Books

KILLING LINCOLN by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard | Review

10587120The anchor of The O’Reilly Factor recounts one of the most dramatic stories in American history—how one gunshot changed the country forever. In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America’s Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.”

{Goodreads.com}

Where/when did I read this book?: I listened to this audio book in the car on my hour commute to work this past winter break.

Why did I read this book?: My friend recently listened to this audio book and wanted to know my thoughts on it.

+ Writing style. I’m actually a bit conflicted about the writing style, but I figured I would highlight the positive aspects of it before explaining why it didn’t 100 percent work for me. Before the actual meat of this book begins, Bill O’Reilly explains that it is written like a thriller. What does a non-fiction book written in the style of a thriller look like? Present tense. Detailed imagery. Short chapters. Intense suspense. In this way, Killing Lincoln is unlike any non-fiction history book I’ve read before. The advantage of such an interesting writing style for this blended genre is that it makes for an incredibly engaging, gripping read. This is definitely a great book to pick up if you want to get more into history or non-fiction in general.

+ Details. I thought I was fairly familiar with the events surrounding the assassination of Lincoln before reading this book, but afterwards I realized that I had only known the basic details of what actually happened. I really enjoyed learning about all the details leading up to the assassination as well as the chaos of the aftermath. I also appreciate the attention given to the women involved in this event (although some of the descriptions of women were slightly problematic…). It’s interesting to read about the simultaneous timelines of Lincoln, Grant, Booth, and other people involved rather than just focusing on one perspective the entire time.

– Writing style. Unfortunately the writing style was a bit of a double-edged sword for me. While writing this book as if it were a novel certainly makes it more engaging and entertaining, I feel as though it also makes the information less credible. How can O’Reilly possibly know all of these tiny details about time, the weather, and people’s innermost thoughts? Reality isn’t a thriller novel, but O’Reilly certainly makes it appear otherwise. At times the sheer amount of rather irrelevant details was almost distracting. I don’t need to know that someone was “backlit by the sun” as they rode into battle–just tell me how Lincoln was assassinated!

– Pacing. Another frustrating aspect of this book was its rather slow pace. While providing several different perspectives on events makes the book more suspenseful, after a while it also makes the pacing feel incredibly slow. It doesn’t help that the first hour and a half or so of this audio book was just about Civil War battles with very little mention of Lincoln. Although this is useful background information to have, it definitely could have been summarized more briefly so that the actual plot of the book–the events leading up to Lincoln’s assassination–could finally start.

Killing Lincoln is certainly an interesting reading experience: I don’t think I’ve ever been so intrigued by the writing style of a nonfiction history book before. With that said, I have to say that I do prefer the more traditional ways of writing about these events. However, I would be interested in reading another of Bill O’Reilly’s books to see if this “thriller” style of writing history works better in the context of a different historical event.

What are your thoughts on Killing Lincoln? Which Bill O’Reilly book would you recommend that I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Books

FIRST FAMILY by Joseph J. Ellis | Review

“The Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of “Founding Brothers” and “His Excellency “brings America’s preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that sweeps through the American Revolution and the republic’s tenuous early years. John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.”

{Goodreads.com} 

When/where did I read this book? I listened to the audio book version of this book while commuting to work an hour each way. Since the audiobook is about eleven hours long, it took me about a week.

Why did I read this book? I’ve always been interested in Abigail Adams, but it can be tricky to find whole books written about women in history like that. When I saw that Ellis–one of my favorite historians–had written a book about the Adams marriage, I knew that I had to read it!

+ Focuses on Abigail. This book almost feels as though it focuses more on Abigail than on John, perhaps because she tended to write longer, more emotional letters whereas his were often just quick notes. Whatever the reason, I really liked the focus on Abigail!

+ Presents a Founding Father as a flawed person. I completely would have guessed that this book was written by a woman if I hadn’t known who the author was ahead before reading. It seems quiet biased against John, pointing out all the ways he prioritized fame, status, and political prestige over his duties as a husband and father. For instance, he went on and on about politics in a series of letters at one point, completely neglecting to ask how Abigail was doing as she gave birth to a dead child while he was away. I love how this book helps deconstruct our vision of the Founding Fathers as these heroic, flawless, moral gods that could do no wrong.

