A Perfume Self-Portrait

July 23, 2016 Just for Fun 2

One of the more interesting features I’ve seen around the more fragrance-centered parts of the blogosphere is the concept of a “perfume self-portrait” (or selfie, I suppose, if you’re worried about being old-fashioned). It’s basically a snapshot of one’s perfume habits at a point in time.

Perfume is a bit like wine. At first, you might only know if something tastes yummy or gross to you, and many people are happy to just stay at that stage; it’s only after extensive-but-fun experimenting that you start to be able to taste the different flavors, learn terms like terroir and corked, and so on.

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I have a small army of tiny sample bottles…

I’ve only recently — like in the past couple of years — started regularly wearing fragrances more sophisticated than scented soaps and lotions and stuff (if we ignore that period of overambitious fruity glitter body splash in my teen years, which we are definitely going to ignore). So, I’m still learning about perfume and haven’t ventured entirely into “fumehead” territory yet, but I’m certainly learning to appreciate all kinds of stuff that I never had a clue about before!

Without further ado, here’s my current perfume self-portrait….

Scents I reach for by default on the daily:
  • Burberry My Burberry Eau de Toilette — This is my “summer scent” this year. I think the slightly-citrusy peony note is youthful and feminine, but not too girly. Usually light florals like this don’t last long on me, but the rosey musk it dries down to sticks around for at least a couple hours.
  • The Thymes Lavender Cologne — I wear this when I want to feel particularly calm and uncomplicated. I like having a single-note scent that isn’t too flirty or bold to turn to on days like that.
  • Chanel No. 5 Elixir Sensuel — This is a discontinued formulation of one of the most well-known classics in perfumery. It’s kind of a gel that you apply to pulse points instead of spraying on, and I think it smells simultaneously gentler and sexier than the regular version. Sillage (basically “volume”) is low but longevity is impressive. It’s honestly my absolute favorite fragrance right now, but since it is discontinued I’m trying to make the bottle last as long as possible, so I don’t wear it every day.
Scents I’ve sampled and want a bottle of:
  • Dior J’Adore Eau de Parfum — I think this must be one of the most popular perfumes out there right now; it seems to flatter most and offend few. I can see this becoming my “everyday” scent after I’m done with the Burberry and Chanel perfumes above.
  • Miu Miu Eau de Parfum — It starts out as a green-woodsy floral, but dries down into something rather peppery. At first I didn’t like it! But I kept trying it again because it was just so intriguing, and in the end I’ve decided that this one is actually interesting in a good way.
  • Gucci Bamboo Eau de Parfum — I got a sample set that included this one as well as the Burberry perfume, plus a certificate to redeem for a full size version of any of the scents included in the sample set. I nearly got this one instead of the other, but my husband said it reminded him of his mom (a perfectly lovely woman, whom I’d prefer not to smell like all the time). It’s kind of a warm floral with a sandalwood background, and fantastic longevity.
Scents I have to be in just the right mood for:
  • Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette — This is supposed to be a more “relaxed” version of the original perfume, but I honestly find it quite a bit more in-your-face than my prefered Elixir version. I wear this when I want to feel sophisticated or, honestly, when I’m feeling a bit bitchy. This is what I wear when I want to project, “Don’t F with me today, or I will (sexily) tear your heart out.”
  • Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Heavenly Eau de Parfum — Bluntly put, this is my “slutty” perfume. (It does not get used so much these days.)
  • Hermès Terre d’Hermès Eau de Toilette — Yeah, it’s supposed to be for dudes. In fact, it smells very similar to my husband’s usual cologne. But it’s just androgynous enough, with a greeny-citrus start and a spicy-incense finish, that I can get away with wearing it when I’m feeling a little outlandish.

Summertime Intermission

July 17, 2016 Meta 4

I have a confession to make:

I haven’t been reading.

Shocking, I know. Please, take a moment to breathe deeply and calm yourself. Smelling salts are available for a small fee at the concessions stand.

Truth be told, I’ve been dealing with some personal issues lately. Nothing life-threatening; no need to reach for those smelling salts again. But various factors have combined to make me uninterested in books… well, not just books, but almost everything I’m usually interested in pursuing during my leisure time.

