In my room, next to my nightstand, there is a small niche in the wall. Before we moved into the house, I thought that I would make it my reading spot. I’d line it with pillows and then just spend hours curled up in there, reading. This little dream soon died out once I realized that there was really no comfortable way to sit in the cramped niche for extended periods of time, and also no light source. So now it’s where I stash my All Time Favorite Books of Forever. Title pending.
10 books that so far surpass anything else that I have ever read in my life, that I would never dream of placing them onto the regular bookshelf. Stories that are usually specific to a time period and somehow still relevant to my life.
I was 9 when I saw the movie poster for Gone With the Wind in the classroom of my fourth grade teacher. It was this flaming red color, with big bold letters stating the title and stars of the movie. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were locked in a passionate embrace which somehow captured movement despite being stationary. A city burned in the background with an intensity that normally can’t be captured in an image. It was a loud poster, a poster that screamed at you that this was a story with feelings and meaning, a story that still matters today. That weekend, my dad drove me to Barnes & Noble and I purchased my own copy. A daunting, 959 page copy that has since lost both of its covers from being handled so often.
It took me a month to get through the first two chapters, and that was with a light reading that barely went through my head. Then I gave up for about four months because it was just too depressing to open the book every night, knowing that I would not be able to make it through more than a few pages. It wasn’t until I had a long weekend that I really sat down, started over and, to my surprise, breezed through the first chapter.
It’s one of the finest first chapters of any book ever written, in my opinion. That one chapter introduced me to a world I had never thought of before. The antebellum American South. Of course, as I would learn in AP US History six years later, only a tiny percentage of the white South lived like Scarlett O’Hara, but still. Families like hers existed, and they are the villains in history because they were the leaders of the losing side.
This book, and every single book I have read since, is important to me because it showed me perspective. In this novel, Margaret Mitchell makes the heroic attempt to glorify the long dead South. Her characters owned slaves, yes, but they were also charismatic leaders of the community, and good Christians, and unbelievably thoughtful neighbors. It’s the struggle of humans against a world that no longer has a place for them, and it is moving in its universality to all human struggle. It is a novel that transcends time.
When a work of literature brings to life people who are long gone, and examines them in a way that you never thought of before, that’s what I think gives it literary merit. When it makes you ask yourself questions that you had never had to consider before, that’s when it makes you a bigger person. When it makes you reevluate things that you previously believed to be written in stone, and then causes you to always look at issues from many different sides, that’s when you start to grow. I was always taught that knowledge was powerful, but I didn’t really understand why until I started reading more.
Knowledge is the first seed towards change, actual change, that can bring about an improvement in the lives of real people. When it’s a great book, it’s not just that anymore. It’s a snapshot of a world, suspended and preserved for all time, and revealing far more about the people living in it than the seemingly simple plot line may suggest.
That’s what reading means to me. This was a book that changed my life, not just the first time I read it, but also the second, and fifth, and fifteenth. I have looked for such courageous and elevating writing in every book I have read since.