Gone with the Wind is held up as one of the greatest American classics. The story of the rising and falling fortunes of the fiery, independent, selfish Scarlett O’Hara and the rascally Rhett Butler is set against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction in Georgia. Two of our parliament recently read the book for a book club, and gathered here for a discussion.
Sonya: After loving the film version of this historical novel, I never thought that the book could be as good. Having finished Gone with the Wind, I can honestly say that it has become one of my all-time favorite books. Margaret Mitchell’s narrative is so easy to read and yet so beautiful.
Madeleine: I have never seen the film version! I’m actually glad I hadn’t seen the movie before reading the book. Besides knowing a few things (it’s about the Civil War and it’s aftermath, the main couple is Scarlett/Rhett, and there are a lot of fancy dresses), it was all completely new to me.
I also loved the book, but I don’t know if it would make it into my all-time favorites. I need some more time to think about it. There were some bits that I really struggled with in this book (more on this later). What really made the book for me was the characters.
Sonya: I think that is what she does best! We get to see Scarlett journey from naïve, selfish Southern belle to a destitute woman who is willing to do anything to keep food in her stomach and Tara under her feet, and then finally in the end to a person that finally understands herself and what is really important to her.
Madeleine: Margaret Mitchell took a really big risk making her main character a dislikable character. I loved and hated Scarlett. I was cheering for her throughout the whole book, except for the stage of life that you skipped: her selfish, malicious, ignorant behavior after earning back her fortune. She annoyed me enough that I stopped cheering for her for awhile.
I like Scarlett best when she’s at Tara. She needs Tara to keep her grounded.
My other favorite character is Melanie. She’s an easy character to love, but I love the unexpected strength she shows throughout the novel and her unflinching loyalty to Scarlett, who doesn’t deserve it. She’s wonderful.
Sonya: I also liked Melanie, and thought that Ashley did not deserve her. Rhett is the other character that I find so enthralling and mysterious. (BTW, Clark Gable could not have portrayed him better in the movie.)
Madeleine: Obviously. 🙂
Sonya: Even after finishing the novel, I still don’t really have a sense of who he really is. Even though he is a scoundrel, I can’t help but cheer for him and hope that Scarlett can realize how wonderful he is.
Madeleine: I was actually more impressed by Rhett’s character development through the novel. He changes and becomes a better person a lot more than Scarlett does. I’m not totally convinced that Scarlett has changed by the end. But I absolutely loved them together. Whenever Rhett walked onto the page, I always got very excited. The dialogue! The wit!
Sonya: Every scene with Scarlett and Rhett was just bursting with well-wrought dialogue, and consequently I could practically feel the sparks between these two coming off the pages. I so hoped that this story would be happy in the end (even though I know from the movie that it’s not), and I always think that somehow Scarlett does get him back. I sure hope that she does.
Madeleine: When I first finished the book, I felt the same. Having had some time to digest the book a bit, I like the open ending. I don’t know if Rhett will ever let Scarlett back into his life. He was burned pretty badly. I hope Scarlett stays at Tara. Tara makes Scarlett a better person; I don’t know if Rhett does.
Sonya: The other aspect of Gone with the Wind is its insight into Southern life before the Civil War, during the war, and the war’s aftermath. Naturally, as a child I learned how the South consisted of inhumane bad guys keeping slaves in bondage, and then the North swept in and saved the slaves from their awful plight.
I absolutely do not condone slavery, but I will say that it was interesting to see this time in American history from the point of view of a Southerner. Even if Mitchell is biased, this fictional account gives us another perspective to ponder, and I found it fascinating. Mitchell really shows that war is war, and there are going to be bad and good people on both sides of the conflict.
Madeleine: Ah, here we are, the parts I really struggled with in the book, and that I have to separate from the book when making my judgements. I agree that the Southern point-of-view is very interesting, and I know that contextually Margaret Mitchell is just reflecting the period she’s writing from, but I really struggled with the racism in the book. In fact, I might’ve given up on it if I weren’t reading for a group.
The book romanticizes slavery, and does so very subtly. If you aren’t paying attention, it is easy to buy into this romanticization. In our book club, we had someone argue that it wasn’t that bad because the slaves were treated well by their masters who saw them as part of the family. This point-of-view takes something horrible and completely unjust, owning people and forcing them to work for you, and turns it into something kind and paternalistic.
Again, I understand that we have to take context into consideration, but I really struggled with how to respond to it. Book Riot ran an interesting series of posts on this exact issue last year. I’ll leave you with those: “I Couldn’t Finish GONE WITH THE WIND Because it Was So Racist” and the response “Let’s Talk About Racism in the Classics.”
Stepping off my soap box, I still enjoyed Gone with the Wind and give it 5 stars. Aside from it’s size, the book is very accessible and wonderfully written. Margaret Mitchell made me love a rather unpleasant character and wrote interesting enough stories that I didn’t complain about the 1000 page love triangle. Read it.