Just about the only thing I’ve been consistently interested in has been perfume, of all things. So don’t be surprised if you see a post or two about perfume here on my lil’ ol’ blog. Hey, I only ever said this is a mostly-bookish blog, not an ALL-bookish blog, right?

I’ll probably be reading plenty when we head to Chicago in the near future, but thinking about which books to pack is already stressing me out a little bit. Anyway, I also have a handful of half-done bookish posts to finish up and publish eventually.

I suppose that if one must go on hiatus, the summer is a pretty good time to do it. Summertime is basically made for intermissions, isn’t it?


Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery

July 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

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★ ★ ★ ★ 

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery | 1908, this ed. 2014 | Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99

When Anne Shirley arrives at Green Gables, she surprises everyone: first of all, she’s a girl, even though Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew specifically asked for an orphan boy to help around the farm. And second of all, she’s not just any girl: she has bright red hair, a wild imagination, and can talk a mile a minute. Anne has a temper as fiery as her hair and a knack for finding trouble, and she also has a big heart and a positive attitude that affects everyone she meets.

FIRST, I just have to fangirl for a minute over this gorgeous cover. *pets*

This was a re-read for me, although it’s been years since I read it last. To be honest, my memory of the book was a bit off! I remembered Anne as being an annoying, sickly-sweet character, and for some reason I imagined Marilla as a kind of villain?

Reading it again now as an adult, I found Marilla to be a much more sympathetic character. I did still find Anne a tiny bit annoying in some ways (all those giant wall-o-text ramblings, for instance), but she’s less of a Pollyanna than I remembered — not so much the eternal optimist, more like a little drama queen prone to rhapsodies of imagination and emotion.

I also enjoyed this book for its quality as a kind of snapshot in time. It is set in the Canadian Martimes in the early 20th century, and there are many interesting little historical details, like food and drink, rural public schooling, early feminism, and fashion of course — who can forget Anne’s obsession with puffed sleeves?

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll read the rest of the series. I don’t think I ever read them before? But I am glad that I put this on my Classics Club list and tackled it this year for the Women’s Classic Literature Event.


Links:


Publication information: Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. New York: Aladdin, 2014. Print.
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Awakening
by Kate Chopin

July 2, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

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★ ★ ★

The Awakening by Kate Chopin | 1899 | Del Rey | Project Gutenberg $0

Edna Pontellier is a young woman living comfortably in the beautiful city of New Orleans. She is fond of her husband and proud of her sons but finds it impossible to accept that for women it is a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals. She fights back in the only manner she knows.

I put The Awakening on my Classics Club list because it is often included in studies of feminist history, which is a subject that I find very interesting. Plus, not gonna lie, it’s short. So I went into this story knowing nothing more about it than that.

I somehow managed to avoid finding out what happens to Edna (the main character) before reading, and I think this really affected my reaction to the story. So if you haven’t read it yet, please keep in mind:

This review contains spoilers.

Here, have a bit of a line break while you think about whether you want to go on reading this review or not….

– – – –

I wasn’t really expecting Edna to commit suicide, in part because the few reviews I had read before even putting The Awakening on my to-read list made only oblique references to her “choice to leave” or similar.

Now that I understand what they mean, I’m particularly confused by the negative reviews that complain about Edna being generally unrelatable/immoral and condemn her gradual, then suddenly final abandonment of her family. I would argue for a more empathetic view of the situation.

I think the ending of the story shines a particularly illuminating light on the main character’s previous thoughts + actions. The woman is depressed or otherwise mentally unwell. She is having a crisis. This crisis is caused by her being “boxed in” to a particular role by her culture, a role she is not suited for but cannot wholly escape except in one way.

She begins to have an emotional affair with one man, then a physical affair with another; she sends her children away to live with her husband’s family and leaves her husband. Her instability is obvious to everyone around her, and at one point a doctor encourages her to come to him for help. But what kind of help could he really have offered, in this era before psychotherapy and SSRIs?

This was all terribly shocking behavior to the Victorians that were this story’s original readers. Of course a modern reader, especially a socially conservative one, might also think her actions are repugnant — but we also live in a culture where women can have careers and don’t have to marry well or risk lifelong poverty/seclusion, where having children is a positive choice rather than the default assumption, where people can get divorced if their marriage falls apart instead of being unhappily trapped forever. It’s impossible to judge Edna by modern standards when she didn’t have the advantages of modern options.