+ Spotlight on a marriage. At its core, this book revolves around the marriage between John and Abigail. Not many books focus on historical marriages, especially in the balanced, nuanced, thoughtful way that Ellis does in First Family. Before reading this book I had no idea that John and Abigail spent so much time apart–it’s remarkable that they were able to hold their marriage together throughout their entire lives.

+ Quotes. I’m a sucker for a good meaningful quote, and this book is brimming with them. In particular, I love Abigail’s words: “When he is wounded, I bleed” and “A woman may forgive the man she loves an indiscretion, but never a neglect.” Nothing better than a good quote!

Questions of subjectivity and credibility. It’s no secret that the reach of historians only extends so far. While dates and names can often be surmised from old belongings, newspapers, and letters, there’s one aspect of the past that historians will never be able to fully uncover: people’s innermost thoughts and emotions. One may point to a diary entry or personal letter written to a loved one as evidence of this inner dialogue, yet even those kinds of documents cannot always be trusted as being completely accurate. Ellis even describes this problem in First Family, pointing out the performance aspect of the letters Abigail and John wrote back and forth to each other while John was overseas on diplomatic duties. Apparently John insisted that Abigail make a copy of all of the letters she sent him in order to keep a record for posterity. John did the same–he was acutely aware that they were part of an important moment in American history that would be looked back on for years to come.

With this in mind, I found it a bit hypocritical that Ellis clearly relied on such subjective, posing documents in order to create such a detailed account of this marriage. I suppose that an aspect of history is making educated guesses, and so long as they are recognized as such up front I’m okay with it. However, at times it was difficult to distinguish hard fact from Ellis’ subjective best guesses. A clearer distinction between the two would have made this an even more powerful, striking read.

Joseph J. Ellis has a way of making frequently idealized historical figures feel so human, and his portrayal of John and Abigail Adams here is no exception. I would highly recommend this book (and the audio book version!) to anyone looking to learn more about Abigail Adams and her marriage with John. Without her, I would argue that John would never have become the successful man he was.

What are your thoughts on First Family? Have any recommendations for other books about Abigail Adams? Let me know in the comments section below!34

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

FREDERICK DOUGLASS by William S. McFeely

I’ve been fascinated by the life and writing of Frederick Douglass ever since reading his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) in my Introduction to Literature class during my very first semester of college. Born into slavery, Douglass eventually escaped to the North, became a free man, and rose to be a prolific orator and writer in the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century. Like countless people throughout history, I am captivated by how eloquently and effectively Douglass was able to portray himself through language. I’ve written more essays about him than any other subject so far in college, all from different perspectives and angles. After writing a research paper about the critical reception of his biographies in a literary theory class, I decided it was time for me to finally read a full biography about this extraordinary figure. One day while browsing the shelves of a local independent bookshop I saw William S. McFeely’s biography Frederick Douglass and decided to give it a try.

Perhaps I should have expected reading a biography about someone who wrote several autobiographies to feel a bit strange, but the feeling didn’t really hit me until about fifty pages in. The story of Douglass’ experiences as a young slave and eventual success at running away sounded extremely familiar because it was– Douglass himself had written about it in all three of his autobiographies: A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). At this point I started to ask myself what the point of reading or writing a biography of someone who had written their autobiography was in the first place, but the answer was soon obvious: context. Anyone can write an autobiography any way they want, but the way they portray their own life can vary greatly depending on the context they choose to incorporate. For instance, Douglass left out nearly everything about his personal relationships from his autobiographies, only briefly mentioning that he married a woman named Anna at one point. Readers were left wondering what his life was like behind closed doors, which is information we now know thanks to research done for biographies such as this one.

Speaking of Douglass’ wife, reading about the many women in Douglass’ life was one of the most interesting aspects of this biography. Douglass might have been famously admired both in the North of the United States and abroad in the United Kingdom, but it sounds like Anna was not a huge fan. In reality, it seems like Douglass was a pretty mediocre husband at best. Not only did he leave Anna for extended periods of time while orating and traveling abroad, but he often brought back other women– usually white intellectual women he met in his travels– to live in their home. This latter action caused incessant rumors to spread wherever he was living at the time about Douglass’ potential affairs. It didn’t help matters that Anna, having once been a slave as well, was illiterate and therefore could not help Douglass with his writing career as could some of the other women he met and became close to later in life. Throughout this biography I couldn’t help but feel like poor Anna was dealt the short straw of the bunch, yet few people have recognized the struggle she must have endured sitting in the background of her husband’s life.

