Gone with the Wind

Best of 2011

The Best And The Worst Reads Of 2011

Again, I am taking a break from the weekly book write-up to sort of honor the best books that I have read this year.

There are already a lot of book blogs with similar posts, and I am tempted to pattern my best and worst list from some. I chose not to because I know I would never finish this post. So what I did is that I thought of a pseudo-award for each book included in my list.

Let me just state for the record that 2011 is the most voracious reading year in my life. Ever. Hurrah! That’s 52 books, if you want to know, which is more or less one book a week. I hope to do an encore next year. Or even beat this record.

Below is the list of books that I gave five stars, in alphabetical order. They are 12, so I might as well call them The 12 Books of 2011. Titles with an asterisk (*) are books that are in my Top 5. Without further ado here they are.

Atonement by Ian McEwan (Best Movie Tie-In) – I have a different experience with this book because when my friend and I were ranting about it, he inadvertently told me the structure of the novel. That is a major spoiler, and I almost killed him for it. But when I think about it, I think it made me love the novel more. Cecilia’s “Come back” haunts me every time I think of this novel. Spoilers aren’t so bad after all.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (Best Young Adult Novel. Okay, this is not really YA, but since the protagonist is twelve years old…) – Okay, call me a rabid fan. I admit it. I might have given this five stars just because I am a fan, but let me just say that it really, really deserves the rating that I gave it. This is what I would call a literary young adult novel. It is nostalgic and subtly heartbreaking. And if you want to have a brand new copy of this book, keep tracking this blog. I am brewing something.

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder* (Best Graphic Novel. Well, my edition has beautiful illustrations.) – Short but heart-wrenching. Poignant and unforgettable. The characters have all something to say. Their loneliness is recognizable. And why did that bridge fall? Is it an architectural problem? Or is it the weight of the people’s hearts? I even bought an extra copy so that I could shove it to other people’s faces and make them read it.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell* (Best New Author. Not necessarily new, but new is used relatively here.) – By god’s nightgown! Yes, this is a staggering literary achievement. And yes, two David Mitchell novels in a Top 12 list might send eyebrows orbiting, but really, this novel pushed the limits of the novel form. I don’t think there is nothing that Mitchell cannot do with a novel. And should I still mention that I am more than excited to watch the upcoming film adaptation?

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Best Drama Series. Drama series translates to a looong novel.) – A literal doorstopper. Not as literary as it seems. It is a surprisingly easy read despite the breadth. Wonderfully annoying. Scarlett O’Hara will always be an unforgettable character. She will be remembered as the strong-headed woman. Never mind her scheming and devious ways. You have to give her credit for that.

The Gospel According To Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago* (Lifetime Achievement Award) – Thought-provoking, funny, bittersweet. Not for the faint of heart and for the faithless. I think this is a more intelligent version of the Robert Langdon series. But I haven’t read those, and it is not a fair comparison because Saramago is seated on a higher level. And how can I forget this line: One has to be God to enjoy so much bloodshed.

Hunger by Knut Hamsun* (Best Novel of the Year) – You saw this coming. This is my favorite read of the year. How could a late 19th century novel sound so modern? It’s because this is set to become a classic. One of the frontrunners of pantheism, this book is a wild ride that takes us to the recesses of a man’s mind who is trying to achieve transcendence through hunger. I committed myself to buying every copy that I see in Book Sale branches and give them away. I already gave a fellow blogger a copy.

Independent People by Halldor Laxness* (Best Child Actor, the poetic Little Noni) – They say it’s about coffee and sheep. Even the person who wrote the introduction said that. But aside from these two is the battle between a father swallowed by pride and a stepdaughter engulfed with contempt. And the persistence of people to defy the laws of fate and nature. And there’s Little Noni who imagines apples are red potatoes.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (Best Soundtrack. Soundtrack translates to being a real lyric page-turner. Okay, I am just forcing that to make two things connect.) – A new take on black slavery. Blacks owning blacks. A race within a race. Regardless of that, this is a stunner. At the end of the book, it poses this question: are you sure you are lucid enough to know what the world is made of? And then there’s Luke, the boy who has to die just to break the chain of lies. And that little something about Luke is something that the author himself told me.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Best Screenplay. Screenplay translates to narratives, writing, passages, etc.) – A blog I am following is whining so much on how the subject of this book is not his cup of tea. Stop that already and grow up! We do not read Lolita because we have an interest in pedophile. We read it because Nabokov is a genius. He is capable of drawing sympathy from the reader and making the ageing narrator’s love for his stepdaughter probably one of the most convincing love stories ever written.