Well, anyway, this was a depressing story, and not at all what I was looking for when I was hoping for a bit of “light” summer reading. On to the next one….


Links:


Publication information: Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Company, 1899.
Source: Project Gutenberg.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Backlist Love | Two Preston & Child Novels

July 1, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

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Riptide by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (Macmillan, 1998)

Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (Macmillan, 1995)

Relic

Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human…

But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders. Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?

Riptide

For generations, treasure hunters have tried to unlock the deadly puzzle known as the Water Pit: a labyrinth of shafts and tunnels that honeycombs the heart of a small island off the coast of Maine. Reputed to be the hiding place of pirate treasure, the Water Pit possesses an inexplicable ability to kill those who venture into it, from professionals to innocent explorers. But now one man has made a startling discovery: The Water Pit is actually a carefully designed fortress, conceived for pirates by a renowned seventeenth-century architect who hid his plans in code.

A thriller of the highest order, Riptide is an extraordinary novel of obsession, courage, and adventure. With each nerve-racking page we are swept into the mystery and the challenge of Ragged Island and forced to face the haunting question: Is the Water Pit a gateway to limitless treasure–or to hell itself?

Why I liked them

Actually, I chose to feature these books today because my spouse really likes Preston & Child books, and today is his birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to tell y’all a little about how the other half reads.

I do like these two titles in particular, though. Relic is actually the first in a series of books that follow the thrilling adventures of investigator Aloysius Pendergast, but I think it stands well on its own. I loved the museum setting and, like, it doesn’t *exactly* involve dinosaurs, but it kind of does? No spoilers! Riptide really is a stand-alone, and I enjoyed it in particular because it involves pirates and a mysterious curse.

Preston & Child are masters of thrill and suspense. I was too keyed up to sleep properly after I started reading Relic the first time. And don’t let the double authorship turn you off — it’s really impossible to tell which bits are written by which person.

Who I’d recommend them to

These are great books for anyone looking for a contemporary (er, semi-contemp by now I guess), science-ish / paranormal-ish thriller. Relic is possibly the better of the two, but if you aren’t sure about starting a series right now you should definitely give Riptide a try. Like Michael Chrichton or Dan Brown? You should definitely try these books.

Links

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2016 Projects Halfway Point

June 30, 2016 Books 2

Well, we’re now done with the 6th month of the year, so I guess it’s time for a check-up on my little projects, eh? (Here’s my Current Projects page, FFR…)

Foodies Read

I’ve read 4 books so far for this challenge. I still have a couple of other “foodie” books that I want to tackle before the year is out, though.

  1. The Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury — Reviewed 18 June 2016
  2. Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson — Reviewed 27 Feburary 2016
  3. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt — Reviewed 31 January 2016
  4. Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm — From Scratch by Lucie Amundsen — Reviewed 9 May 2016

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge

I don’t review every single book I read, and several of the books I’ve pulled off my own shelves this year for this challenge have passed “under the radar” in this way. Plus, I’m on a mini book-buying ban until after our trip to Chicago later this summer.

  1. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen — Currently reading
  2. Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson — Reviewed 27 February 2016
  3. The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe by Allison Dolan — Read January 2016; Not reviewed here
  4. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt — Reviewed 31 January 2016
  5. Foundation by Isaac Asimov — Reviewed 29 January 2016
  6. How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman — Currently reading
  7. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman — Read March 2016; Not reviewed here
  8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Reviewed 6 March 2016
  9. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore — Read April 2016; Not reviewed here
  10. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind — Reviewed 13 Feburary 2016

Women’s Classic Literature Event

I’m quite glad the Classics Club initiated this project, as it’s given me a little bit of a push to tackle a few more books on my CC list.

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery — Currently reading
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin — Review coming soon
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell — Reviewed 19 June 2016
  4. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall — Reviewed 26 March 2016
  5. Middlemarch by George Eliot — Abandoned!
  6. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman — Reviewed 6 February 2016

Movie Musicals Challenge

Oh dear – I’ve only watched 4 out of 25 titles on this list! Well, to be fair, I thought I watched Show Boat, but it wasn’t the 1936 version that made the AFI list. I didn’t at all like the version from the ’50’s that I did watch, so I’m not counting it and I’m holding out for the “real” film – if I can find it in a nearby library or streaming somewhere.

