Books that changed my life: an odd combination

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Book Blogger Hop

This week’s blog hop from Crazy-for-Books asks the following question:   “What book influenced or changed your life? How did it influence/change you?”  You can participate in the blog hop by clicking on the button above and going to Crazy-for-Books.

Okay, this is going to seem like a weird combination, but I would pick two books: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I’d be hard pressed to think of two books that would be more unlikely to be paired together, but let me explain.

I read Gone With the Wind before I saw the movie, and Scarlett O’Hara, for a young woman still unacquainted with feminism, was a powerful female character. I loved her strength and her relentless pursuit of what she wanted. But the theme in the novel that really struck me was the importance of place. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ll remember that a refrain that keeps coming back to Scarlett is her father telling her, “It will come to you, this love of the land. There’s no gettin’ away from it if you’re Irish.” I am not Irish, but something about the idea of loving a place, of feeling deeply connected to the land, struck home with me. I realized, “Yes, I deeply love this place,” meaning my particular home and the community in which I lived in Kentucky. The importance of place and community are something that have influenced me throughout my life as I choose where to live (a small town) and what to study (community and urban sociology) and how to interact with the world around me (my environmentalism, love of gardening and nature, and interest in farming). I find it hard to understand people who don’t feel very powerfully about places and communities. I don’t think that love came from Gone With the Wind, but it was the first book that kind of gave a name to that feeling and focused it for me.

Gone With the Wind also helped propel me to go to college in Jackson, Mississippi. I will confess there was an odd connection between my love for the book and my decision to go to school in the deep South, as misguided as that connection might have been (I didn’t expect women to be in antebellum costume, exactly, but I thought maybe there were some Scarlett-type women wandering around). Now, Mississippi in the 1990s was in many ways nothing like the antebellum South, and in other ways, disturbingly like the antebellum South. But going to school in Mississippi has been one of the most formative and important experiences in my life, and so that Gone With the Wind pushed me towards it makes it one of the most influential books I’ve ever read.

One of the things I discovered once I was in Mississippi was that though great battles for racial equality had certainly been fought in the United States, the war had by no means been conclusively won. Racism is not unique to the deep South, but it goes less disguised than it does in other parts of the country, and so living in Mississippi made it easier to see the ways in which race has fundamentally shaped our national identity and continues to do so today. Living in Mississippi led me to an exploration of the role of race in our history and our lives and to James Baldwin, who understood more about our country than any other author I have read. So in Mississippi, I read The Fire Next Time, Baldwin’s essay on race in America. Over the years, reading that essay has helped me understand so many things about our national character and the way our racial legacy has shaped the way all of us live and think as citizens. Reading The Fire Next Time and thinking about race led me into sociology as a major, and the career I currently occupy. Without these two books, I don’t know if I would be who I am today, and that seems pretty influential.

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Comments

  1. I love Gone With The Wind and it always leaves me with a hint of nostalgia for days gone by. I appreciate your love of home too! After living in many places I'm now back in my small hometown surrounded by the lovely mountain forests of Arizona and I LOVE it!

  2. Interesting post! I never would have imagined that GwtW would have made it into this week's answer for you. I, alas, saw the movie well ahead of reading the book, but even at that young age I was struck with the strength of Scarlett's character.

  3. Hopping by to wish you a fabulous weekend! I love Gone with the Wind!!

  4. I love GONE WITH THE WIND. It's an interesting story on so many levels and, really, is there a greater female character in Southern literature than Scarlett O'Hara? I don't think so!

    So glad to have found you via the Hop. Have a fabulous weekend!

  5. This will probably come of something as a surprise but the book that changed/influenced my life (more than any other) is a non-fiction book. I know we all focus on novels and the fanciful fiction we love to read but The Four Work Week is the book that gets all the credit. I know the title sounds fictional but it really isn’t. Hop over to my blog and find out why – http://www.howardsherman.net

    Happy Book Blogger Hop Day!

    Howard A. Sherman

  6. Hopping through. Gone With The Wind is a fabulous book. Un-put-downable!
    Happy weekend!
    My Hop

  7. Such an intresting answer! This has been one of the best Blog Hop questions yet. I have not read Gone With the Wind but plan to read it in the near future. LOL! 100 Classics in the next Five years challenge!

  8. Thanks for stopping by my blog! This is an excellent answer. I, too, have a hard time understanding people who don't hold a connection to the land. Sadly, I have yet to read Gone With the Wind. I really should get around to that.

  9. I really enjoyed reading your post. I've never actually seen Gone with the Wind (more than 10 minutes' worth) because I've read the book so many times that I've got my ideas of the characters firmly in my head. 🙂

    I had a hard time choosing one book for this Hop's question, but settled on a book of nikki giovanni's poetry.

  10. Diana Gabaldon's “OUTLANDER” did it for me. I cannot stop reading since I read her books last October. She is the reason why I started blogging about books. Have a super weekend. I am your newest follower. Come and visit me at http://www.mandysescape.blogspot.com

  11. LMW, good to hear from someone else who loves GwtW and appreciates place.

    Emily, thanks for hopping by. I found it odd myself to answer GwtW, but in a very strange way, it sent me to Millsaps, and how important is that!

    April, thanks for hoping by.

    Susan, yes, Scarlett has to be up there in the pantheon of great Southern women. When I first read the book I felt like though I wanted to be more like Scarlett, I was actually more like Melanie, who has her own kind of strength. Also, I was never so good a flirting like Scarlett.

    Howard, it is interesting that most of the answers I’ve hopped through seem to focus on fiction rather than nonfiction. The Four Hour Work Week sounds like a very powerful boo.

    Alison, thanks for hopping by.

    Tammy, hope you enjoy GwtW.

    JessiKay89, there’s a whole interesting body of research in psychology at the effects of what they call place attachment and how it affects our sense of well-being. And great studies in sociology on what happens when natural disasters disrupt people’s ability to feel attached to a place.

    Jo, that’s funny, I can’t remember not having the image in my head of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. She fit really well my idea of what Scarlett would be like, so I was always pretty happy with the movie.

    Mandy, The Outlander is a great read. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. What wonderful answers and stories from everyone.

    I loved Gone With The Wind too.

    http://silversolara.blogspot.com

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