In my desperate search for a blog topic today I came across this piece in the HuffPost that made me sit up and mouth “Shut up!” at my computer. Gone with the Wind is a huge hit in North Korea? WT….
But, as I read the article, it started to make sense in the way that the global bestseller phenomenon usually does. The other day I was sitting with a client and we were talking about Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. Our discussion veered into speculation about why that book has been so popular across several generations—the writing is competent but only just, the story one that has been told before and will be told again, and, the characters are not, well, deep. But the book resonated for millions worldwide, much in the way that E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey has four decades later.
While Gone with the Wind boasts more rarefied literary credentials (it did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1937), it’s still pulp fiction in my book. The melodrama, the heart-stopping suspense, the fashions…. Margaret Mitchell wrote a gripping story that didn’t let politics or morality get in the way of a good plot (even though there’s plenty of politics and moralizing going on). GWTW, like the other two books, spoke to many different people by offering archetypal situations, a thoroughly relatable cast of characters, and a keen understanding of heart-wrenching drama—like the overheated telenovelas I grew up on and that seduce millions in the Latin world, GWTW, 50 Shades, and Valley are all just unbelievably effective escapism machines. Formulaic? Yes? Over-the-top? Of course. Capable of taking you away from your dreary reality for the duration of your reading experience? Exactly.
What do you all think of this? Do you find this puzzling or does it make sense? And 70 years from now will 50 Shades of Grey be all the rage in another freedom-challenged society?