Saturday, August 27, 2011

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

Someday on this blog, I will make myself a cup of coffee, pop in Max Steiner's soundtrack, and write for hours of my deep and abiding love for Gone With the WindGWTW is my favorite novel of all time.  I read it at least once a year, cover to cover.  I can pick it up at any point and read because I can practically recite it.  There are many reasons for my affection for this famous American novel, but at the moment I just want to share about a recent book I read on this subject of the book itself.  I am still reading Lost in Shangri-La, which is proving to be pretty interesting, but it will take me a while to finish that one, so in the meantime I am going back about a month and a half to another non-fiction I read this summer: Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood. 

The story of GWTW's journey from hobby to bestselling novel has been written about many times.  Any GWTW novice knows how Margaret Mitchell starting writing the book as something to do while she recovered from a broken ankle, wrote pieces of it here and there for years, then gave it to an editor almost as an afterthought.  By the time she realized what she had done and, panicking, contacted the editor to say "forget it and send it back!", the guy was already hooked and offered her a contract to finish it.  The rest, as the saying goes, is history, and GWTW remains one of the best-loved, bestselling, most influential and culturally iconic novels in American history.

I, however, am not a novice when it comes to GWTW, so I was thrilled to stumble upon this new book Ellen Brown and John Wiley in our local library while looking for yet another historical fiction on medieval England.  (I have not yet revealed the true extent of my obsession with the middle ages and England.  Just wait.  One of my favorite authors has a new novel about Richard I coming out in October, and then you will learn more about the Plantagenets than you ever wanted to in your whole life.)  Unlike so many other books and articles I have read on the subject, this promised to be a thorough look at the odyssey of the book itself - not so much about Margaret Mitchell or how or why she wrote it, but how the book evolved into what it is today.

It was, in a word, fascinating.

Most books probably have an interesting story behind their publication, but GWTW has some specific quirks.  Mitchell and her husband John were not novelists, nor were they familiar with the publishing world.  They had a different opinion about how things should work, and as such, their approach to the publication and distribution of the book turned some heads in the book business.  Mitchell was also terrible protective of her work of art, and she fought unheard of copyright issues around the world to protect her intellectual rights.  Hers was also one of the first novels to reach incredible international acclaim, and that brought on a whole slew of issues...many of which were complicated by the fact that in 1939, while her book was still at the height of success, Hitler started stomping across Europe and made more than one of her overseas publishers disappear.  Her book was also immediately pursued for a movie adaptation, and the story of the movie version of GWTW - and David O. Selznick's screwing over of Mitchell and her husband - is the stuff of movies itself.  These are just some of the incredible tales of the book's journey.

GWTW took on a life of its own, and as such, deserved its own biography.   Brown and Wiley do an amazing job of bringing the story of the story to life.  It is meticulously researched (which is VERY important to me when reading non-fiction) and thoroughly detailed.  Yet it moves along and a nice pace, not getting bogged down in the boring or unimportant.  The authors stop to explain publishing terms, but they don't turn the book into seminar or lecture.  It's a fascinating read about a well-known subject that, for once, has something new to offer.  I would particularly recommend it for monthly book clubs.  It could easily be read in a month, and the subject matter is so universally known that everyone should be able to get something out of it.  The glimpse at the history of the publishing business is not as dry as it sounds, and it would make for some fun group discussion. 

This is a great find, especially for GWTW fanatics like me...but anyone interested in books in general would find it interesting.  Go find it at your own library!

Quote of the day:
"Amazingly, Brown and Wiley have written a book about a novel that...reads like a novel." (Boomer Magazine )

Scale of 1-5: 4
What's up next: Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
Top Five TBR:
1. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
2. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
3. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
4. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
5. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Julie/Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

I love the movies.  I love movies almost as much as I love books.  One of the greatest things about seeing a new movie is that it often gives me a new book to read - so many movies are based off books, and 9 times out of 10, the book is much, much better.  Rebecca, Gone With the Wind, Where the Heart Is, The Firm, and The Great Gatsby all fall into this category.  Books can go much farther and deeper than the movies...most of the time.

There is, however, that occasional book that comes along that is actually translated better on the silver screen.  Such was the case for me with Julie/Julia: My Year of Cooking DangerouslyI read this book because I saw the movie, which is a light, fun, slightly romantic comedy of Julie Powell, a woman living in a crappy New York apartment with her husband, working in a dead-end government job, who decides to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The movie is split between this woman's story and Julia Child's journey from bored housewife into America's most famous chef.

