Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ignoring the Classics

I hate to admit it, but aside from my required reading in high school and college, I rarely pick up "classic" books. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe because I'm usually too busy trying to keep up with my TBR pile of new books that I've forgotten that the classics are usually classics for a reason. Maybe it's because with how fast-paced the plots of modern books are, I've lost the ability to have patience with classic books that sometimes take a lot of time and effort to get through.

A few weeks back I picked up "Gone with the Wind." I'd never read it before and have never seen the movie - though I did know all the famous lines, just not necessarily their meanings within the context of the story. So I decided to give it a try.

I wasn't disappointed.

General thoughts: Before I started, I really had no clear idea what the book was really about, other than it was written over the backdrop of the Civil War and that a woman named Scarlett was the heroine. I figured it was some kind of romance story since the covers of the books always seem to have Scarlett being swept off her feet by a man. I had no idea that the story was actually the fascinating tale of our main character going from a silly little girl to someone who is not afraid to get her hands dirty to make things turn out exactly how she wants. I'm a sucker for good character growth and change so, as a writer, this was a valuable lesson to me on how things like this should be done.

Characters: I loved Scarlett and yet wanted to slap her at the same time. On the one hand I admired her for what she faced and how she survived through horrifying times, but then I kept marveling at what an awful person she was in her heart. I know more than once I was thinking, "Oh, you're such a horrible person ... but you go, girl!" ... I think if she'd just known when to stop, things would have gone a whole lot differently in the end.

I thought Rhet was amazing. The best "bad boy" character I've read in ages. It was amazing how well his character complimented Scarlett's. I always looked forward to their scenes together and their verbal sparing matches were my favorite parts of the book. It broke my heart that she couldn't see what an amazing match they were until it was too late.

I also loved Melly. Kind of like Scarlett did, I didn't realize just how much Melly has brought to these other characters' lives until she is gone. It made me so happy to see that even though she was quiet and kind, even though she seemed timid, she was really one of the strongest people in the whole cast, and undoubtedly the one who lived the most happy life in the end.

As a side note, I've got to mention it - I know this book was written in a much different time period, but the depiction of all the African-American characters was really painful to me most of the time. Not just the fact that the author used phonetic English that gave me a headache to read, but also that they were all - except for perhaps Mammie - depicted as complete idiots who had no idea what to do with themselves when their masters/mistresses weren't around. I don't doubt that SOME people were that way, but to have them ALL depicted like that made me flinch and put a damper on an otherwise amazing book for me.

Writing: Even though I felt like the story dragged in places (there were some long passages about the war that I only skimmed over), I thought the writing itself was excellent. I especially liked how at times I felt like I understood what was going on better than Scarlett did - it made me both frustrated with her and antsy to see what would happen because she was making such poor decisions.

Recommend?: If you're big on character development, like me, yes, I think you'll love it. But if it's more action and adventure you're after - you might get bored. The book is very long, and although there are some great action scenes, I'd say most of the "action" is the inward growth and development of the main character. It's something I love, but I could see where it might bore others.


Now I've got the movie on the way from Netflix and am eager to see how the film version holds up to the book.
I think from now on, I'll make a deal with myself that for every five "new" books I read, the sixth needs to be a classic. I'm definitely missing out if there's gems like this out there that I've been ignoring!

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