Sonya: Overall, Gone with the Wind fabulous read that I will recommend to pretty much everybody. It’s a commitment to read as it’s so long but it is definitely worth it. I was hooked from the beginning and never wanted it to end. A solid 5 stars.
So, we know it’s 2014. And we know everyone else has already published their year-in-review posts. But we’re still writing 2013 on things by mistake, which means it’s not too late to share our favorites from last year. Right?
Before we begun, if you’re looking for something really good to read, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein all made it onto multiple owls’ top five lists for 2013.
Five Favorite Books Read in 2013
- The Archived by Victoria Schwab
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
- The Theory of Everything by J. J. Johnson
- Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley – This was definitely my favorite Flavia book! I adore this world and I especially adore Flavia! I love listening to the audiobooks for these, Jane Entwistle does a great job! I constantly get little sayings from these stuck in my head. I have yet to find someone that doesn’t like Flavia (and we are talking a wide range of ages, genders, and reading interests)!
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I was nervous to read this one, but I actually don’t remember crying when I read the book. I plan on going to the movie and ugly crying with my friends, but I don’t think the book made me cry. However, I loved it. John Green is a wonderful author and really knows how to connect the reader and the character so you feel their emotions for fully and are immersed in their world.
I noticed something odd about my top 5 books. They are ALL blue. Apparently I’m pretty into that color.
I read less in 2013. School, oddly enough, is a time suck. My goal in 2012 was 100 and I just made the cut! 2013 was lowered to 75 and I managed to squeeze out 84. 2014? Yeah….about that….my goal is 50. So far we have a whopping 3 books under our wing. School is trying to ruin my life! Ok, that may be a bit dramatic. But seriously…
Reading Goal for 2014: 50
Five Favorite Books Read in 2013
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – I could not put this one down, and was an absolute wreck at the end of it. My husband saw me crying over this book and thought I was being a bit melodramatic. Later, I tried to explain to him what had me so upset and as a result, ended up crying in the middle of the coffee shop where we were playing Scrabble. If that isn’t a good book, I don’t know what is.
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – This book was so inventive with the world the author created. It had great tension and the story and suspense just kept building. The writing was wonderful and I always wanted to know what would happen to Karou and her mysterious Akiva.
- Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Another amazing YA book where the author creates a captivating world with compelling characters with quite interesting abilities. I devoured this first book in the trilogy as well as the following two books. All three were top notch but the first was my favorite.
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel – I read this book in one day. I couldn’t put it down because I had to know what was going to happen to Pi and the animals with him. Reading this was like being unable to turn away from a train wreck. So many awful things happen in the duration of this story but I just couldn’t stop. Then, the twist at the end where Martel leaves the reader wondering if it was all real just blew my mind.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – This may have taken me 6 months to finish but nonetheless it was well worth the read. The story is beautiful and tragic, and we can’t help but sympathize with the toils women had to deal with in that time. I already knew how this one ended but it did not diminish the poignancy with which Tolstoy shows Anna’s spiral into madness.
Library School definitely put a damper on my reading for the past year and a half. In 2012 I read 66 books, and in 2013 only 30. Granted, some of the books have been outrageously long books like Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair, but still. It looks like my favorite books from 2013 were dominated by young adult novels. It really is my favorite genre.
Reading Goal for 2014: Nonfiction!! I want to find a nonfiction book that I can like as much as I like a great novel. I’ve read a handful of nonfiction books but none have really kept my attention or made me want to read them. I basically end up browsing through the book. In addition, I definitely want to read more than I did in 2013. Only 30 books. Pitiful. I think a nice healthy reading goal is 50. (Zelda, we can try to recommend nonfiction to each other! And compete to see who makes it to 50 fastest!)
Five Favorite Books Read in 2013
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruth Sepetys – This story of a teenage girl who is shipped to a Siberian work camp with her family and thousands of other Lithuanians moved me to tears multiple times. There was so much about the history behind this story that I wasn’t aware of and the story of these survivors was incredibly inspiring.
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
- NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
- Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton – A very big concept SF book complete with alien swarms, sentient worlds, medical-enabled long life, inter-world portals that could easily have become unwieldy, but Hamilton keeps it grounded by focusing on the human condition. Normally I’m not a huge fan of something that is so purely science fiction, but the world building in this book blew me away.
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I’ll admit, I was afraid to read this book for the longest time because of the hype – usually when everyone loves a book, I’m disappointed, but I’m happy to say this wasn’t the case in this situation. Rarely does a book come along that deals with such a hard topic with the humor that John Green does with this book. Although I had been warned that this was a “crying book,” I still wasn’t able to adequately prepare myself for how moving the story was.