Linguistically, the book is annoying.  Powell often switches between tenses within the same paragraph or section, and as I tried to sift my way through the awkward phrasing, I could hear my 12th grade AP English teacher gasping in horror in my head.  (Mrs. Turk, wherever she may be, will always live on in my head as I read or write anything.)  She tends to start a story and then slip off in another direction, not coming back to finish her original point for pages and pages.  She tells stories within stories, and it's hard to follow along.  She misuses her dashes in a distracting way - she will use them to make a side comment, but never go back to the original one - and she jumps all around her narrative.

Then there is the swearing.  Now, I cannot claim to never let a bad word fly from my mouth.  It's my confession that it happens from time to time.  However, Powell's common verbiage is a constant stream of profanity, especially when she is upset, which she appears to be most of the time.  Not only is this offensive and distracting, but it shows a dramatic lack of creativity and vocabulary.  Good heavens, woman - you are a writer.  You can choose more than to use "the F word" as a verb, noun, adverb, adjective, pronoun, and every other part of speech!  But more offensive than profanity, to me, is the use of Christ's name.  I realize most people will roll their eyes at this, but it's my blog and I'll say what I want: I do not like it when anyone uses Christ's name as an expression.  It is far more offensive to me than letting four-letter words fly.  Imagine how you would feel if someone constantly used your husband's name as a curse word.  That's how I feel about it.

Ideologically, Powell and I are miles apart.  That's really ok with me - I know not everyone is going to agree with me.  That's fine.  But her constant barrage of sarcasm when it came to matters of politics, faith, and morality wore me out.  I am fully aware that not everyone is going to be in the same frame of mind as I am politically.  I am fine with liberals and Democrats in the world.  Apparently, though, Powell cannot stand me.  For all her talk of tolerance, she is not terrible tolerant of my conservative values, and that got old.  There were far too many "Republicans are evil" jokes.  I am a Republican, and I am no more evil than the next guy.  I'm not against helping people.  I just think I ought to be doing it, not the government.  One or two jokes - ok, I can take it, ha ha, stereotypes are fun.  However, the flood of jokes and snide comments was too much.  In addition, she seems to be fairly opinionated about matters of faith and religion.  That's fine too.  But when she calls a certain person in her office "the freak who wears the 'What Would Jesus Do?' bracelet," I'm a little put off.  I have never worn such a bracelet - mostly because I don't wear bracelets - but if she met me, she would probably refer to me as "the freak who wears the Icthus/cross necklace."  So that was disconcerting.  Finally, we are miles apart morally.  I knew she had finally lost me when she started encouraging a friend to have an affair with a married man,  That combined with her comment that she really didn't consider marriage vows to be all that important - "I figure every man for himself, you know?" - just plain offended me and made me sad for her and her husband.

The content of the book was also frustrating.  It was never quite clear to me why Powell was on this mission, especially since once she got into it, she appeared to hate it most of the time.  Instead of a lighthearted, amusing tale of cooking for fun, or even cooking for purpose, it was a stream of stories of friends making bad decisions, getting drunk, temper tantrums, rants about her job and Republicans and her crappy apartment and how life, in general, sucks.  Who needs to read that?  She didn't even seem to enjoy the Project. Every story seemed to be about how it led to a fight with her husband, or frustrated her, or brought on a temper tantrum.  What exactly was Powell looking for?  And did she find it?  I don't think she did.  The Project came to and end...and then what?  The movie made it look like she was truly fulfilled in the experience...but this is not the case.  Powell's next book, which I am NOT going to read, is about the fallout from the affairs both her and her husband had in the wake of her success.  She apparently didn't find what she was looking for. 

And that brings me to my final reaction to Powell's story.  I was frustrated, annoyed, offended, hurt, put off, and angered.  In the end, though, I was sad.  I was sad for Julie Powell.  This is a woman who is achingly searching for something.  The thing is, I know what she searching for.  I know what she needs - or, rather, Who she needs. However, I think if I sat down to explain it to her, she'd blow me off and make a stream of sarcastic, obnoxious comments to all her friends.  That doesn't anger me.  That makes me really sad.  My heart breaks for this woman who has looked to food, sex, men, her job, her friends, alcohol, even butchery for fulfillment.  I don't know who God has sent to her life to tell her Who she needs, but I am praying and believing that Julie Powell will one day come to that place of realizing she needs God in her life, that God is the ultimate fulfillment of what she is searching for.