The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Best Actor, the dignified Mr. Stevens.) – After reading this, I became an official Ishiguro fan. I really felt like a dignified butler while I was reading this that it even got to the point that I was emulating Mr. Stevens. I would walk around our office with square shoulders and measured steps. And the subtlety of the narrative! It just hits you without even knowing when.

The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes (Best Short Film. Short film translates to single-sitting reads.) – Finally, a book that is actually published this year. I read this in one sitting as demanded by the book jacket. I’ve dilly-dallied with my rating for this, but I decided it deserves those five stars because of the narrator’s semblance to real life, which makes me further believe that we don’t own our memories. Our memories own us. And what we mistake for our memories might be just the workings of our twisted minds.

If there is a best list, it’s only fitting that there is a counterpart. And if I have a dozen books that I rated five stars this year, I only have five books that I rated one or two stars, which means I was pretty satisfied with most of the books that I read. And instead of a pseudo-award, I will make an attempt at humor by providing a title that I assume would summarize the whole novel to save others from misery.

Only two out of these five books were axed with a one star. And oh, the books that I rated with two stars do not necessarily mean that they are bad. They are relatively the worst because of the rating.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (Why You Should Not Flirt with Others When You Are Expected to Marry an Archer for a Very Long Time, 2 stars) – If this book were a color, this is the color mauve, a color trying to be either pink or purple that it ends up lost in the blandness between the two. I may have missed a lot, and how dare I diss this book, but I’d rather read a Russian or a 19th century English novel than this one.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Perform Euthanasia on a Severely Burned Man or Wait Forever for Him to Die, 2 stars) – I am surprised at myself for not liking this because this is the sort of book that I like. Or should like. Perhaps the narrative is too dreamy that it ended up not registering in my head. Like a dream. Yes it’s too dreamy, it’s about a man talking about his last days before he was burned. And a nurse who apparently likes dying burned men.

A Passage To India by E. M. Forster (The Accusations of a Sexually Deprived and Disillusioned English Woman, 2 stars) – Kiran Desai, in her The Inheritance of Loss, said something about the horror and pretense of non-Indians writing about India. Enough said. I’m sure at least one fellow blogger would back me up on this. And this fellow blogger, we both took the pain of reading this together. But still.

A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce (How to Write a Novel in the First Chapter and Fill the Next Four Chapters with a Lot of Muddled Talk, Talk, Talk, 1 star) – The narrative is clumsy. The thoughts are disjointed. There isn’t really anything going on. It feels like reading the first draft of a novel. Sure, the theme of the book is overarching, but I daresay it was not delivered as it would had it been written with more skillful writing.

Tropic Of Cancer by Henry Miller (How to Write a Novel in the Last Chapter and Fill the Previous 300 Pages with Words Synonymous with the Female Sex, 1 star) – Incoherent and bordering on trash, there’s not a lot to have this whole book redeemed. There are some good parts though, but the protagonist goes out of his way to return to that bombastic language that he uses. I tried counting how many times the word cunt was used. Of course, I lost track.

There you have it! More good books to come for the coming new year!

Gone With The Wind Diaries, VI

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Day 21: 55, 56, 57, 58

Okay, so Scarlett is pregnant again. Rhett does not know it yet because he left as soon as he could after their fiery lovemaking. And that moment sowed uhm, healthy seeds, into Scarlett’s…

But enough of that. Remember that Scarlett doesn’t really like babies? Oddly, she’s a tad excited to tell Rhett about it. But when Rhett came, months after, she is again mocked. He even told her that she might as well have a miscarriage. Which did happen right at that very instant.

And I love how Rhett confessed everything he feels for Scarlett to Melanie, Atlanta’s BFF. We see Rhett in his weakness. We never thought that Rhett can be so consumed with guilt, but here he is, blaming himself for the accident.

Ah. This is true love!

But life goes on. Rhett connives with Melanie to have Ashley buy the sawmills from Scarlett. I wonder how the novel would sound like if it were told in first person, in the eyes of Rhett. I really want to know what he thinks and how he feels for Melanie.

Day 22: 59, 60, 61, 62, 63

Explosive chapters. A lot of things going on. And it should only be expected. We are near the climax.

