Wednesday 4 September 2013

Book love

Each month I chat about what books I've been reading in my monthly Book Love feature. I haven't read much this month (in my defence, I've had quite a lot on!), but ohhhh have they been good ones.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Oh boy. A Monster Calls comes from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, an author who died of cancer before she could finish the book. Patrick Ness took on the characters, the idea, and the start she had made, to put together a heart-breaking story that is powerful and raw and scary and brutal. It's the story of a teenage boy who is struggling to cope with grief and loss... it's hard to sum it up really. I finished the book on the bus home, and I absolutely sobbed (thank god for dark sunglasses, and bus passengers too polite to say anything). Super powerful stuff. Read it. (But make sure you get the illustrated edition).

Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
I've had a copy of Gone with the Wind sitting on my bookshelf for years, but I always put off reading it as I thought it would be a bit boring (just looking at it brought back horrible memories of Middlemarch, which I struggled through at uni). But one day I was feeling a bit cross and miserable, and I really fancied reading something that was a little miserable too.

It's quite hard to sum up how I feel about Gone with the Wind. On one hand, I absolutely loved it. I love Scarlett - she's brash and she's cunning, she knows exactly what she wants, and despite being so utterly unlikeable at (many, many) points, I adored her. The book follows the epic journey of her life, from her start as a spoiled rich girl obsessed with beaux, through the Civil War, marriages, deaths, betrayals and heartbreak. It gripped me from the opening pages, and I actually felt a bit emotionally shaken throughout - I was so invested in Scarlett, so hurt when she did something foolish, or when she lost things through her own pride and stubbornness. As a character novel it's incredible.

But, bloody hell, it's unbelievably racist. If a book was written a long time ago, can you forgive racism, or sexism, by just writing them off as being "a thing of their time"? Scarlett grows up on a plantation, slavery is a constant throughout the whole book, characters (that you like!) are part of the Klan... Scarlett accepts that, you follow her lead, and that's terrible. So what does that mean for the book itself? Should it not be read?

I've been struggling against this since reading it, and found a few essays online that were pretty interesting (Reading against the Wind by Rohan Maitzen is particularly good). If you have any thoughts on this, please feel free to comment - it would be interesting to hear what others think.

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