Reading Goal for 2014: I’ve decided not to focus as heavily on numbers this year, but instead focus on reading widely. While taking a course on Young Adult literature last semester I realized just how few books I had read written by minorities or who had main characters of another race. Living in North Dakota means that my daily life is pretty homogenous, so my goal this year is to expand my horizons.
Five Favorite Books Read in 2013
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (the link will take you to a post my human alter-ego wrote for a public library blog, or you can read my review of the follow-up book on Owl You Need is a Good Read)
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
- Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
- Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dinah Nayeri
- Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Struggling for some originality here, but grad school really cuts into the free reading time! I read 107 books in 2012 and only 70 books in 2013. I’ve already dissected my 2013 reading with charts and graphs. Honestly, it wasn’t my best year for reading in more than just numbers. I liked all the books above, but I liked my top five books of 2012 a lot more. My worst book of the year was Vanity Fair, which I couldn’t even finish. On a more positive note, I did reread several of my favorite books of all time: Jane Eyre, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and The Book Thief.
Reading Goal for 2014: 50. And I want to make it to at least 1945 in my Newbery Medal Reading Challenge. With the Newbery Challenge and potentially a Reader’s Advisory class this summer, I think I should be able to make it over 50 books.
So, if you haven’t heard yet (how’s life under that rock?), Neil Gaiman published a new book last month—‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’. Both of us, Zelda and Madeleine, loved the book.
Zelda: I have no negative things to say except it ended too soon. I read the inside flap description but that doesn’t do the book justice.
Madeleine: I usually read a lot about a book before it comes out—the official description, the blurbs, and maybe a few reviews. When Gaiman first announced the book, there was no description, just the beautiful cover. As the publication date approached, I liked not knowing what to expect, so I avoided all descriptions and reviews. It was a good choice—I went into it without preformed opinions and was blown away by the story.
Zelda: The only thing that could have made this better is if Neil Gaiman read it to me himself.
Madeleine: Neil Gaiman read a bit of it to me! Well, me and a couple hundred other people. I was very lucky to get to see him when he stopped for a reading in Minnesota. Here’s a blurry picture from my phone that proves how close I was (third row).
Madeleine: I almost felt bad going—he had been up until 3 AM the night before signing things. Here I am promoting author abuse by attending his readings. But he was very gracious about everything. The evening as a whole was wonderful. And, you know, I proceeded to contribute to author abuse by getting my copy signed.
Zelda: You mentioned the cover earlier. Let us discuss the cover for a moment. Gorgeous. Just stunning. I love the title, the font…everything.
Madeleine: Did you know? There’s a picture on the back of the book of a child standing on a drainpipe—that’s a real picture of our esteemed author. I’ve heard that the book is a bit autobiographical. I can definitely see the unnamed narrator as a young Neil—bookish, thoughtful and aware, and able to see the supernatural in everyday life.
Zelda: I’ll admit, I cried a little bit before I even really knew the characters. For such a short book I was surprised at how much I cared about the characters and for how well developed they were.
Madeleine: At the reading, Gaiman talked a bit about how the book came about. He usually chooses to write his books, and plans them out. ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ started out as a short story for his wife. He couldn’t tell where the story was going, but kept writing. He finished and looked at this word count and realized he had written a novel. I wonder if the characters and the story felt so real and organic, because they weren’t planned out, but came from some subconscious pool (or is it an ocean?) of story and myth.
Zelda: Gaiman has always impressed me but this was so creative and engaging that he brought himself to a whole new level. This was better than I thought it would be and I just want to tell everyone I see to read it. Maybe I am gushing too much and now someone will read this and then be disappointed, but I can’t help it.
Madeleine: I agree. ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ may be my favorite book by Neil Gaiman yet. It’s a simple story, but it’s dark and beautiful and evocative.
Zelda: Just go read it. All I can say is you won’t regret it.
Welcome to Owl You Need is a Good Read, a book blog run by four twenty-something owls who live in the midwest and love books, libraries, movies, and more.
We already have:
- A shamelessly cheesy title
- Adorable pictures of us looking our best, so you know who’s writing
- Lots of opinions about the books we read, just waiting to be shared
This is Zelda! Zelda definitely stand out with her bright pink feathers. She loves YA books and has a soft spot for thrillers. She’s also a longtime Harry Potter fan.
Sonya is another owl you’d definitely want as your friend. She keeps busy with working and going to school full-time, but she still finds the time to read. She also enjoys YA and middle grade fiction, along with most adult fiction unless it is a bad romance novel or an over-the-top sci-fi novel.
When it comes to books, Nox thinks the darker and more twisted the book, the better. What she reads varies, but if the book has inventive murders or angst (especially of the too-smart-for-her-age teenage girl variety), you’re on the right track.
Madeleine is the last of the book owls. Madeleine reads widely and enjoys literary fiction, classics, global lit, fantasy, and of course, YA. She’s also currently making a rather slow attempt to read all the Newbery Medal winners in order, which is proving to be more difficult than it sounds!