Gone With the Wind
by Cody Daniel
Daily Corinthian – June 14, 2017
For those of us who love to read, setting goals and attempting challenges are common ways that we organize and strategize our leisure reading. For some of us, this may mean that we plan on reading a set number of books during the calendar year. For others, it may mean choosing specific books that we focus on, oblivious to all others. Sometimes, we make commitments to read a certain book that a friend has suggested, perhaps wondering if we will ever find it as interesting as they do. But every now and then, we read a book that is a complete and total surprise.
About seven years ago, I was visiting my grandmother (technically, she is my godmother; but if you’re as lucky as I am, you know people who go beyond the bonds of blood and prove that the word “family” is wonderfully ambiguous—she’s one of these people). During my visit, she mentioned that her favorite book of all time was Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. This was during one of our many conversations about books. In previous talks, she had offered to let me borrow a John Grisham novel, or perhaps a humorous book in her collection. When she mentioned Mitchell’s book, however, she said, “I would certainly let you borrow my copy, but I’m afraid I’ve read it to tatters.” She had taken it from the shelf and, as she flipped the loose pages in her hands, I remember thinking that I would not dare risk borrowing so delicate a book.
That was seven years ago. I began reading it in June of 2010, and I got about 250 pages into it before something else grabbed my attention. I didn’t finish it that year—or the year after that. Before long, it became a running joke among friends and coworkers: no one (including me) knew if I would ever finish this 1,037-page novel. I tried to start over every couple of years, never getting much further than the 300-page mark (but I know those 300 pages really well!). I need to emphasize: the book was never boring—it’s actually quite well-written and engaging. I would just get sidetracked for one reason or another.
This past January, I tried it one more time. Newly refreshed from celebrating the holidays, I sat down with my hardback copy (that I bought seven years ago) and dove once more into “that bright April afternoon of 1861,” watching Scarlett O’Hara, with all her spoiled charm, sit lazily between those Tarleton twins.
Five months later, I can proudly say that I have finally completed this long-awaited goal. During the first third of the book (that I’ve read now for the third or fourth time), I tried not to be overconfident, knowing it had bested me before. But by the time I found Scarlett leaving Atlanta, traveling the lonely road back to Tara after the war, I knew I was in it for good. I read at home, on vacation, during lunch breaks—anywhere I could. The staff at more than one downtown restaurant kept tabs on how I was doing; I would order food, and they would ask how much further I had to go. In fact, I distinctly remember eating lunch downtown when I came across Scarlett’s (and Melanie’s) fateful encounter with the Yankee soldier at Tara.
I finished the novel at the end of May, having read the majority of it during that month. I’ll talk about the finer points of the novel in my next article, but for now I will simply say that it is one of the best novels I have ever read. There were obviously sections of it that I was familiar with, but so much of it was unexpected—the narrative, the depth of character, the theme of survival in an uprooted world. I had watched the movie at school several years ago, but I barely remembered anything from it.
Having finished the book last month, it’s nice to look back and reflect on one’s reading. As I said, I’ll give my analysis next time. For now though, I’m looking forward to July. My grandmother will turn ninety years old next month, and I’ve already got Gone with the Wind on DVD. I’m looking forward to visiting with her again. She always has those 8-ounce bottles of a certain soft drink that pairs particularly well with popcorn. We’ll sit back, watch, and talk about the triumphs and tragedies of Scarlett O’Hara.
Gone With the Wind Part II
by Cody Daniel
You’re never too old (or too young) to try new things. Last summer I wrote an article about reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind in honor of my grandmother. It is her favorite novel of all time and, after several failed attempts to read it, I finally finished the whole thing in May of last year. The next goal was to watch the movie together, but there always seemed to be something getting in our way (remember that January snowstorm?).
Fortunately, we were able to have a good family visit last month and put together our long-awaited movie night. We did the normal extended family things that weekend in Hattiesburg: seeing relatives, eating crawfish, and listening to (I don’t know how many) stories describing how that one cousin from over in the other town got into such trouble so many years ago—or perhaps the adventures and misadventures of “Mama Dot as a child.” We talked genealogy: a rather new subject for me, an area of expertise for her. But the high point of the weekend was Saturday night. (Well, it was 4:00pm, because that movie is long.)
We grabbed a few small Coke bottles—the ones made of glass, not plastic. We popped popcorn. And we let the music of the overture wash over us. The dedicated audience members were Mama Dot, myself, my mother, cousin, and aunt. My brother was with us, but he fell asleep before the overture ended. For the next four hours, we viewed the tragedies of the O’Hara family, and the machinations of Scarlett as she tried to face them.
Now, for whatever reason, everyone in that room admired Scarlett except for me. Both in the book and the movie, I found her to be interesting, sometimes cute, mostly ruthless, but hardly ever admirable. In fact, at the end of both versions of the story, I thought that she deserved everything she got. But I can’t easily dismiss her as a character, which makes me appreciate Margaret Mitchell’s incredible writing ability even more. And, although people think I’m crazy when I mention this, Rhett Butler and Han Solo (of the Star Wars universe) are so similar as to be the same person. They both have the rank of captain. They both begin the story as materialistic smugglers in a war they don’t care about. Then they fall in love with women who eventually change their lives. And finally (spoiler alert), they both tragically lose their children, which results in them leaving the home for a while and going back to smuggling.
The depth and complexity of her characters are a major reason that I enjoyed this novel so much. Both the story and the characters are timeless—they can be appreciated by a young girl in 1930s Mississippi as well as by a thirty-something librarian eighty years later. And in sharing that story, whether a book or a movie, family members can form memories that last longer than bound paper or digital discs. This is one of the most important and profound parts of being human. We share stories together, real or imagined. It might be a family history, a funny story, a book, or a movie. But we gather together; we enjoy each other’s company; we bring food; we share our experience with one another. Those memories and experiences remain and form a part of who we are, and we are always grateful for them. For me, what began as “just a book challenge” became not only an accomplishment for myself, but also (and primarily) a way to share in the lives of others in a more concrete way.
This article has not been explicitly about the library; I simply wanted to continue the story of a personal reading experience in my life. And yet, I can’t help but think about the incredible treasure here on Fillmore Street at the Corinth Library.
Personal connections are among the most important things in our lives. We can discuss family histories because dedicated people have gone before us to collect those stories. And so the library has genealogy resources and family histories within Alcorn County. Discussing great novels and movies is the most important part of literature and film. And so the library provides thousands of items for loan, free of charge, to enable those discussions to take place. In addition to learning about one’s family, we yearn to know about the world and our place in it, as well as how to make our lives better. And so the library gives us a collection of educational and community activities (from Preschool Story Time to Literary Clubs)—because we want everyone in our community to have the opportunity both for personal enrichment and sharing that enrichment with others. This is what communities are about. This is what libraries do.
Cody Daniel is the head librarian of the Corinth Library. He can be reached at 662-287-2441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.