Overall, I really enjoyed this biography of Frederick Douglass and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about his life, abolitionism, or even woman’s rights during the Civil War and Reconstruction in the United States.

What are your thoughts on this biography of Frederick Douglass? Do you have a favorite biography in general? Any you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

THE QUARTET by Joseph J. Ellis | Review

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 is a comprehensive, cohesive, carefully crafted analysis of the transition from distinctly powerful states in America under the Articles of Confederation to a nation of united states under the newly ratified Constitution. By focusing on the brilliant men who made this shift possible– George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison— Ellis emphasizes just how influential and integral the Founding Fathers were at creating the nation we still know today.

Joseph J. Ellis is a brilliant historian. I absolutely loved his book Founding Brothers when I read it in high school for my AP United States history class, so I purchased The Quartet as soon as I learned it was being released in 2015. Unfortunately, life got in the way (as it does) and I’ve just gotten around to reading it now. But trust me: it was well worth the wait!

A major strength of The Quartet is the interesting perspective Ellis takes on the events between 1783 and 1789. History textbooks spend pages and pages about the dramatic, exciting battles of the American Revolution, and then BAM! Washington was suddenly and unanimously elected to be the first President of the United States. But what happened in between? Why is this transition from states that wanted nothing to do with each other to a nation striving to be unified rarely discussed? Ellis explains what happened in the interim to create the governing body and form the nation we are still familiar with today. He refers to this as the Second American Revolution, one that may have lacked violence but was brimming with tense, vitriolic ideological debate.

As always, Ellis’ writing is well-organized, clear, fluid, and poignant. Although the book is structured in sections that focus on events chronologically, the overarching text highlights the four men that made it all happen. Of course, they weren’t the only people contributing to the effort, but they pulled all the strings they could to achieve the vision they intended. While the lives of Washington and Hamilton are often taught in great detail, students are much likely to learn about the work of John Jay and James Madison. Most importantly, Ellis adeptly humanizes these iconic and almost legendary figures in American history that we think we know so well (think again!).

These events may have happened centuries ago, but their legacies continue to affect us even now. While reading The Quartet I was suddenly struck by how removed from the initial writing of the Constitution we make ourselves when we discuss it today. The Constitution was intended to be a living document that would change over the course of history as suited the needs of the nation. Although the United States has changed considerably since 1789, there are many aspects of our culture that unfortunately remain the same. Why haven’t we turned to the Constitution to make more positive changes happen? Should we? These are the kinds of questions that make studying history so important, and I appreciate Ellis for continually reminding us of them. 

Overall, Ellis has once again hit the proverbial nail on the head with The Quartet. While Founding Brothers still holds a special place in my bookish heart, this book is a very close second. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether or not you’ve studied history in the past.

What are your thoughts on The Quartet? Do you have a favorite time period in history to read about? Any recommendations for great history books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books, Classics Club Challenge

LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott | Review

20893528-2The enduring popularity and praise of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has intrigued me for some time. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this classic American novel stand out among its neighbors, particularly since it initially seemed to be a simple story about four sisters living during the Civil War. What is it about the March family that has captivated and enchanted readers, especially girls, since its publication in 1868? What was so special about Beth, Amy, Jo, and Meg that catapulted these fictional sisters into over a century of literary fame? These and numerous other questions swam in my mind as I purchased my own copy of Little Women and ultimately fueled my desire to read this beloved classic.

Needless to say, I now understand all of the praise that these sisters’ story has received over the years. What first appears to be a simple story about a poor family’s optimistic way of life actually offers the reader so much more: lessons of morality, right and wrong, friendship, love, loss, materialism, growing up, and countless other meaningful messages that anyone and everyone can benefit from reading. If I had to describe Little Women in only a single word, I would resolutely exclaim: “QUAINT!” This is perhaps the most quaint book I have ever read. A warm, fuzzy feeling blossomed within me from the very first page and continued to bloom until I had closed the cover for the last time. If you’re looking for a book to make you sigh with contentment and joy, then do yourself a favor and look no further than this classic.

I think a great deal of the charm and fun of this novel stems from the reader’s ability to see him or herself reflected in many of the characters. It’s tempting to label myself purely as a headstrong, adventurous, curious Jo or solely an obedient, responsible, kindhearted Meg. However, over time the reader surely realizes, as did I, that she is a blend of all of the sisters combined. Each sister has personality traits that we wish we could both embody and cast aside. They are undeniably human, complete with faults and flaws that make us point at the page and exclaim, “So I’m not the only one who does this!” or “Other people feel this way, too!”

