All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

on May 16, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee
Vintage Books
2004 (originally 1960) , 307p
Re-read from my personal collection

To Kill A Mockingbird has been standard reading for Year 10 (fifteen year olds) in the state I went to school for as long as I can remember and was my first introduction to this book. Now school had an awesome habit of giving us extremely boring texts to read and then dissecting them until our disinterest turned to utter hatred. Year 10 was the first time we were really split up in English classes and my class was supposedly made up of the students that did very well in the subject. And for the first time, our teacher had our interest with this book. We all liked it – for the first time we had found something set to be interesting. I’ve always remembered that – the one book from school that has stood the test of time and the only one I’ve ever bothered to re-read over the years.

Now it’s been a while – so long in fact that when my online book-club nominated this as its read, I didn’t even bother to look for it until about 2wks out from the deadline because I knew we owned it and didn’t notice until then that our copy had…gone. Loaned out and never returned or perhaps lost in 3 moves in 3 years, packing and unpacking of boxes and boxes of books. So I immediately bought another one (the Vintage version pictured here) and set about reading it. I had intended to take it slowly but that ended up not happening at all. How had I forgotten just how utterly brilliant this novel is?

Unless you live under a rock, then at least the basic story line is familiar – told through the eyes of Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird  revolves around the summers she and her brother Jem and their friend Dill spend trying to make Boo Radley, their reclusive neighbour, come out of his house. Scout and Jem’s father Atticus, a defense lawyer, is handed the impossible case – defense of a black man of a crime against a white woman in 1930s Alabama and Scout and Jem learn some real lessons on racism, class divide, the mob mentality and tolerance in a Deep South small town.

The problem with reviewing a book like To Kill A Mockingbird, which was published 52 years ago, is that what can you find that’s new to say about it? It’s probably been reviewed millions of times over the course of that time, every word studied and analysed, every character dissected, every lesson learned. What I can say is how glad I am that my book club chose this and I read it again as a 30 year old. Whilst I liked it at 15 and understood it, I’d say it didn’t make me think as it does now. Atticus was perhaps my first ‘adult crush’ that I remember – even at 15 I thought he was amazing. But now, I truly appreciate what a character he is, the unique way in which he parents Jem and Scout. He’s a single father in an era that would probably have been very unusual for the men to parent hands on. The society in which they live is traditional and very strict in its views but Atticus, in his own gentle way, preaches acceptance and equality and attempts to pass this onto his children, be it about Boo Radley and their attempts to make him “come out” or about Tom Robinson, the black man charged with attacking a white woman. Even whilst discrediting the young white woman on the stand, Atticus is faultlessly polite and does not seek to humilate her (although he could).  To be honest, I think all my feelings about Atticus can be summed up in one line, which is a direct quote from the book and one that totally stood out to me when I read it this time:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Yer father’s passin’.”

At one stage in the book, both Scout and Jem lament that their father is old and can’t do anything, unlike the fathers of their school friends. He sits inside and reads books, he doesn’t go shooting or fishing or play sports. Scout is perhaps too young to really intimately understand a lot of the ins and outs of what is occurring at the trial but I think at that moment she grasps that her father is truly an admirable man, someone that she should be deeply proud of. His manner and defense of someone that many believe shouldn’t of even had a defense, but also the manner in which he conducts himself, is a beautiful eye opener, but in the right way, for the children when so many other things their eyes are opened to within the community are negative. That line, spoken to Scout by the Reverend Syke’s, the black pastor at the conclusion of the trial, is powerful enough to make tears come to my eyes!

Like Jem and Scout do about their father, as a student I lamented everything we read being so old. I wished we could study just one contemporary text and forego the oodles of Shakespeare, Keats, etc that we were lumped with in later high school. I’m not really connected to the curriculum these days so I’m unaware if they’re blending equal amounts of classic and contemporary, but I do believe that this is a book that should never be removed from the curriculum. It has lessons that never seem to go out of fashion, unfortunately – the acceptance of people who are different, equality for races, social classes, the importance of civility.

