Gone with the Wind

Clark_Gable_Vivien_Leigh_Gone_With_the_Wind
Clark Gable & Vivien Leigh. Just delicious.

I’ll start with my conclusion. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind has been the best reading experience I have had in years. Hands down. Why then have I found it so insurmountably difficult to jot down my thoughts? Perhaps it’s the fear that I simply won’t be able to do it justice….

It’s crazy to think that, up until a couple of months ago I had neither read the classic novel nor watched the universally popular film adaptation of GWTW. With a grossly misinformed view that this might be a little too trashily romantic for me (perhaps due to the famous swooning snapshot), it took a discounted Oxfam copy for me to finally pick up, having no idea just how much fun I was letting myself in for.

Not that many of you will need a synopsis but, for ignoramuses like myself; GWTW follows the life and times of quintessential Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara during the American Civil War and the turbulent period of Restoration afterwards. Scarlett is a charming, confident, manipulative young woman, the offspring of French aristocracy on her Mother’s side and Irish ne’er-do-wells on that of her Father; Gerald O’Hara. We witness her survival and that of her family and friends during the most turbulent period of their lives, desperately clinging to the ‘old ways’ and what they represent. For Scarlett this is the red earth and billowing cotton fields of Tara; her home.

Overlapping the action and high drama of war is the passion Scarlett holds for impenetrable aristocrat Ashley Wilkes; a man with his head in his books and the past, unable to come to terms with the changes around him. With her tempestuous relationship with blockader and all around cad Rhett Butler running in sharp contrast, it is for the intrepid reader to discover just which way the wind will blow for Scarlett …

819699This doorstop, epic novel quite literally has it all. Romance, history, politics, action and even feminism. Gone With the Wind was a bestseller from its publication back in 1936 and has never been out of print, with the Hollywood movie starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (the very essence of the characters they portray) coming out just 3 years later.

No need for a cast list for this bad boy. Every single one of Mitchell’s hundreds of characters; from the field hands and soldiers to Scarlett and Rhett themselves are so colourfully, wonderfully drawn that even I, with my rubbish memory and lack attention to detail remembered and cared about every last one of them. Even Scarlett; a fickle, unscrupulous, selfish woman is just so imperfect, so flawed in every way (apart from her green green eyes of course!) that you can’t help but hold her close to your heart. Her strength and modernity in comparison with the social norms for women in the American south at the time makes her, flaws aside, an indisputable literary role model. Between her flagrant rejection of social norms and niceties and Rhett’s bulging biceps, I was captivated.

On top of all this and as I’ve said in the past, it makes me so happy when I actually manage to learn something from my fiction reading. Being British, it follows that we don’t necessarily tend to learn much about US domestic history at school (focusing instead on the very short reign of one sensational royal family). The knowledge I’ve gained about the civil conflict and restoration in 19th century America by virtue of reading this book has just been a huge eye opener. Mitchell’s epic has come under criticism for presenting a ‘positive’ slave narrative, where slaves are seen to enjoy their jobs and feel secure in their lives and lot, a point of view that is understandably difficult to swallow. Although GWTW makes some feel uncomfortable in that respect, it didn’t bother to me too much considering that Mitchell’s narrative is essentially told through the eyes of the white, slave-owning confederate classes. If anything it made me think a little more deeply about the slave trade in America; it’s complexities, horrors and implications.

Thought-provoking, breathtaking and heartwarming, I won’t be forgetting this book in a hurry. Now….how long should I wait until I tackle a reread?

Is it possible to have a favourite book? If so, what is yours and why?

 

Crooked Heart

23346551

My review below was featured as part of the lovereading.com’s feature on the brilliant Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans. Find the whole caboodle here: http://www.lovereading.co.uk/book/14371/Crooked-Heart-by-Lissa-Evans.html

World War II, the Blitz and the human dramas surrounding it do, and have always, provided perfect fodder for authors. But has this well-trodden path seen one too many interpretations? If the wit and uplifting spirit of Lissa Evans’ new novel is anything to go by, not one bit. 

Longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction this year, in ‘Crooked Heart’ Evans provides a refreshing perspective on the traumas of war on the Homefront through the unlikely, amusing and thoroughly heart-warming pairing of debtridden widow Vera ‘Vee’ Sedge and evacuee Noel Bostock; whose mysterious upbringing and book smarts Vee faces with incredulity. Stumbling around the bomb-ridden capital, the two encounter a variety of quirky, achingly British characters whose stories truly bring this period to life.

