We thought that 2013 was a winter for the records, but it turned out to be merely a dress rehearsal for 2014. It’s only mid-January, but already we have been colder longer and in more places than we could have imagined. Even in our new home in the Deep South we have felt Old Man Winter’s frosty breath and have learned that cold is cold wherever it is, and we have donned our warm apparel to ward off the unexpected chill. We know that our friends in other parts of the country are truly suffering the effects of the “big freeze” and our hearts go out to those whose heating bills are so high that their food budgets are in jeopardy. It’s a tough decision to have to choose between being warm and hungry or shivering and sated.
One anecdote for the long, dark winter evenings is to put on fuzzy pajamas, wrap up in a warm blanket and curl up with a good book. Your local library is ready to help make that happen. All you need do is decide what would best serve your purpose. Keep in mind that the “beach books” that kept you entertained last summer may not be what you want when the thermometer registers single digits. Just as you tend to choose heartier foods in cooler weather, perhaps you should be looking for more substantial reading material. I have found that winter is the time to return to the classics. A few of my own personal favorites are suggested below.
Shortly after our move to Alabama, I found my way to the local library and before long had joined two book discussion groups, one meeting in the afternoon and one evening “heavy hitters” group. The first choice for the latter was Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, her only novel as it turned out because she was killed before writing a second one. I had seen the film version more than once and was certain I had read the book. I was familiar with the plot and the major characters so I must have read it. Since I had disposed of most of my library before leaving New Jersey. I knew I did not own a copy and therefore purchased one in case I wanted to mark passages.
As soon as I started reading Mitchell’s magnum opus, I knew that I had not read this book before. I became caught up immediately and realized why this book is as widely read as it is. The film version is remarkably true to the text, but it is not exactly the same experience. Just as seeing photos of your best friend is not the same as seeing that friend, reading the author’s words is a more intimate encounter. I began to understand the “real” Scarlett and found myself more sympathetic to her than to the self-absorbed young lady I had seen on the screen. I empathized with Melanie and respected her integrity more than I had with the vapid character in the movie.
Not too long after the book discussion, the film was shown on one of those channels with the dozens of commercials. When my husband alerted me that it was on, I told him that I wasn’t interested because it’s too long and with commercials would be on nearly all night. However, I decided to tune in for a minute and got hooked. Not only did I watch it all until after midnight but then watched the beginning that I had missed. It was after 2 am when I finally turned off the TV and rolled over to go to sleep. Needless to say, I was tired all the next day.
My suggestion for your winter reading is to read or reread Gone With the Wind, and if you make it through that, take a spin through The Great Gatsby. You’ll find yourself immersed in the history of another era but more importantly, you’ll realize what makes these works classics. They deal with human nature so realistically that even if the characters are not people you recognize as friends you would like to know, they portray people with characteristics that are universal. The classics stand the test of time because although situations may change, people change very little. Shakespeare knew that, Dickens knew it, and so did all the others whose works endure.
BTW, a book I heartily recommend for a wondrous read is another by a woman writer who also stopped at one. This remarkable story is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, who devoted a good part of her life to promoting the career of a fellow Southern author, Truman Capote. In this novel resides one of the most unforgettable characters in literature, lawyer Atticus Finch, a man of absolute integrity and impeccable moral stature. The narrator is Finch’s daughter, a young lady known as “Scout.” I promise you that if you spend some time with this family, you’ll come away with a sense that there is some hope for our species.
Stay warm, and stay focused. There’s lots of excellent reading material out there. It’s sitting on a shelf waiting to be selected. Make a date, and don’t be afraid to venture into new territory or to revisit the old favorites. If you find that you don’t like your date, put it aside and try another. That “wallflower” you overlooked may prove to be the “love of your life.”
Many thanks to Ann Dow, long time West Deptford Free Public Library friend and patron, for warming up our West Deptford Reader Reviews blog. Happy New Year!