Apart from the sisters, my favorite characters were by far Laurie and Mr. Laurence. I loved watching the friendship between Laurie and Jo grow and develop as they aged as well as the adorable friendship between Beth and Mr. Laurence. I longed to visit their house and spend hours in their impressive library, listening to the notes of the grand piano floating down the hall. Laurie’s funny, witty personality made me laugh and grin more times than I could count and he consequently played a main role in many of my favorite scenes. (Camp Laurie, anyone?)

Is this story unrealistically ideal? Yes. Though it does address a handful of unpleasant topics (death, poverty, etc.), on the whole it almost resembles a fairy tale in the way that everything wraps up neatly at the end. Part of me wishes that Alcott had allowed a few of the girls– especially Jo– to be more independent and, essentially, not get married. Because this story is set during the Civil War, it is understandable that it wouldn’t align with the values of modern feminism and the idea that women need not marry in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. Still, while reading I couldn’t help but hope that at least one of the girls would find the courage and independence to go off on their own and set sail for a life of unexpected adventures. I did cringe inwardly at times, particularly when Meg’s mother emphasized the vital importance of pleasing her new husband and ensuring that he was happy no matter the circumstances. Again, a little more female independence would have been lovely, but my expectations weren’t too high given the time of the book’s publication.

Another small qualm I have about Little Women is that I was hoping for more historical context or direct interaction with the time period. Of course, the war was obviously mentioned in regard to the girls’ father being away fighting in it; however, no specific information was discussed concerning sides of the war or race relations in general. I’m assuming that they were fighting on the side of the Union since none of the people surrounding them seemed to own slaves or live on plantations, but no questions are answered concerning their views towards what is going on in their country at this tumultuous time in American history. I find it a little hard to believe that race relations and the war more specifically would not have come up in conversation at some point over the course of these years in their household.

Overall, it’s clear that Louisa May Alcott deserves all of the praise given to her charming, enduring novel Little Women. Despite its predictability and slow pace at times, I couldn’t help being captivated by this adorable, heart-warming story of sisterhood, family, love, and life.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely, especially to someone who enjoys reading character-driven stories that focus on family and relationships.

Have you read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED by Gail Collins | Review

8174415When Everything Changed is an incredibly comprehensive account of how the role of women in society has changed throughout recent American history. Though I expected this book to have a certain level of detail in its research, I did not expect it to discuss this topic from such a wide variety of perspectives. Here the heterosexual white woman must share center stage with lesbians and women of color as well, piecing together a historical view that is much more holistic in its approach. For instance, Collins emphasizes the struggles of Native American women who have been further discriminated against and marginalized due to their culture. History is never one-sided; consequently, Collins has clearly made an effort to reflect as many sides of the historical dice as possible.

While reading, I found there to be both advantages and disadvantages to the way this book is organized. In general, the overarching structure of this book worked really well. It was divided into parts and chapters, with each chapter being further divided into different sections that each began and revolved around specific quotes. It was a subtle way to keep important themes alive throughout the entire text without directly stating them each time. However, at times the narrative felt a bit disjointed, mostly because Collins tended to go off on tangents about certain women or events. Though she always meandered back to the main topic eventually, these diversions made it more difficult to follow the chronological line that Collins initially seemed to be following.

One of the last topics that Collins discusses in When Everything Changed is Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Though she was not successful in gaining the seat in office, at the time her attempt was nevertheless hailed as a political success for women. Part of me couldn’t help but wonder what remarks Collins might make about Hillary’s most recent presidential campaign and the results of the presidential election in general. (Is this me secretly hoping for the publication of an updated edition? YES.) In light of these recent events, I think that Collins’ book and the questions asks are not only relevant but vital for our society to be thinking about when moving forward.

Overall, there are so many reasons why I enjoyed reading When Everything Changed: it captivated me, educated me, and made me think. Whether you’re a history buff or simply looking to gain more knowledge about the role American women have played in society in recent decades, look no further than Collins’ comprehensive, entertaining, and thought-provoking account.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think that this is an important topic for anyone and everyone to learn more about, regardless of gender.