Careful not to forget the very pertinent hardships of those now living under bombardment, Evans’ remembrance and inclusion of the country’s suffragettes provided a refreshing angle that leaves the reader hankering for more. From Noel’s indomitable godmother to the flirty factory girls and the painfully flawed Vera, women really are represented as forming the backbone of the nation in this frank, bittersweet novel.

With the sweetness and subtle humour of this tale chugging along until the very end, the lack of any ‘big reveal’ or hard-hitting Blitz-extravaganza may disappoint some. For me this was an honest, touching and terribly funny book, all the more poignant for its fun and its foibles. Unpretentious historical fiction at its best.

I rarely let book prize-hype sway my reading but so enjoyed Evans’ entertaining new novel. Which book was the highlight of the 2015 prizes for you?

Chin chin!

by frankieleon via Flickr
by frankieleon via Flickr

A very Happy New Year to all of you lovely bookish folk! I’m not at all one for NYE, which, without sounding like too much of a miserable cow, I think is grossly overrated. A curry, a few g & ts and the local pub is enough for me thanks very much (I actually almost stayed awake to see it in this year!)

What I do love however is a brand new reading year, with all its delicious possibilities. Rather than making me panic, cataloging my physical TBR pile is actually making me super excited for the months ahead and, with a more modest goal of 50 books for next year, I am all set and raring to go.

Before I do that though, I’m going to allow a little self-indulgence and reveal my stats for last year. Because I LOVE stats!

Capture

Check out my corny corny face. Cockier than it should be since, as mentioned the other day, I only managed 43 out of my goal of 60 books to read this year. I blame David Copperfield and Gone with the WindI haven’t even finished GWTW yet, having to break off to read other things, but I just don’t care as both novels have simply been an absolute pleasure and privilege to read.

Just 43 books has, however, amounted to 13,670 pages. Immense.

With me still slogging in23301818to 2016 with Margaret Mitchell’s classic, David Copperfield was, unsurprisingly, my longest book of the year, the shortest being We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Although my other half was, I think, expecting a little more from this slender little number, I felt more than affected and inspired by her essay; based on 2013 TEDx Talk (kindly lent to me by one of my book club folk).

The most universally popular book I read was, again unsurprisingly, The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsI’m a bit perplexed reading my review back, I did carry on with myself a bit but I did only give this 2 stars on Goodreads and I’m sticking with it. Entertaining certainly, but nothing special.

Overall my average score was 3.3 out of 5 for the books I read in 2015. Hardly sensational but you can’t always have a stellar year. My current read is making up for it in droves and, with my newly organised system in place, 2016 is going to be simply fantabulous.

Although I’ve been devouring blog posts and plans all day, I’d like to hear your thoughts for 2016 reading. Are you making a concrete plan or just going with the flow? 

The bottomless joys of the TBR pile…

Carl_Spitzweg_021

Merry Christmas folks! Hope you are all having a restful holiday period, whether working or not this time of year never fails to feel just a little bit special. In the Relish household it always ample time for a refresh and recap and this always inevitably means a frightening look at a) the painfully few books I have managed to read this year (answer: 43, of my intended, though challenging, 60. Painfully embarrassing) and b) the sheer size of my TBR pile.

On the positive side, this year has brought with it some wonderful connections with bookish folk and, luckiest of all, the opportunity to meet some of them; namely the lovely Rebecca Foster, aka ‘Bookish Beck‘, and her other half on their trip to Manchester back in August. She has thoughtfully tagged me into this very here meme to set me on the right track for 2016…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Largely not at all well due to previous, unorganised behaviour. I recently decided however that that had to change. At the moment, they sit on my Goodreads ‘to-read’ list, a tool I find invaluable and which I will soon be adding all my physical books to. A mammoth task for the Christmas holidays!

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

Although I appreciate the advantages ebookof eBooks, it’s simply not a format for me. Strangely enough, apart from the simple delight of the smell and texture of a print copy, I actually struggle to engage with some books when they’re an eBook copy. A psychological block me thinks…

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?

Apart from books I read for book club or to follow along with Penguin’s Happy Reader quarterly , I mainly let my Goodreads ‘to-read’ list guide me, and my mood, of course.

12640991A book that has been on my TBR the longest

Apart from the obvious classics that I have wanted to read forever? The oldest book on my Goodreads TBR is Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell. Clearly I haven’t been on there very long!

