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Book News: Can Mammy Be Rescued From 'Gone With The Wind'?

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Hattie McDaniel played Mammy alongside Vivien Leigh's Scarlett in <em>Gone with the Wind</em>.
/ MGM Studios/Getty Images
MGM Studios/Getty Images
Hattie McDaniel played Mammy alongside Vivien Leigh's Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.

  • Author Donald McCaig is writing a novel that gives a real name and a past to Gone With the Wind's "Mammy" — who for decades has personified an ugly racial caricature: the matronly, obese house slave with uncomplicated loyalty to her white masters. The estate of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell has authorized Ruth's Journey, which will be published by Atria Books in October. Peter Borland, the editorial director of Atria, tells The New York Times, "What's really remarkable about what Donald has done is that it's a book that respects and honors its source material, but it also provides a necessary correction to what is one of the more troubling aspects of the book, which is how the black characters are portrayed." So, will this be a radical reimagining of one of literature's most upsetting characters, a la Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea? If so, it would be a departure from McCaig's 2007 spinoff, Rhett Butler's People, treated Mammy as the same faithful "old negress" familiar from Gone With the Wind.
  • Brad Leithauser writes about the enduring charm of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster: "Wodehouse is an anodyne to annoyances. He's a tonic for those suffering from bearable but burdensome loads of boredom, from jadedness of outlook and dinginess of soul. ... [Wooster's] existence is a reminder that one can leave Neverland and embrace all the trappings of adulthood while still avoiding its fatal trap. You can don a tux and attend fancy dress balls; you can sip Martinis and pluck your cigarettes from a jewelled case; you can even get engaged with some frequency — and still remain a child."
  • George R.R. Martin has released a new chapter from The Winds of Winter, the next book in his Song of Ice and Fire series. It opens: "She woke with a gasp, not knowing who she was, or where. The smell of blood was heavy in her nostrils... or was that her nightmare, lingering? She had dreamed of wolves again, of running through some dark pine forest with a great pack at her he[e]ls, hard on the scent of prey."
  • Frog Music author Emma Donoghue talks to The New York Times about her reading preferences. Asked what books on Ireland she recommends, Donoghue says, "Depends what you fancy — bloody republican history or tragicomedies of poverty, hilarious vernacular dialogue or stripped-down realism. You'll get all that if you do what I recommend, which is read the complete works of Roddy Doyle."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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