Have you read this book before? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Have any other recommendations for Gail Collins’ writing or books about this topic in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books, Classics Club Challenge

GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell | Review

18405Before reading Gone with the Wind I had imagined that it would be a tragic tale of star-crossed romance set against the dramatic backdrop of the Civil War. In all honestly, I wondered how the such a story could possibly go one for over a staggering one thousand pages.

Boy, do I stand corrected.

In writing Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell has accomplished an astounding feat: creating a story that encompasses nearly the entire spectrum of emotions in the human experience, all while critiquing southern society, stereotypical gender roles, and other issues during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. This tome is so much more than a simple love story– frankly, anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn’t read it!

I was blown away by the comprehensiveness of this novel, the way that Mitchell is able to write with such meticulous attention to detail over fifty years after these historic events took place. This book was published in 1937, but I would have sworn that Mitchell lived through the time period herself. She must have been one amazing researcher!

I’d be amiss if I didn’t spend some time discussing when and where this story takes place. The setting is almost like a character in itself, particularly in the way it develops and changes over time. Gone with the Wind is set in the South (specifically Georgia) and spans from the outbreak of the Civil War to well into the Reconstruction Era. The reader can do nothing but anxiously watch as the peaceful, go-lucky Southern society Scarlett first inhabits transforms into a war-torn, violent, impoverished landscape. However, this setting goes far beyond simple geography; instead, it expands to include the political, economic, and social issues of the time period. What I love about Mitchell’s craftsmanship is her ability to inform and orientate any reader of this setting, regardless of their amount of prior knowledge. She uses the same methods to introduce the Reconstruction Era, making the distinction between these two dark times in American history. The setting has an enormous influence on the characters, not only on the decisions they make but on their personalities as well. Mitchell makes this abundantly clear, emphasizing the destructive role that warfare can play the lives of soldiers and civilians alike.

Though the historic setting is certainly a dynamic force throughout the novel, it cannot compete with the commanding presence of Scarlett O’Hara. Though at first glance she appears to be a rather shallow, impressionable, naive teen, Scarlett soon proves that she is a determined, intelligent, capable woman. She is a fiery, courageous, strong female character, and I admire the way she stands up against the stereotypical gender roles of society. Scarlett refuses to be the submissive wife who solely occupies the domestic sphere; instead, she boldly steps into the masculine world of business. This is not to say that Scarlett is always easy to like– she often frustrated me with her coldness, her ruthlessness, her selfishness– but ultimately I couldn’t help but wish her the best.

IMG_9420Interestingly enough, it seems as though Scarlett has a counterpart in this novel: Melanie. Wife of Ashley and the apparent embodiment of Scarlett’s mother Ellen, Melanie is the opposite of Scarlett in many ways. She is gentle, kind, caring, soft spoken, motherly, and an obedient wife. However, there is also a spark of fire in Melanie, a flame waiting to flourish. When it is ignited, Melanie is as strong and brave as Scarlett, willing to do whatever it takes to protect the people she loves. She is fiercely loyal, unfailingly selfless, and incredibly thoughtful. Scarlett’s hatred of Melanie really bothered me at times because I don’t think Melanie did anything to deserve such disdain. In my opinion, Melanie is one of the most fascinating characters in this story– she’s surprisingly complex, with numerous hidden layers that I never expected.

And then there’s Rhett Butler: the infamous wealthy gentleman who I’m convinced is a literary form of Jack Sparrow. He’s simultaneously loved and loathed, genuine and deceptive, kind and cruel. My opinion of Rhett changed countless times throughout the novel, and I honestly still don’t have a very clear understanding of this man. Here’s the maddening complexity of Rhett: he’s an ambiguous character, always straddling the line between good and evil. One page I would be hoping that he would declare his love for Scarlett, and the next I resolutely refuted my own prior wish. While I loved his sarcasm, wit, intelligence, and realistic view of the war and life and general, Rhett ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth. I was surprised and unsettled by his behavior towards the end, although I don’t want to spoil the conclusion for anyone who has yet to read this classic.

The ending itself filled me with so many mixed emotions it took me several days to form a solid opinion of it. The last fifty pages or so took a shocking turn down a dark, twisting spiral that I never saw coming. To be frank, Margaret Mitchell does not deliver the happy ending I was hoping to receive after reading over a thousand pages of this story. This remark isn’t meant to sound bitter (well, maybe a little); rather, it shows that Mitchell was trying to accomplish something else with this work besides mere entertainment. The ending of Gone with the Wind drives home the idea that life is not a carefully wrapped package tied with a bow. Life was– and still is– difficult, tragic, and filled with obstacles. But even still, life goes on. There will always be a tomorrow and a next day and a day after that. We might not be here to see it, but it will be there all the same. This is one of the many messages I took away from the narrative, and I believe there is no better way to convey it than through this novel’s conclusion.