A book I recently added to my TBR

One of the most recent was The King is Dead by the fabulous Suzannah Lipscomb which I received for Christmas. Despite having them pushed upon me twice at school, I still have a bit of a love affair with the Tudors. This gorgeous book explores Henry VIII’s last will and testament and its myriad of implications.

A book on my TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover18080204

Although I’m an absolute sod for a pretty cover, I never stick anything on the TBR that I really don’t want to read so – all of Essie Fox’s books please :)

A book on my TBR that I never plan on reading

A few of the classics on there are pretty ridiculous (e.g. Ulysses, ha ha). I also accept the fact that many of them are on there just to remind me they exist, rather than me ever planning on getting around to them at any point, ever.

downloadAn unpublished book on my TBR that I’m excited for

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel; third and final piece of her spectacular Cromwell trilogy. Will this ever come out!? There are also, as always, a few others I’m particularly looking forward to; The Girls by Emma Cline and The Ballroom by Anna Hope to name just two.

A book on my TBR that everyone recommends

Almost too many to count but, that immediately springs to mind; In Cold Blood by Trumane Capote. I’m pretty disgusted that I haven’t read it yet.

A book on my TBR that everyone has read but me6088632

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (I know.)

A book on my TBR that I’m dying to read

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. It’s supposed to be amazing and the cover is just gorgeous.

How many books are on your TBR shelf?

Hundreds – including books I own….well over 600. With that thought, I better go and find a reading nook somewhere…. Eeeek!

Scarthin Books (take two)

IMG_3699

With a sleuth of much-needed time-off at home coming up this Christmas, it’s time yet again to recoup, relax and recap on all the marvellous moments of 2015; particularly the bookish stuff.

Following one amazing morning hot air ballooning (a previous Christmas gift) over the jewel-coloured hills of Derbyshire, the other half and I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and go on the hunt for intriguing nooks and crannies. Scarthin Books (whose inspiring Crowdfunding campaign I featured here back in April) was one such nook I was determined to get to. Nestled in the hills in the village of Cromford, following a scrummy chippy dinner we were ready and raring to go on the hunt for books.

scarthin1

Scarthin is not only a bookish labyrinth in the truest sense of the word but what became very clear after hiding in the stacks for a while is that it is very much a heart of this small community. A community of avid readers by the looks of things, who contentedly popped in and out to browse and gossip the whole time we were there. Awesome.

scarthin2

Although the second-hand fiction section wasn’t quite big enough for true Lucy perfection (I need the challenge!) the overall selection, all divided up into their individual shelves/rooms over a gorgeous three floors, was mind boggling. The children’s room was particularly gorgeous, laid out beautifully with an arty collage of book plates and paper trees up on the ceiling. Magical. I just need more children to buy for!

scarthin3

Having contributed my own little bit of cash to Scarthin’s bid to take care of their creeky old building and ensure that it can continue to bring joy to the community and its visitors for many more years to come, it was so nice to see how cared for this place really is. I’m a big believer of book shops that encourage its shoppers to stay and browse all day and these comfy chairs and cosy clock create just the environment in which to do so.

scarthin4

Don’t be fooled however. This place isn’t just a haven for hardened readers but also, reassuringly, a savvy business, making those bestsellers and latest crazes (e.g. adult colouring books) easy to find for the casual peruser. Decent book shops that actually manage to keep themselves ticking over in these Kindle-laden times are few and far between and it’s heartening to see somewhere where some serious book/market knowledge is abound. (e.g. a beautifully curated selection of books on the British countryside on the stands next to the till – Lewis-Stempel’s Meadowland, Macdonald’s H is for Hawk … it was all there…)

scarthin5

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, lurking in a quiet corner was a little room full to the brim (and pasted to the ceiling) with sheet music of all varieties. My baby brother would just DIE.

scarthin6

It’s hard to imagine the UK was so dry and gloriously sunny this year. Eating our chippy on the banks of the river and glancing out of the stacks at the geraniums was just delicious and, feeling the pub garden beckoning, I, with much self-control, left with just two volumes; an original copy of East Lynne by Ellen Wood (a largely overlooked classic I’ve been meaning to read for years) and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. The other half, in his usual esoteric fashion, snapped up Ghond the Hunter by Dhan Mukerji. Which, incidentally, has a pretty shite Goodreads rating.

scarthin7

If you’re in the South Derbyshire region some time soon please please do pay this wonderful bookshop a visit and keep the festive feeling going by buying a little something bookish for a loved one this new year…