This year my reading and writing resolutions will involve family and friends in conversations and experiences that surround various books. The books we choose to read will come from Peter Boxall's compiled list of “books that must be read before you die.” Peter Boxall is a Sussex University literary professor and his list contains contributions from many of his colleagues. Had I known about this list earlier in my life, I feel I may have been able to tackle completing the required life reading much easier. At my current mid-life stage, I find the most pleasure in reading when I can share discoveries found in the pages of books with others. So now as the year 2017 begins and I consider again the daunting task of reading all of Boxall's recommendations, my plan this year is to match books with friends and family. I hope to compile our conversations, thoughts, and experiences that reflect on these selected reads in my own sort of bookish memoir.
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, was chosen to make a connection with my maternal grandmother, Hilda Hartman, who just turned 94 years old this month. My grandmother was a children's librarian in her younger years and passed on her love for books to me. This epic novel is her all-time favorite and raised a lot of discussion while analyzing the story and characters at our last visit. We both feel that understanding the character's feelings, actions, and motives is what makes reading books so enjoyable. Grandma remembers that after reading GWTW she had to see the movie. Before granddaddy went off to fight in WWII a special date night to the movie theater was planned. Grandma was pregnant at the time and months later while granddaddy was away at war she gave birth to my mother, her firstborn. Knowing the impression Mitchell's story had on her, explains why she named her daughter Bonnie. For those who may not know, or remember, Bonnie Blue Butler is the name of Rhett and Scarlett's daughter. Scarlett was a headstrong and impulsive character who exhibited a lot of gumption when dealing with situations in GWTW. I personally can relate to these traits, although I have never had to endure the extreme conditions that played out in Mitchell's story. Both my grandparents lived through the Great Depression and knew exactly what Scarlett felt when she utters one of the most well-known lines from GWTW: “as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again." Granddaddy, as a boy, even experienced the loss of his family's home and business in a horrible fire. When granddaddy returned from fighting in the war, he worked several jobs to secure land and a home for my grandma and mother. He bought an old house that he spent years restoring and worked hard to raise a significant garden that kept his family fed. Grandma stocked the pantry every year with canned goods. They also raised chickens, and goats too. My parents have always been hard workers and good providers, setting an example for me as well. In my own life I have been there, working multiple jobs at once while maintaining a garden and raising children.
Even through times when money was tight, there was always plenty to eat. Doing what needs to be done was a way of life that built a strong work ethic in me. Scarlett seemed to find strength in working to restore Tara, her home place, after the war. She dove right in and rolled her sleeves up to get back what the Yankees stole. Life on southern plantations wasn't easy following the war. Mitchell's description of the determination Scarlett and the South had for restoration left a legacy of inspiration for her readers.
In regards to the romantic feelings of these characters, grandma would have been a great confidant to Scarlett. If she could have, she would have encouraged Scarlett to trust in the Lord for guidance and prayed for her to change her manipulative ways. Scarlett was a flirt and used her beauty and charm to get what she wanted. Although with Ashley her heart was broken, and with Rhett her actions were so transparent she couldn't fool him. Grandma had a “que sera sera” sort of philosophy and if she was in the story, she would have tried to get Scarlett to let up on the need for total control.
It is also puzzling about Scarlett's deep love for Tara. Yes, we should feel that family comes first. But Scarlett seems to put Tara before Ashely, Rhett, and her children. She remembers her father's words that land is "the only thing in the world that lasts..." I recently struggled with the loss of my father's boyhood home. I had so many good family memories there, visiting as a child. Once my paternal grandparents passed on it seemed that keeping the land and house where they lived was so important. I mourned the loss of that place when unable to finance the purchase and keep it from falling into hands of “outsiders.” My Grandma Hartman solaced me by sharing how she felt sad to leave behind the house granddaddy worked so hard to make into a beautiful home. She explained that in their older years the house and all that land was too much for them. They needed to downsize and move to a warmer climate. But the memories are always there and family does last … something else grandma would have shared with Scarlet. Yet I realize now that a story changes meaning for us if read at different times in our lives. And like Margaret Mitchell's last words in GWTW, “Tomorrow is another day.”