And so, after everything else, I leave this review on that note: one of hope.  The hope that comes from knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Friend. And I have that hope that Julie Powell will come to find what she is truly looking for.

Quote of the day:

"Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn't attractive, to me or Julia. She didn't want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn’t like what she called 'the flimsies.' She didn't suffer fools, if you know what I mean." - Judith Jones, Julia Child's editor, on why Child was not a fan of Powell's blog.  And after reading the book...I have to agree.

Scale of 1-5: 2
What's up next: Princess on the Brink by Meg Cabot
Top Five TBR:
1. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
2. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
3. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
4. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
5. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Today is my 30th birthday.  That doesn't really freak me out or anything.  I have had a wonderful 30 years, and the next stage of my life looks like it is going to be even more exciting than the last 30 decades.  I can't wait to see what the Lord has in store for me.

On a milestone day like this, it makes one reflective on other milestones in one's life.  And since this is a blog about reading, I feel it is appropriate to think back to a milestone book in my life.  Occasionally,  I plan to look back on such books in my life, not necessarily to review them, but to remember how I loved them and the impact such books have had on my reading life. 

Tonight I want to reflect on my first "grown-up" book: Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.  This is the first book I can remember reading that could not be found in my elementary school library.  It's the first book I read that was lengthy with heavy, adult, hidden themes.  Its haunting tale was a coming-of-age journey from me, taking me from my childhood favorites like Number the Stars and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle into greater literature such as Gone With the Wind and A Tale of Two Cities

If you haven't read Rebecca, I recommend picking it up.  It's lengthy, but doable.  If you have ever seen the movie, you won't be disappointed - it's much, much better than the movie.  The movie, in fact, is what brought me to the book itself.  I first saw the movie when I was about 12, around 6th grade.  I loved it.  It was one of my favorites - and not just because I thought Laurence Olivier was one of the most beautiful men I'd ever seen in my life!  The mystery and artistry of the movie captured me, and I wanted to read the original book.  That's why I found myself, at the age of 12, tackling Daphne DuMaurier's 380 masterpiece. 

Of course,  I didn't understand it all at the time.  There were chunks I skipped over because I thought they were boring.  Some of it went over my head.  But I understood the tale itself, the twists and turns, the development of the characters that was so vivid I would have been able to see them in my head with or without the movie to back it up.  It is a wonderfully woven tale of love, treachery, loyalty, despair, psychosis,  fear, and redemption.  As a 12 year old romantic on the edge of adolescence, I soaked it up like a sponge.  I reveled in it.  And it brought me into the world of grown-up books, books beyond what was recommended in my English classes or on the Newbery Award list. 

Rebecca was an important milestone in my life, and as I reflect on the many milestones of literature in my life, I am thankful to have experienced Rebecca over and over again.  That original copy from 18 years ago still sits on my shelf.  It has gone with me to college, from dorms to apartments to intern housing, to my temporary, pre-wedding housing, and now to my own house.  Through many moves and turns and adventures, it has been on of those books I have held onto like an old friend and occasionally taken out once more, flipping through its pages, reading scenes out of order because I know them so well thatI don't have to read them straight through.  I know Rebecca like I know a family member.  It holds a special place in my heart, and it holds a special place on my bookshelf. 

If you are reading this out there in the Internet world, feel  free to respond to this question: what have been the milestone books in your life?

Quote of the day: "If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again."
Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca)

Scale of 1-5: 10
What's up next: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell
Top Five TBR:
1. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
2. To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
3. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
4. Cleaved by Julie Powell
5. Cleopatra: A life by Stacy Schiff

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Heretic Queen

Today was a good day to start this blog, because today I finished a new book: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran.  This is a sequel to another one of Ms. Moran's books I read recently, Nefertiti.  Moran has become one of my favorite historical fiction authors; I discovered her in an interview done by the great Sharon K. Penman on SKP's blog.  (More on SKP later, believe me.)  I enjoy her because she is a good storyteller, she develops her individual characters well, and she appears to be a meticulous researcher when it comes to her books.  (I am a snob when it comes to historical fiction.  If it isn't as historically accurate as possible, I don't bother.) 

The Heretic Queen follows the story of Nefertari, queen to Ramsses II of Egypt, who is thought to be the Pharoah associated with the exodus of the Hebrews of the Old Testament.  The blurb on the back of the book seems to indicate that the exodus will play a role in this book; don't be fooled by that.  (Who writes those things, anyway?  It isn't the authors, I'll tell you that.)  The exodus sort of makes an appearance in a backdoor sort of way, but it is in no way a major plot point.  Instead, the story follows Nefertari's coming-of-age from child of the palace to queen of all Egypt.   Court intrigue, lies, murder, and love follow. 