  1. On the TownReviewed 26 January 2016
  2. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers — Reviewed 20 June 2016
  3. The Sound of Music — Reviewed 4 June 2016
  4. The Wizard of OzReviewed 5 March 2016

Well, I can’t say that any of this is particularly impressive, but I can say that these little challenges have induced me to read/watch things I never would have thought of otherwise, so that’s something. Wish me luck with catching up!


League of Dragons
by Naomi Novik

June 29, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik | March June 2016 | Del Rey | hardback $28

The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory… but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

I’m so glad I started reading the Temeraire series just when I did. (Previous post here.) I think I might have gone crazy having to wait too long for the last book. Turns out, I only had to wait a week — and since I preordered it, League of Dragons showed up at my door on release day! When I got the delivery notification I was too distracted to get much work done for the rest of the day.

This review does not include any spoilers, but it does assume some knowledge of the previous books in the series and, like, basic world history.

This was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the series. The adventures of the dragon Temeraire and his human William Laurence have all been leading up to this point — the climax of an AU Napoleonic War that has turned out to be more global than even WWI. By this point, the pair have traveled to 5 continents and encountered dragons and humans from a huge range of other races/breeds/cultures. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge sucker for world building, and seeing how Novik imagined all these different human-dragon relationships was by far my favorite thing about this series. If she ever wants to write one of those encyclopedia-like companion books with more info about dragons across cultures, I would be all over that in a heartbeat.

Alas, all stories and wars must come to an end, even for Napoleon. I was surprised but delighted by the way that Napoleon was finally “disposed of” (and the behind-the-curtain architect of this suddenly became one of my favorite characters)… although, you have to wonder if he will end up having his Waterloo in this AU, too. I think it likely. Which brings me to one of the things that I liked about this book — most of the foundational threads are tied up and it does “feel” like an ending, but there are still enough questions about the future to keep a reader’s imagination going for some time. I can’t say I was 100% satisfied with everything that happened, but that’s life. The only thing I can’t imagine is that Temeraire and Laurence will manage to stay out of trouble for very long!

However, I do think that the book wasn’t long enough and the chapters jumped around more than I would have liked. I can appreciate the fade-to-black scene change method, but when every chapter end/begins that way it can be a bit much. Honestly, I would rather have had an extra hundred pages if it would have allowed for smoother transitions. I would have actually liked to read the scenes that were skipped over! (Can’t say much without spoiling, but seriously, LIEN.) And I found it slightly confusing at a couple of points. Oh, well.

The 5-star rating is for the series as a whole. Some books were better than others. Some characters were interesting, some were pointless, some were irritating, and a few even grew on me as the series went on. The plot was perfectly paced for the most part, though there were some too-slow and too-quick spots. But overall, I gobbled up these books like a humpback whale gobbles up krill, and even after finishing the series I’m still enjoying daydreaming about the world that Novik built. So yeah, solid 5 stars from me!


Links:


Publication information: Novik, Naomi. League of Dragons. New York: Del Rey Books, 2016. Print.
Source: Purchased for home library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


If Gone With the Wind Characters Went to Hogwarts

June 25, 2016 Books 4

Because I spent so much time pondering GWTW, and because when I spend too much time rolling a thought around in my brain it inevitably rolls back around to Harry Potter somehow….

Slytherin — Scarlett O’Hara
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How can Scarlett not be Slytherin? The Sorting Hat would barely have touched her pretty little head before it shouted out “Slytherin!” — she’s more ambitious and self-centered than any Malfoy ever was. She wants every man to admire her and she wants to be the wealthiest woman on the planet, and she’ll stop at nothing to achieve either of those things, even if she hurts other people. Plus, she looks simply perfect in her favorite color, green.

Hufflepuff — Melanie Hamilton & Mammy
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If you want a loyal and hard-working character, look no further than Melanie. Melanie and Scarlett are the quintessential unstoppable #Slytherpuff pairing.

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Talk about “unafraid of toil”… and Mammy sticks with the O’Hara family for generations, even after she’s free to leave — they couldn’t possibly survive without her, and she knows it, and makes sure they know it, too. (But I do wonder whether it’s fair to sort her based on her behavior as an enslaved person… don’t you think her personality might have been different if she was born free?)