This novel is categorized by most as romance. And forgive me if I have this childish notion that romances are supposed to be sealed with a kiss.

So I guess this isn’t the standard romance that women would read and talk about in their little circles, giggling like they were in high school.

I almost feel that I was left hanging. Almost because I’m still satisfied. It’s just that I couldn’t really get the feel of the last few pages because my mind is stuck at Melanie’s house. Is it really that way with people that have beautiful intentions?

If the novel is not that long and we were only given a few glimpses of Melanie’s kind actions toward everyone, I wouldn’t be devastated. Just thinking about the near-end makes me sad.

And yes, who would give a damn to a woman like Scarlett? Certainly not our Rhett who did everything that he could to make the woman fall for her. But there she is with her strong will and her hard habits. She doesn’t have anyone now. She realizes that in the dream where she is shrouded in mist, it is Rhett that she is looking for. But it is too late. And I hear Scarlett telling her this: After all, tomorrow is another day!

Note: Notes cross-posted at GoodReads – The Filipino Group. Atty. Monique read this with me. We are both done! Look for her review of the book at Bookish Little Me.

Gone With The Wind Diaries, V

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Day 17: 42, 43, 44

The South is slowly rebuilding. A new beginning, so to speak, and with this comes baby Ella, who is a little disappointing to Scarlett. She lacked the charm that her mother has, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Scarlett’s set of business ethics is bordering on ruthlessness. I don’t have any qualms on leasing convicts because I think some convicts deserve a chance at getting back, like Archie. But leasing convicts should be as humane as possible. They should be fed properly. They should not be exploited. But that is not the case in Scarlett’s sawmills.

Sooner or later, she’ll get into trouble for this one. And she does, but not because of that. She was attacked on the road. Had it not been for Big Sam, she would have been, uhm, ravished?

Day 18: 45, 46, 47

Scarlett’s ambush causes a great commotion among the Confederates, now the Ku Klux Klan. They may have nothing in common with Scarlett, but she being a Southern woman, the men have a need to avenge her disgrace. Which is not so disgraceful because she already did a lot of things that can only make one wonder how she can still manage to face people.

The long and the short of it is that yes, the problem is taken care of, Scarlett’s attackers are punished, but not without losses because of the Yankee intervention. Ashley is shot but alive, Frank is shot too but didn’t survive. Rhett comes up a plan to cover for the men. The plan works, thanks to the complicity of Belle Watling, the “bad” woman, and Rhett’s relationship with the Yankee officers.

The Atlanta men and women are now forever indebted to Rhett for helping them, and their wrath for Scarlett is now incalculable. And what a way to end Part IV: Rhett and Scarlett get married! Finally! But this is not a marriage spun with Scarlett’s true love. I am starting to believe though that Rhett truly loves Scarlett.

And Scarlett, when will you ever learn to love?

Day 19: 48, 49, 50, 51

So many things going on! After the marriage, you can only expect a honeymoon. The not so new couple spent theirs at New Orléans, an even wilder city than Atlanta. And speaking of the latter, is something waiting for Scarlett once she returns to it?

Only her sawmills, because Atlanta people are still angry at Scarlett for the problems that she caused. But instead of people uniting against her, they are taking sides because Melanie defends her loyally. Anyone who goes against Scarlett also goes against Melanie.

Which is quite a problem because Melanie is the nucleus of the Atlanta society. What a powerful woman for someone who is so frail.

And yes, we all know Scarlett’s hatred for babies, but one should see this coming. Come to think of it, Scarlett’s children have no impact in the novel’s twists and turns. They are just mere designs, mostly because Scarlett was never really a mother to them.

Instead of taking care of the kids, she busies herself with earning more money and showing it to the poor Atlanta people’s face. She now owns the grandest mansion in town, one that is barely a home.

And will there be a loving family in such a mansion if Scarlett continues to nurse her feelings for Ashley and Rhett seeks female companionship out of jealousy? Can we really point our fingers to either one of them?

Day 20: 52, 53, 54

Rhett is changing his ways and doing his best to win the hearts of the Atlanta people, all because of his daughter Bonnie. Sweet, and it is paying off. People are starting to adore Rhett for his fathering ways. But Scarlett is a different story.

And speaking of Scarlett, she gets caught with a quite intimate talk with Ashley. Which is funny because this is the time she realized that she does not really love Ashley as a man. But it’s too late. She has to face people who are most likely talking about her infidelity at her back, and the worst of all is facing Melanie.

