Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood


Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: a Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood
Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, Jr.
Taylor Trade Publishing
2012
1589796926

This book was amazing! I wished I wouldn't have waited so long to read it. This is the engrossing story of how a national bestseller was made. I adore Gone With the Wind, and I found the process of how it was created enthralling. I never would have guessed that a book about the publishing and management of a book's copyright could keep me up until 3 in the morning. Margaret Mitchell created an American classic in Gone With the Wind, a book that if not everyone has read, most nearly everyone knows the reference or has seen the film. Mitchell did not publish any other books, and after reading this I understand why.

Margaret Mitchell wanted desperately to remain a private person in the midst of a bestselling juggernaut. She and her husband went to great lengths to insure her privacy and the protection of her literary masterpiece. Having unwillingly been thrust into the public spotlight at one time myself, I felt a great empathy and kinship with the Margaret Mitchell of this book. She and her husband suffered poor health, yet were the subject of gossip, intellectual theft, and the machinations of greedy people through the wonderful story she created.

One of the aspects of the book I found particularly intriguing was the problems of international copyright - especially during World War II. I was troubled by how little an author's intellectual property is respected in other countries. Mitchell and her husband's efforts to protect her novel were fascinating, yet troubling. I've seen some foreign covers for famous books which appear to be poorly made and the cover having absolutely nothing to do with the novel, and it all makes sense after reading this book. She and her husband were definitely ahead of their time in trying to protect their property.

Mitchell also was ahead of her time when fighting for quality printing. She fought for better bindings and paper on several occasions. I find this admirable, being a book collector myself. Granted, she had the clout to do so, but this is a very pressing problem. I imagine many don't see it since we apparently are supposed to read only e-books, but I adore the paper book for many reasons and for a play on a famous Charlton Heston quote "you have to pry it from my cold, dead hands."

Having not heard of Mitchell's tragic end and the fallout from it, I found it particularly distressing after I felt so much a part of their world during the reading of this book. After Mitchell and her husband's deaths, the path of the rights of the novel was fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The quest for a sequel and commercialization were fairly recent additions to the Gone With the Wind story. I read Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett, which I found out of character with the original book and coarse. I couldn't bring myself to read Rhett's People, having been so disappointed with Scarlett. The rights were supposed to travel through the family, but Mitchell's brother gave them to his law partners. In the past 20 years or so, Gone With the Wind has been so highly commercialized, I find it sad. Mitchell clearly did not want sequels or film adaptations, yet that is clearly what the estate is doing today. They seem more interested in making money than protecting the story Margaret Mitchell and her husband fought so hard for so many years to protect.

I found this book a wonderful tale of a surprise bestseller as well as a tale about what happens to someone who becomes an unwitting celebrity. Brown and Wiley created a very readable book that was very well researched and plotted out to perfection. I was drawn into Mitchell's world and followed her along the path from relative unknown reporter to superstar author. This is the best book I've read in a while, and I never thought I would find such delight in a book about a book. This one is definitely staying in my library, for it is a fascinating tale of love, money, war, and intrigue. What more could you ask from a classic American success story?

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