In general, Gone with the Wind contains several important themes. The five that struck me the most are:

  • War: This is arguably the most obvious theme, considering the time and setting of the story. Very few people manage to avoid being swept up by the infectious war fervor plaguing the South. Two of these clear minds are Scarlett and Rhett, who are able to see the beloved “Cause” for what it really is: a method through which to essentially brainwash people into supporting the war effort. Mitchell views the war through several different lenses, including political, economic, and social perspectives.
  • Love: Nearly all of the characters struggle with some sort of problem related to love, whether it be involving courtship, marriage, or simply dealing with confusing emotions. Through Scarlett’s many marriages we see that marriage and love are two very distinct things and do not necessarily go hand in hand.
  • Loss: Loss is a pervasive, overwhelmingly prevalent theme in this novel, which I wasn’t really expecting when I first started reading it. I think it’s safe to say that every character faces loss and grief at some point throughout the story, largely due to the war and its tumultuous aftermath. Even Rhett, who seems to have easily accepted and adjusted to the harsh realities of the new South, eventually breaks down under a crushing wave of grief. Loss impacts everyone differently, which is apparent in the different responses of the characters.
  • Class: Even amidst the chaos of the Civil War and Reconstruction, there is a constant underlying consciousness of one’s class. Mitchell highlights the absurdity of such an obsession with social status and appearances during this time with an almost humorous, mocking tone. Rhett is a symbol of everything that Scarlett wishes to possess– money, glamour, luxury– but at what cost is she willing to attain it? By the end of the story, it’s clear that achieving a coveted spot in the upper class does not necessarily equate to a happy ending.
  • Gender: Southern society places significant importance on gender roles. There are different expectations of men and women from the time they begin courting to well into their married years– until their deaths, really. Even old widowed women must abide by certain customs, wearing black mourning clothes for years and exuding a somberness free from any hint of joviality. Scarlett refuses to conform to these societal norms, instead causing quite a ruckus with her masculine behavior. Mitchell’s obvious critiques of stereotypical gender roles leads me to call Gone with the Wind a feminist novel. (I will likely write an entire post about this at some point, so more on that later!)

So, what is the overall message of this long, winding review? While it certainly was not what I was expecting, Gone with the Wind is a brilliant novel written by a masterful writer. Margaret Mitchell managed to captivate me with her story, make me think with her critiques of society, and evoke a multitude of emotions with the powerful voices of her characters. It’s easy to see why this classic has remained popular and relevant over many decades, marking it as a truly timeless story. My only regret is that I did not read it sooner!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! Especially to someone interested in this time period in American history.

What are your thoughts on Gone with the Wind? Is there a film, adaptation, or any further reading that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

P.S. Read my thoughts on each individual part of this novel here:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Bookish

Thoughts While Reading GONE WITH THE WIND {Part 5}

THOUGHTS WHILE READING (3)

The time has finally come: I have finished reading Gone with the Wind!! Today I share my thoughts on the fifth and final installment in this classic American novel. Feel free to catch up with any of my previous posts in this series by clicking here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. It’s been a long journey, but it was definitely worth it!

Be aware that the “Thoughts” section may contain spoilers, but the “Overall” section will be spoiler-free!

