Appreciating our Freedom to Collect

My son switched piano teachers this past February, the same month that my book about the publishing history of Gone With the Wind was released. His new teacher, a lovely Chinese woman named Vivien, has been kind enough to regularly ask me about the launch and to comment on the different events I’ve spoken at around town. Until this week, I had thought she was just one of those incredibly generous people who is always kind enough to express a curiosity in others. She is one of those people, but there is more to her interest than that.

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As we were leaving Vivien’s studio the other day, I noticed that she had a beautiful hard cover edition of Gone With the Wind on her bookshelf. I then saw that her shelves were full of nice editions of classic novels. Vivien explained that she had read all of the books as a young girl in Communist China and that, of all them, Gone With the Wind had been her favorite. She called it a “great epic” and explained how it opened up to her “a whole new world about the people and culture in the American South.” She also had been touched by the romantic relationship between Scarlett and Rhett.

Gone With the Wind had been Vivien’s father’s favorite as well. Father and daughter were voracious readers. They often kept each other company by each reading their individual books in the same room. “We felt very close,” she said. “It was a camaraderie spirit that we shared.”

The books on Vivien’s shelves today are not the ones she had read as a girl though. Her books had all been confiscated. Vivien explained that, during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards entered private homes to seize items they considered “bourgeois” and “poisonous” to the people. Her family lost its music, piano, and extensive library of Chinese and English-language books, including many rare volumes.

In 1984, Vivien immigrated to the United States. In the years since, she has made a point of reacquiring copies of the books that had been taken from her, including Gone With the Wind. Though she was not able to rebuild her family’s entire library, she has assembled a beautiful collection of which she is understandably proud.

            Vivien’s story is a wonderful reminder of how lucky we are in the United States to have virtually unlimited access to the reading material of our choice. And on a personal level, I’m thrilled that spying GWTW’s distinctive yellow dust jacket has brought me closer to another book lover. As Vivien said when I commented on our new bond, “there is a kindred spirit between people who love books.” 

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