Ravenclaw — Ashley Wilkes
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The man who mystifies/fascinates Scarlett because he’d rather read or discuss philosophy than hunt and gamble with other men, who writes long troubled letters to his wife about the politics of the war he felt forced to join — this guy couldn’t be anything other than a thoughtful, knowledge-hungry Ravenclaw.

Gryffindor — Gerald O’Hara & Rhett Butler
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Gerald (Scarlett’s father) as an easy one. He’s bold and isn’t afraid to pursue whatever he likes, whether that’s a plantation of his very own or a pretty young woman from high society for a wife. But he’s also hot-headed, prone to arguments and leaping fences that he ought not to.

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Rhett, though, was really hard to sort out! First thought — Slytherin. He’s ambitious and not afraid to get his hands dirty to get what he wants, nor is he particularly bound by high society’s opinion of him. But… if he was truly ambitious in the traditional sense, wouldn’t he have finished school at West Point? Wouldn’t he have married that Charleston girl to avoid being disowned? And if he was only motivated by self interest (which is not necessarily a true Slytherin trait, but I digress), would he have gone off to join the army after the burning of Atlanta? Would he have put up with Scarlett’s nonsense for so long? I would argue that there is a strong case for Rhett to be sorted into Gryffindor.

All Hogwarts house images from hpstuffs.tumblr.com

So, tell me — would you sort these characters into different houses? What about some of the other characters from Gone With the Wind, either book or movie version?


Movie Musicals Challenge –
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

June 20, 2016 Just for Fun, Movies 6

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I made the mistake of watching this film the day after I rewatched The Sound of Music.

This one does not quite live up to THAT, and in my case suffered quite badly in comparison. I remember watching this movie with my mother a couple of times as a kid. She enjoys it, but I was not at all into it at the time. I thought that perhaps my feelings for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers would change now that I’m an adult. Well, I’m still just not into it — but at least now I can sort of articulate why.

First, though, let’s talk about the good stuff. After all, the film made it onto the AFI’s Top 25 Greatest Musicals list, so it must have some redeeming qualities!

Adam (the main dude character, played by Howard Keel) reminds me of a young, fit, handsome Santa. I know that sounds weird, but whatever, it’s true. Must be the red hair and the old-fashioned haircut/beard — don’t believe that poster image up above; the color version of this film gives Adam red hair + he starts off with a full beard. And I have to admit my L-O-V-E for Howard Keel’s voice. The man can sing.

The ultra-athletic dancing & fight scenes are also great. The studio actually hired mostly professional dancers rather than actors to play the brothers and their brides, and I have to applaud this choice. Thinking about it now, I kind of want to go ahead and rewatch a bunch of the dance scenes just to sigh over the choreography.

The scenery was not done particularly well, but again, I watched this just after finishing a film where the scenery was A+++ top notch amazing, so perhaps I’m not being fair. Milly (the main lady character, played by Jane Powell) has the most boring songs and — now this really is petty — her bright orange-pink lipstick was distractingly anachronistic (#makeupnerdproblems, #historicalcostumingnerdproblems). But, again, the dancing was SO GREAT that I could easily have overlooked this stuff if it hadn’t been for the particularly grating storyline.

This is where a lot of people are going to disagree with me, but I could not get past the grossness of the plot:

Bros want gals to cook/keep house/get sexy for them, bros can’t get gals to volunteer for this duty, so bros KIDNAP said gals, but really it’s fine because they’re totally nice guys, then Stockholm syndrome sets in and the gals decide that this is fine, meanwhile the one actually-married bro abandons his pregnant wife for the entire winter because she yelled at him for KIDNAPPING PEOPLE and he’s too much of a manchild to apologize, and anyway when the rescuers finally show up they elect to leave the gals in the hands of the kidnappers because one of them had a baby therefore they have all been deflowered and are ruined unless they marry the bros.

What the everloving heck? This is SO GROSS. Can we just acknowledge that no amount of cute puppy eyes and sad (yet totally on-beat) Lonesome Polecat stuff and impressive dance moves will change the fact that it is basically a subtly misogynistic retelling of the Rape of the Sabine Women (referenced several times in the show itself)? Even as a little kid this whole thing bothered me.