June

  • p. 863: Melanie is so loyal to Scarlett! I’m glad someone in Atlanta still has Scarlett’s back, especially after the big mess with the Ku Klux Klan and Frank’s death. Why can’t the rest of Atlanta see that Rhett saved their men from the Yankees? Will they ever come to accept that fact as reality?
  • p. 874: You can already see the money changing Scarlett for the worse. Oh, I don’t know if this is going to end well!
  • p. 882: Scarlett is having ANOTHER baby? Also, I’m not so sure that Scarlett and Rhett have a very healthy relationship…
  • p. 888: Awww, Rhett is so good with Wade! He treats him like Wade is his own son.
  • p. 891: Bonnie Blue Butler ❤ Such an adorable name!
  • p. 926: OH NO, Scarlett and Ashley were caught! But what did they think would happen? Melanie was bound to find out sooner or later!
  • p. 937: Rhett is insane!! What if he hurts her?
  • p. 944: Everything is falling apart! Now they’re talking about a divorce?! I really hope this book has at least a sort of happy ending!
  • p. 979: I think Scarlett has finally realized that all of her money hasn’t made her as happy as she thought initially thought it would.
  • p. 982: What irony: Ashley and Rhett working together to break up the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta!
  • p. 991: OH MY GOODNESS, Bonnie died just like Gerald!! That’s so tragic! (And also a bit creepy.) Rhett will be absolutely devastated!
  • p. 994: The image of Rhett with Bonnie’s corpse in his bedroom is disturbing. And the way he insist on keeping the lights on because she’s afraid of the dark– is her really in denial that Bonnie is actually dead?
  • p. 1016: Scarlett has finally realized that she never actually loved Ashley, only an idealized image of him that she had convinced herself was real.
  • p. 1018: I CAN’T BELIEVE MELANIE IS REALLY DEAD.
  • p. 1037: AHHHHHH.

June (2)

“The old days had no glitter but they had a charm, a beauty, a slow-paced glamour.” (p. 924)

This is such a beautiful, elegant description of the nostalgia that consumes Ashley.

“As usual they would cast the blame upon the woman and shrug at the man’s guilt.” (p. 927)

Once again, Mitchell emphasizes the ridiculous gender inequality entrenched in the Southern way of life. I greatly appreciate Mitchell’s direct forthrightness when it comes to addressing this topic, especially regarding the boldness of Scarlett’s character.

“Suddenly it was as if Ellen were lying behind that closed door, leaving the world for a second time.” (p. 1027)

Even in death, it appears as though Melanie is an embodiment of Ellen. In my mind, Melanie is the woman who Ellen probably wished Scarlett would become. I think the juxtaposition between Scarlett and Melanie is absolutely fascinating– it’s definitely a topic that I’ll dive deeper into in the future!

“After all, tomorrow is another day.” (p. 1037)

I can’t imagine a better last line for this novel. It perfectly captures the tone and essence of the story, that life goes on and on despite all of the bad things that are happening. It’s so simple, but so fitting!

June (1)

Wow. Just, wow. I don’t even really know how to begin explaining my thoughts on the conclusion of this wild, wonderful story. It certainly didn’t end the way I thought (or even hoped) that it would, but I can’t imagine it ending any other way. So much happened within the last 50 pages or so that it still really hasn’t completely sunk in. Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed and astounded by this brilliant novel and I’m so glad that I decided to finally read it this summer!

I’m definitely going to need some time to process everything and form some coherent opinions about this. I plan on posting a full review soon, so stay tuned!

I can’t believe it’s over! What am I going to do now?!?! *cue the inevitable book hangover*

What are your thoughts on Gone with the Wind? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Ron Chernow

16130Ever since I first learned about the Hamilton musical over a year ago I’ve been itching to read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. I’ve always had a passion for American history (flashback to my AP United States History class days), especially the early years of America becoming an independent nation. Several books about this topic sit on my bookshelf as we speak (Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis, 1776 by David McCullough, etc.), but I had never read a biography of one Founding Father in particular until I finished this one. As soon as I read the first of its 818 pages I immediately understood why Lin-Manuel Miranda had been so inspired by this book to transform Hamilton’s life into a musical: this biography is a work of art in itself. 

The wide scope of this biography is simply incredible. Not only does Chernow cover the entirety of Hamilton’s life (and then some), but he does so with a meticulous attention to detail. He discusses Hamilton’s social, political, family, and romantic life, as well as that of many other relevant figures in Hamilton’s story. I learned more about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Aaron Burr, and other influential people than I expected to from this biography, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s fascinating to view these men from the perspective of Hamilton and how they impacted him rather than focusing solely on each man’s story on its own. Chernow must have completed an immense amount of careful research in order to be able to write this endlessly impressive biography. Fortunately, he can rest assured that every ounce of energy and effort poured into creating this stellar final product was undeniably worth it.