But Melanie dismisses all the talk about Ashley and Scarlett, even going as far as waging an open war against India, the embittered sister of Ashley who caught him and Scarlett, just to defend her so-called friend. And of course, Rhett’s ears did not escape the scandal of the season. He rages at Scarlett, who is helpless with her defenses.

And they spend the night making the most passionate love ever. I think.

Note: Original notes are originally posted at GoodReads – The Filipino Group. Atty. Monique is almost done with this. Let’s cheer for her at this blog: Bookish Little Me.

Gone With The Wind Diaries, IV

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Day 13: 34, 35

These are laugh-out-loud chapters for me! I love the conversation that Scarlett and Rhett had when the former visited the latter in his prison cell. Just imagine how Scarlett squirmed at Rhett’s mockery. And the shame! Ooh, Scarlett, you deserve it!

And oh, I am so wrong with one of my previous assumptions! The secret kissing scene of Ashley and Scarlett is not yet the height of her coquetry. That would be her new attempt to steal Frank! From her sister! And all in the name of money!

Well, we have a dilemma here. We all know that it is never moral to steal someone’s fiancé, and your sister’s at that. But since Tara is the driving force that’s making Scarlett do all her scheming and manipulating, could we really blame her? She swore that she will never be hungry again, and since this is a world where we need to satisfy our basic needs (food and shelter), does morality have any weight in the decisions that she makes?

Most of the characters in the novel are choosing to live with dignity despite poverty instead of doing something to ward off the difficulties brought to them by the war. But Scarlett is just getting way out of her way. She is pushing her chances to the extremes!

Day 14: 36, 37

And what do you know? We see Frank and Scarlett get married, and we see Scarlett slowly transform not into a lady, but into a businesswoman. That is hardly surprising in these modern times, but the mid 1800’s is a far cry from the concrete jungles where everyone regardless of sex works like a horse, so to speak.

And oh, Rhett just got out of jail. And he’s so filthy rich, way, way richer than Frank, that Scarlett is filled with regret for her hasty marriage with Frank. But she still got that loan from Rhett, which she could have been multiplied more had she only waited and had she not let Rhett see her true intentions.

I find this chapter very amusing because of the author’s comical treatment of Scarlett’s way of doing her business. It even borders on sheer hilarity, what with the shocked and disapproving reception of the Atlanta people for Scarlett’s behavior.

The next chapter is a stark contrast, as we hear from one of the country boys who gets involved in the killing of Jonas Wilkerson. And somehow, Ashley is dragged into this group of Southerners avenging their own: the Ku Klux Klan.

What is exactly going on at Tara, we could only rely on the Fontaine boy’s word. Scarlett, as expected, is in a state of unrest.

Day 15: 38, 39

One of the most poignant moments just took place in this chapter: Old Peter being looked down by Yankees right in front of his face. I do not know what I would have done if I were in his situation, but yes, I could only have seethed in anger. But times are different now, and people do not just hold their anger when others talk against them right in their presence.

And right after this chapter is another dramatic moment. Gerald dies, not because his mind is failing him, but because his neck was broken while uhm, horsing around. We learn of Suellen’s attempt to make a traitor out of Gerald by tricking him to sign a document that cleanses him of any connection with the Confederates, which also promises the reward of money. And Gerald, in a fleeting moment of clarity, tears the document and throws his rage at Suellen.

So you see, it’s not only Scarlett who is being undignified here. It runs in the family. Or does it? I say that the circumstances call for it, and how a person is brought up plays a huge factor as to how he will react to such a situation.

Day 16: 40, 41

There’s a lot of talking nowadays, but I quite enjoyed them, particularly the eulogy delivered by Will and the conversation between Scarlett and Old Miss Fontaine. Thinking about it, it’s really questionable why Will was the only person who spoke in memory of Gerald. He is the person who knew him the shortest. But number of years is not necessary proportional to quality of relationship.

What I am trying to say is that this Will character surprises me. He is supposed to be uneducated, and yet he speaks sensible stuff. The only thing that I think is objectionable about him is his intention to marry Suellen. Well, people need to procreate, don’t they?

And here’s another Scarlett-Ashley moment. When I just thought that this love affair is going to be over, what with Ashley planning to find work at the North, Scarlett suggests that he takes over one of the sawmills. She almost lost the battle had it not been for the intervention of Melanie, who is quick to rebuke Ashley for refusing Scarlett’s offer.