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Does this musical deserve a spot on the AFI’s list? Probably. Do I have to personally like it? Nope nope nope. I vaguely remember enjoying this as a stage play done by a small theater company ages ago, though I can’t at all remember when/where. Perhaps they did a better job of playing up the funny bits and smoothing over the more troubling themes.

Tell me — do you like or dislike this musical movie? Or have you seen a cool version of it on stage? I’d love to hear some other opinions on this!


Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell

June 19, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 3

Subtitled: Your Fav is Problematic, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book

Gone With the Wind was originally published 80 years ago this month, so it seemed like a good time to tackle it for my Classics Club reading challenge.

Hold on to your hoop skirts, because this book review is going to be a bit different from my usual short’n’sloppy fare.

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Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell | 1936 | Scribner| Hardcover $30

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell’s epic love story is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and its people forever changed. At the heart of all this chaos is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O’Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.

Where to start with this one?

If I was friends with Gone with the Wind on Facebook, our relationship status would be “It’s Complicated” …


It’s well-loved for a reason.

It’s beautifully written, with a near-perfect balance between character development, interesting plot, and atmospheric scenery. The pace never lags and no detail feels extraneous. I felt immersed Scarlett’s world, in the last days of the Confederacy and its Reconstruction. It was such a unique, strange place & time, simultaneously lavish and brutal, elegant and savage — it’s no wonder that so many people are fascinated by Southern plantation culture and the details of life before/during the Civil War as well as the war itself.

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Scarlett herself, though not precisely likeable, is well-developed and interesting. This book might even be a master class in making a basically narcissistic, mean-spirited and shallow character into someone that the reader can actually sympathize with + care about… even if she never freakin’ learns, the daft woman.

Many of her “co-stars” are well-developed and interesting, too — perhaps more interesting, but of course the story is all from Scarlett’s point of view and will therefore always be focused mainly on herself. Melanie and Scarlett together make quite the formidable pair of Southern Belles, and their friendship (such as it is, given Scarlett’s narcissism) is one of my favorite non-romantic relationships in literature.

BUT. The book is not without problems. I don’t know if it can stand on literary merit alone, and those problems deserve some discussion.


Popular things can be (and often are) problematic.

I’ve seen or heard this book called the literary equivalent of the Confederate flag, and even though I don’t want that to be true because it would mean that something I enjoyed/respected is downright bad, I can easily see why it may be viewed this way. Even though several of my own ancestors fought for the Confederacy and I try to respect the history of the South for what it is (painful as it is), I cannot condone modern use of the stars & bars flag because of its continued association with racist ideals.

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The glorification of the Antebellum South is extremely problematic, erasing as it does the suffering of literally millions of enslaved people in favor of rosy nostalgia for a kind of American nobility that lived on mint juleps and among magnolia trees. (And I can’t lie; that very atmosphere is one of the most appealing parts of the pre-war section of this book.) Should Gone With the Wind be treated the same way as the Confederate flag — as a relic of an embarrassing past, to be remembered but not revered?

Or, as a piece of work that has not only outlived but thrived well beyond its expected lifespan, should we be more forgiving of its quirks? After all, the story at its base is a kind of nihilistic coming-of-age tale, and it does not shy away from nastiness nor encourage many warm fuzzy feelings. If it doesn’t manage to address all the cruelties of slavery and war, well, that might simply be a function of its concentration on the life of one particularly self-centered character who, as complicated and problematic person herself, did not recognize all those cruelties.


Historical books deserve a little leeway.

By ‘historical books’, I mean both historically important AND fiction set in historical time periods. Gone With the Wind is included in both categories, having stood the test of time in the literary canon, and with the story being set approximately 70 years prior to the publication of the book itself.

GWTW_3

After all, adults who read this novel when it was first published in the late 1930’s had grandparents who lived through the Civil War & Reconstruction. In fact, we are farther removed now from the publication of Gone With the Wind than readers in 1936 were removed from the War Between the States. The equivalent for the modern reader might be a book set during WWII, from the perspective of a German or Japanese person. Such a book would no doubt be disturbing to read in some ways, but it might also offer interesting insight into the lives of people who experienced a devastating war and the total destruction of their culture.

Furthermore, the book itself is of historical importance. It won a Pulitzer in 1937 and inspired a hugely successful film that won 10 Academy Awards. To reject it outright as a relic of the past is to ignore the huge impact the book had on the culture of its own time period.


