9/1/13 – VISITS TO TARA
Millions of books were published last year. (Yes, really!) There’s a literary smorgasbord out there filled with more tasty stories than anyone could possibly devour in a single lifetime. Why, then, do we still make time to reread certain titles?
Everyone revisits books now and then, whether picking up a fun, familiar read when between fresh titles or settling in with a comfortable favorite at bedtime. But I’m talking about the ritual reread, the story we purposely reach for again and again.
I first read Gone with the Wind the July before I started high school. Bored with a summer consisting more of babysitting than excitement, my best friend and I debated endlessly: Rhett or Ashley? Scarlett or Melanie? Since real life was filled with unrequited crushes (and a total lack of passion), Ashley represented a safe, courtly love too romantic to resist. And, except for the dying part, Melanie trumped Scarlett, who was spoiled and mean enough to remind us of all the popular girls out having spectacular fun while we watched other people’s kids.
The more confidence I gained in my own life, the more I appreciated Scarlett and Rhett. But during my third summer read, their relationship took a back seat to my blossoming interest in history. This time my focus was on historical detail: the styles and customs of the Civil War south and the rhythm of daily life. As a bonus, I discovered that understanding the world in which the book’s characters lived added facets to their personalities that I hadn’t noticed before.
Senior year classes introduced me to the concept of historical perspective. During that year’s summer read, I saw Margaret Mitchell as a daughter of the south whose information was based on stories she’d heard in her youth. Using this filter reminded me that her snapshot of history was more personal than factual. My new analytical skills sharpened my character observations as well. I finally fully recognized the survivor beneath Scarlett’s selfish exterior. Melanie, too, regained stature as I noted her inner strength and integrity. Now, with so many layers and perceptions in place, Gone with the Wind felt more nuanced to me than ever before.
A curious thing happened during the busy summer following my sophomore year of college. I flipped pages, skimming only the passages I liked best. I often set the book down and did not come back to it for days.
The next summer my calendar was full, and I didn’t even lift the book from the shelf. I haven’t read it since.
My rereads were worth the time. Books we love don’t change, but we do. Each time I revisited Tara and Atlanta, the story was different because I was different. In a way, this old friend of a book helped me grow up.
It’s a rare book that reverberates like this. If you’ve experienced a book that matters, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe it’s time for a new yearly obsession!