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 

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