At this point, I pity Ashley. It’s the end of the world for him, and he knows it.

Note: Original notes with some irrelevant conversation originally posted at GoodReads – The Filipino Group. Atty. Monique is still reading this while I am backtracking. Her blog is Bookish Little Me.

Gone With The Wind Diaries, III

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Day 09: 23, 24

The exodus. The farewell. And the first kiss!

We see a different Scarlett here, driving an old horse with a sick woman, a newborn baby, a hungry child, and a blabbering slave with her. What a motley crew! If we are to inject karmic beliefs here, this is Scarlett’s weight to tow for all the things that she did in the not so distant past.

Almost every house is burned in Tara, and this horrible sight of smoke and rubble forebodes something in Scarlett. Could it be that their house is gone, the very refuge from the war that she is desperately seeking?

Contrary to this, the O’Hara house is as solid as ever despite the lack of lights. But there is something ghastly in it, something despondent that fills the rooms with uncomfortable airs.

Ellen is dead. Scarlett’s sisters are sick. Gerald is out of grips. Most of the darkies have escaped. What is Scarlett to do?

This is a pivotal moment for our protagonist. It’s history repeating itself in the family. It’s now her turn to rise from defeat. It’s time to redeem herself from her shameless acts.

Day 10: 25, 26, 27

It looks like Scarlett and Melanie are going to be Best Friends Forever. The murder of that stray Yankee will only make whatever bonds they have stronger. It will be really hard to dispose Melanie from Scarlett’s life however hard she wishes for it.

And now, everyone at the Tara household is depending on her words. With Gerald’s loony condition, Scarlett definitely has to take over. The circumstances are forcing her to change her ways. At least she doesn’t whine as much as Suellen or the house servants. I cannot imagine what profanities I would scream at a house servant who refuses to do field work in such hard times.

More on Gerald, I think his dementia, or vagueness as they put it, is rooted from his lack of will to accept the changes and let go of the old Southern ways. He’s an old man who is from the last generation of the Southern gentlemen.

And here goes our Scarlett, opposing her father with her hope and will to never be hungry again!

Day 11: 28, 29, 30

This is not the perfect time for a proposal, but Suellen’s beau insists on it despite his lack of money and property. Aside from that, there isn’t much going on. People are still poor, people are trying to get back with their lives, and people are reuniting with their long-lost Confederates.

Which brings us to Ashley Wilkes. Where is that man? Just before Part Three ends, he arrives, almost a stranger, and yet Melanie recognized her husband. She runs to meet and welcome him at Tara. Scarlett wants to run as well, but she is held back by Will Benteen, saying that she shouldn’t ruin their moment as man and wife.

Who is this Will Benteen? And where is Rhett Butler? And what is Scarlett to do now that Ashley is back?

More on Scarlett, I think her selfish ways helped her a lot in surviving the hard times. She was able to make things somehow work because she always wants her way done. And because she is unconventional, she can easily adapt to almost any situation.

Just look at the house servants’ stubborn resistance to doing field work and Scarlett plowing the fields herself. It is somehow funny and ironic, but given the character traits of our protagonist, it is not so surprising.

Day 12: 31, 32, 33

I have to say that this is the height of Scarlett’s coquetry. Well, we couldn’t wholly blame her for it, and besides, it wasn’t really her intention to snatch Ashley away from Melanie when she decides to turn to him for advice.

But they kiss passionately. Sweet, but Ashley, where is your honor? I am rooting for Melanie, and I just couldn’t imagine what would happen if she caught the two in each other’s arms.

The O’Haras are on the brink of losing Tara from their hands, thanks to the vengeful interest of Jonas Wilkerson on the land where he was driven away. So Scarlett comes with the uhm, brilliant idea of seducing Rhett and marrying him. But will that work? Will Rhett forget his grand statement that he is not the marrying type of man? Will he notice the gown that Scarlett made from curtains?

And where is he anyway? Scarlett finds this out once she arrives at Atlanta with Mammy. Aunt Pittypat tells her that Rhett is in jail.

Are there any tricks left in Scarlett’s sleeve for her to save Tara from Jonas Wilkerson and the Slatterys?

Note: Original notes with their grammatical errors are originally posted at GoodReads – The Filipino Group. Atty. Monique and I are still reading this together. Check out her blog at Bookish Little Me.