As I mentioned, I enjoy how Ms. Moran develops her characters.  Each one is unique, and they don't necessarily stay the same all the way though the story.  She manages to write so that sometimes you realize more of what is going on before Nefertari does.  You see the story through Nefertari's eyes, but you also see a panorama of court life, soaking in what life may have been like in that time and place.  The story moves along quickly and keeps the reader interested.  It's a period of history about which there is not much information left, but Moran does the best she can with the research available, brilliantly filling the gaps by weaving together fact and fiction.  It's a beautiful love story set against one of the most enigmatic yet intriguing periods of history. 

One piece that may bother Christian readers is the character of Ahmoses, who is (very) loosely based on the Biblical Moses of the Book of Exodus.  When reading these passages, I would challenge the reader to remember that this is a work of fiction and not meant to make one theological point or another.  The exodus is a controversial event in history, and Moran is here to tell a story, not rewrite history.  Her version on what may or may not have happened to a group of people called the Habiru that may or may not have been associated with the Hebrews of Exodus is just that - a version.  A story.  Take it for what it is and use the perspective to allow God to show you other sides of the Exodus story.  I do not for one moment believe anything else that what is in the Book of Exodus.  That is the standard for me, as is all historical events related in the Bible.  I don't mean to take away from what I believe God has passed down from generation to generation as the truth.  However, through the reading of other perspectives, I find the the Lord strengthens my own beliefs about the history of the world while giving me the unique view of others.  I challenge others to allow God to do similar things through their own reading.

Overall, The Heretic Queen is an enjoyable read.  One sexual scene, and some violence, so I would recommend it for teenaged readers and up.  It's a fast, fun read, not going to break you intellectually, but gives a fun look into the past.

Scale of 1-5: 3.5
What's up next: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell
Top Five TBR:
1. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
2. To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
3. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
4. Cleaved by Julie Powell
5. Cleopatra: A life by Stacy Schiff

Quote for the day: "A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

And So I Begin

Let's get one thing straight right now.

This is insane.  

I am a married woman, a mom of three, and I am starting my student teaching semester in about 36 hours.  I am graduating with a Master's degree in December and plan to work full time.  I volunteer to run the missions ministry at my church, and I volunteer to work with the middle school students.  I already have two blogs, one of which I can't manage to keep up.  I am currently getting up in the mornings early to walk in an attempt to drop 50 pounds.  What in the world am I doing starting another blog that no one but my mother will read?  

Well, I could make some lofty statement about the importance of doing things for myself during these next few months, or I could pontificate on the role of literature in a civilized society.  

But the truth is...I'm doing this because it seems like fun.  

Here's the deal.  I love to read.  And when I say love...I'm not saying it the same way we say things like "Oh, I love  french fries!"  or "Oh, I just love Target!"  I mean I LOVE reading.  Reading is a gift from the Lord in my life.  It's a way to learn, to escape, to experience.  I can visit Ancient Egypt, medieval England, or the antebellum South, all in one afternoon.  (Did that this afternoon, as a matter of fact.)  I can learn about Eleanor of Aquitaine.  I can learn about baseball.  I can bask in the revelation of such great Christian heroes as C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterson.  If I EVER get through those Tolkein books on my shelf, I can visit Middle-Earth.  

And let me just tell you...with all that reading, I am THE person you want on your team for Trivial Pursuit.

However, I find it difficult to keep track of what I've read.  I can't seem to remember what book I picked up recently - and half the time, I can't find it halfway through and have to come back to it.  So I'm starting this blog as a way to keep track of my books just a little bit, as well as a way to discuss what I've read.  I LOVE talking about what I've read, but most of the time people don't really want to hear it.  This way, I can get it all out, and no one has to read it who doesn't want to!

So here's the plan: I am going to attempt to update this daily, or at least several times a week.  Each entry will be a review of a book I have recently read.  It will also include my current TBR list, what I am currently reading, how far I am in it, and anything else I think sounds fun.  When I don't have a book review to do, I plan on going back and reviewing books I have read recently - or even just books I love from the past and have re-read recently.  As Francois Maurioc once said, "If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads."

You will also discover that I like quotes.  
So here we go.  I'll do my posting very soon.  Please, please feel free to comment on my reviews, even if you think I'm full of nonsense.  Half the fun of reading is the discussions that follow! 

With that, read on, readers, read on...