The all-encompassing nature of this biography has allowed Chernow to showcase countless different sides of Hamilton. He reminds us that this Founding Father was, first and foremost, a human being. It’s easy to get caught up in all of Hamilton’s amazing accomplishments without acknowledging his flaws. Hamilton is indeed a heroic and inspirational figure; however, he also cheated on his loving wife and agreed to a duel that ultimately killed him even though he loathed dueling in general. Often times we’re only presented with a limited or narrow view of these almost legendary historical figures, but Chernow refutes this practice by highlighting Hamilton’s humanity. Emphasizing his multidimensional nature also makes for a much more interesting story. It’s hard to imagine such a brilliant man succumbing to a scandalous, misleading sexual affair!

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Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton lived a wild, almost unbelievable life of numerous ups, downs, and unexpected turns. Who would have thought that a poor boy born out-of-wedlock in the West Indies would someday become one of the most important men in the history of the United States? He faced so many challenges in his life– poverty, illness, the death of loved ones, discrimination due to his background and family history, etc.– that it’s a wonder he was able to achieve an extraordinary number of accomplishments. Hamilton’s life story itself is entertaining, dramatic, and fascinating without any embellishments whatsoever, surely making him a biographer’s ideal subject. 

Moreover, I simply cannot wrap my head around how much of a genius Alexander Hamilton must have been. Not only was he an intelligent political and adept attorney, but he was also a talented poet, prolific writer, and knowledgable about the human body and medical practices. From a young age he quickly became George Washington’s right-hand man during the American Revolution and Washington’s later presidency. In fact, Hamilton had an enormous influence on Washington in many respects, advising him on military, political, and personal matters. What astounds me the most about Hamilton’s brilliance is his ability to write thousands upon thousands of words in astonishingly short periods of time. It seems as though Hamilton wrote and spoke more words than I will ever even think of in my entire lifetime. *Cue the song “Non-Stop” from the Hamilton musical.*

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“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

Reading about the brilliance and sagacity of the Founding Fathers always fills me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for their very existence. What if these wise, capable men hadn’t existed during the formative years of the United States? Where would this country be today without them? Would it even exist, or would we have continued to be an English colony? These and many other questions inevitably surface whenever I think about early American history, a constant reminder that one individual can certainly leave an immense mark on the world.

Furthermore, rather than abandoning her in the wings, Chernow often places Eliza, Hamilton’s wife, at center stage in this biography. Even throughout the scandal surrounding Hamilton’s affair with another woman, Eliza maintained her composure and remained supportive of her husband. Due to Hamilton’s role in the government and his extended stays in the Capital, the large majority of the child-raising fell on Eliza’s shoulders. She essentially shared her husband with the nation, which is a lot to ask of someone. As emphasized in the very last chapter– which solely discusses Eliza after Hamilton’s death– she was strong, independent, resilient, generous, and unfailingly loyal to Hamilton. It would not have done Hamilton justice to leave out any mention of Eliza due to the fact that she was such an important person in his life. After years of being lost in a whirlwind of history, Eliza has finally received the credit and praise she undeniably deserves. 

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Eliza, played by Phillipa Soo in the Broadway musical Hamilton.

Overall, I am incredibly impressed with this comprehensive, engaging, fascinating account of Alexander Hamilton’s life. Don’t let its brick-like size intimidate you– it may be long, but this masterpiece is worth every moment spent reading it.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! However, probably only to someone interested in early American history in the Hamilton musical. Otherwise, I’m not sure they would have the motivation to make it through this tome.

What are your thoughts on in this book or the recent Hamilton craze? What other biographies would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays: July 22nd

WWW WednesdaysWWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words that asks three questions:

Don't Know Much About HistoryWhat are you currently reading???

Right now I’m reading Don’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis. I LOVE learning about United States history, and I’m really enjoying this book so far. It’s basically gives a brief summary of all the major events in American history, and although it’s a little slow going it’s nevertheless a fascinating read.

I’m also still reading Harry Potter y la cámara secreta by J.K. Rowling (the Spanish translation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).

Neverwhere by Neil GaimanWhat did you recently finish reading???

A few days ago I finished listened to the audio book of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I absolutely love the way Neil Gaiman narrates his own stories, so that in itself was awesome! The book was great as well- his novels are always charmingly bizarre, and this was no exception! I really enjoy reading it, and I’ll be posting a full review soon!

Harry Potter y la camara secretaWhat do you think you’ll read next???

Perhaps something in Spanish, since I haven’t read anything translated yet this summer. I really have to finish the Harry Potter one, because I’ve been in the middle of reading it for AGES. I’m about half way through it, so I just need to sit down and finish the rest!

What are your answers to these questions? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY