’t have enough self-discipline to make myself keep trudging through it when another book right next to it seems to be calling out to me to pick it up. A few of them I regret not finishing; The Three Musketeers I put down right at halfway through and Anna Karenina I quit with only a quarter left to read. So basically I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping that the momentum I have going with reading lately will help me push through the 1,000 pages of this novel. So far, I’d say it’s going well. Be warned, this is a reading journal and not a book review, so there will be spoilers ahead (through part 1).
I picked up my copy of Gone With the Wind from a thrift shop for probably only a dollar or two, simply because it’s a well known classic. It’s a beaten up mass market paperback that was printed in 1973 (the twenty third printing, apparently). The edges of the pages are a vibrant red, faded just a bit near the spine on either side, and if I’m not careful with it, the cover may not survive a full read through. This is not the type of book I am attracted to. In fact, when I was working on my bookshelves over the weekend the thought of donating it back to the thrift store crossed my mind before I sighed and tucked it back away with the other mass market paperbacks I own, hidden behind the door of a cabinet. I can at least read it first, I told myself. And so I put it on my newly revised classics club list, which I posted about later that day, and by the late afternoon, I had cracked the cover and started to read.
It was a comment conversation with Jillian from Of Cannons and Books that convinced me to read it. I believe it is her very favorite book. It is hard to resist a book when someone who loves it passionately is urging you to read it. Before two days ago, I didn’t know a single thing about Gone With the Wind except that there was a guy named Rhett in it, and it had been made into a film which also became a classic. What I learned from the brief exchange with Jillian is that Gone With the Wind is my favorite kind of book, a transformational one, a great coming-of-age story, or a bildungsroman, if you will. When I read her comments on it, it rang a bell of similarity to my favorite novel, Jane Eyre. Suddenly I wanted to read about this young girl who was enormously conceited at the beginning of the novel and grows and matures as the circumstances around her change. After all, that is everyone’s story, is it not? Growing up?
What I didn’t realize until I started reading was how conceited Scarlett O’Hara is. She’s a mean girl. She steals boyfriends just to say she’s done it, and gives a cold shoulder to the girl she’s stolen him from. As I read through all of part one I was more and more surprised at just how little she cared about how her actions were effecting those around her. It served her right to hear the other girls talking about how wicked she was behind a closed door. But then to go and marry the beaux of the girl who bad-mouthed her even though she was indifferent to him at best? That’s cold. Frozen, in fact. And yet, I had a phase of Scarlett O’Hara syndrome, just after high school, when my second boyfriend broke up with me. I wanted to be wanted, and by god I was. Looking back on that time in my life makes me feel guilty and terrible, but it was only a phase, and I still had a brain (and even though it’s made clear, especially in the beginning, that Scarlett hates books and school and doesn’t value education in the least, she also isn’t stupid. Stupid people aren’t good at scheming.). Mostly Scarlett’s story so far reminds me of middle school, when everyone is hormonal and moody and likes to feel like the one in charge or the popular one.
Although Scarlett couldn’t be bothered to listen to the boys when the subject of war came up, I find I’ve enjoyed the snip-its here and there mentioning it very much. And before I forget to mention it, I think the way it is weaved into the story when the main character has no interest whatever about it is very skillful. I tip my hat to Miss Mitchell. I know almost nothing about the civil war anymore, and that is another reason I was kind of intrigued to read this. I’m especially interested to see the perspective from the confederate’s side. Already I’ve learned quite a bit, which is probably a sad testament to my public education and should probably be embarrassing to admit. One thing I found interesting, for example, is that the slaves of the rich families were considered a higher class than the poor ‘white trash’ families who survived off of the charity of their neighbors.
It always seems odd to me how eager young men always seem to be to go to war. It’s easy to say it was stupid to be that way now I suppose, knowing how bloody the Civil War turned out to be. But I do not doubt that the scenes depicted in the novel were not so different than what truly happened in some communities. I liked the passage where Mr. McRae spoke about war. “You all don’t know what war is. You think it’s riding a pretty horse and having the girls throw flowers at you and coming home a hero. Well, it ain’t. No, Sir! It’s going hungry, and getting the measles and pneumonia from sleeping in the wet.” …Not to mention death and entire fields soaked with blood and all for what? One scene from the trailer Jillian shared with me was of Scarlett walking through a field of dead and wounded men from the war. What a powerful image. It sounds weird to phrase it this way but I’m tired and can’t think of the true sentiment I’m trying to convey, but I’m really excited to read the bits about the war going forward. One of my other favorite novels, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an incredible novel about recovering from WWII in England. I guess I’m hoping for a little bit of that as well.
It’s getting late now, and I was hoping to finish this quickly so I could start part two tonight, but if I don’t get some sleep now I’m going to regret it in the morning! Thank you, Jillian, for convincing me to start this novel. I think I’m going to like it very much :-)