Historical leeway doesn’t make the bad parts any less cringe-worthy.

Subtitled: SO MUCH N-WORD HAPPENING WHY

Let’s go back to that example of a WWII historical fiction for the modern reader as a comparison to Gone With the Wind for its original audience. If the book was set in Germany, one might expect that it would include pejorative terms for Jewish people, or Polish or French or British people. Or perhaps it would have all the Jewish characters speaking some form of pidgin Yiddish. Those kinds of things are upsetting, especially in this historical context, and many readers might be upset at their inclusion, historical accuracy be damned. It is a fiction book, after all,and the author is choosing to use derogatory language about a severely abused group of people. But: is the author actually racist, or is she just aping the language/attitude of that place at that time?

GWTW_4

Is Mitchell’s somewhat upsetting, certainly patronizing treatment of her black characters a reflection of her own views, or an attempt at historical accuracy? Or, perhaps, both? Perhaps historical context necessitates some forgiveness on the part of the present-day reader. And yet, when that historical context includes racist language, or more complicated issues like the encouragement of the devoted and coddled near-family slave trope in the form of Mammy and other slave characters, how far should that forgiveness extend?


But sometimes you just have to accept (and even love?) a thing for what it is, warts and all.

Complications and ambiguity are just part of life and human history, and are necessarily going to be part of a story about a very imperfect person’s life during any historical time period. Yes, even in fiction — in fact, I think complications and ambiguity can be a sign of good fiction.

In the end, I’ve decided to go with my gut and just accept that I enjoyed reading Gone With the Wind. It’s simply an engaging story and, because the story centers on a purposefully problematic main character, I’m inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the problems of derogatory terms + condescending treatment of slaves.

I also have to accept that being able to enjoy this book may be in itself a function of white privilege. Did my own ancestors’ privilege as descendants of Europeans instead of Africans in the slavery-dependent South before the Civil War echo down the years to confer upon me the privilege of being able to enjoy this book in the present, a century and a half after slavery was abolished in our country? Probably, which is why I think it is important to address my misgivings about the book here, & to absolutely avoid the temptation of Old South glorification.

This is the third time I’ve read Gone With the Wind. I was a child the first time I read it, which was soon after seeing the movie version. It was one of the first “grown-up” novels I ever read, and I loved it with the kind of uncomplicated love that only a child who has never directly or even indirectly experienced racism or the destruction of one’s home/entire culture can feel. I thought it was a lovely story about a plucky girl in fantastic dresses who didn’t care what anyone thought of her — because I was a little budding feminist, & I somehow managed to admire Scarlett because I imagined her story was all about fighting The Man. (Plus, I had a little crush on Rhett.) When I read it again several years later, as an undergrad whose eyes had been freshly opened to the actual history of the Civil War and racism in America in general, I was disgusted. Why was this book so popular; couldn’t people see how horrible it was, how horrible Scarlett herself was? I had not yet learned how to enjoy reading about “unlikable” characters, or how to handle the guilt of my own ancestors’ misdeeds. (Although I still had the tiniest bit of a crush on Rhett.)

I’m glad I chose to read it a third time. I can see now why I admired Scarlett as a kid: she was outspoken, flirtatious, strong-willed, and generally fancy — all of the things I wasn’t. And even though I’m still disturbed by certain aspects of the book, I guess I’ve learned to accept those flaws as parts of the overall-worthwhile whole. (And I’m still rather charmed by that scamp Rhett, to be honest.)

GWTW_2

Gone With the Wind is, I think, a good book/movie to have in a COLLECTION of other books and media about/set during the Civil War. It’s a good work in an of itself, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it should stand on its own as a singular perspective on life in the Old South. Here are a few other options for starters:

  • Mercy Street (2016 TV series, PBS)
  • Roots (1977 TV series, ABC; based on novel of the same name by Alex Haley)
  • Jezebel (1938 film, Warner Bros.)
  • Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
  • Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone ed. by John Q. Anderson
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Haven’t read yet; on my next Classics Club list)
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs (Haven’t read yet; on my next Classics Club list)

And check out these links for some other perspectives:

Got your own opinions? Gone With the Wind does invite a lot of criticism as well as praise, and I’d love to hear what you think. Talk to me!


Publication information: Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. New York: Scribner, 1964. Print.
Source: Personal library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.