I’m so glad that my online book-club gave me the excuse I needed to revisit this one – I have so many new books to read at the moment that re-reads (which I used to do a lot) have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes it’s nice to sit down and just re-immerse yourself in something that still has something to teach you, even after 15 years.

10/10

Book #83 of 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird was on the list of 50 classics I constructed for The Classics Club – #45 on my list and one of only 3 titles that will be re-reads. I’ve now read 2/50 books towards the challenge.


22 responses to “To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

  1. VeganYANerds says:

    I’m sure I read it for school too but I don’t remember if I liked or disliked it so you’ve inspired me to borrow a copy from my library and re-read it! Thanks 😉

    • Definitely give it a re-read Mandee! It’s fabulous, I got so much more out of it reading it now. It’s scary to think that the scenario in the book took place, in the scheme of things, not that long ago in history. Some of the attitudes in the book were just scary. And some were just amazing too.

  2. Amy says:

    I’ve loved this book ever since I read it 30 years ago in high school. Nobility of character never goes out of style.

  3. Danielle says:

    Oh, yes! One of my favourite books (and movies!) of all time. I read this when I was really young, about 12-13? Purely because my mum told me that I was nearly named Scout, after her favourite book character. So, of course, I *had* to read about this almost-my-name character … needless to say, I was very angry with mum and dad for not going ahead and giving me that name. I devoured the book, cried like a baby and then read it all over again. I have a few copies of it now – my battered first copy, and a few pretty Anniversary editions.

    Oh, and when I was 13 and watched the film, I developed my first ever crush on Gregory Peck, *swoon*.

    As to the problem of “what can you find that’s new to say about it?” – I’d say, “Just read it. Trust me.”

    • I know we watched the movie for school too, but I can’t really remember much about it! I know how awesome Gregory Peck is supposed to be in it though, I think I’m going to have to try and buy it somewhere, I want to watch it and see what it’s like as an adaptation. It seems to tick all the right boxes.

      That’s so cool that your mother nearly called you Scout, would’ve been awesome to have been given such a literary name! I know there are a few people around that are supposed to have been named after Scout Finch (like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter). I might have to file it away if I ever have a daughter, lol.

  4. Danielle says:

    P.S. – can I just highly recommend a 2010 documentary on the book, called ‘Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – it’s all about Harper Lee’s inspiration for the book, and the ramifications it had on the Civil Rights movement in America. The doco also interviews many famous celebrities who count it among their all-time favorite book. Oprah Winfrey was my fav – she reads that paragraph you pointed out; “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Yer father’s passin’.” – and her reading bought me to tears!

    Great movie, if you can find it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1638979/

  5. Marg says:

    Damn. I wish I could have fitted it in to my reading schedule now. I will get to it eventually just couldn’t do it in time for the group discussion this time around!

    • I got up yesterday morning and there was already a hundred comments, haha. It was hard to even find anything that I could say, it had all pretty much been said. But I hope you get a chance to read this one at some stage! I’m going to see if I can find the movie now.

  6. mareelouise says:

    What a wonderful book!

  7. Alexis says:

    What a thoughtful review about a true American classic. Much like you, the last (and only) time I read To Kill A Mockingbird was a solid 15 years ago, when I was a freshman in high school. You’ve definitely made me what want re-read it though. I’ll have to put it on my reading list!

  8. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read this classic! I can’t recall reading it at school… it’s on my classics TBR list… perhaps i’ll get to it someday!

    • Jayne, I hope you do! It’s one of two books I clearly recall studying at school and the only one that never gave me nightmares (Unlike In The Skin Of A Lion, by Michael Ondaajte!). It’s just so fabulous, I hope you get a chance to give it a go. I know what it’s like trying to shuffle in some classics when there’s soo many other novels out there to try.

  9. Jillian ♣ says:

    I’m in the middle of reading this one for the first time, so I only skimmed your post (so I’ll be surprise by the story!) But I wanted to pop in and say GOOD JOB on reading 2 out of your 50 so far. 🙂

    • Thanks Jillian, I am loving what I’ve read so far! Need to keep up my pace…. enjoy your reading of TKAM, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts once you’ve completed it.

  10. Belle says:

    I didn’t have to read this for school believe it or not, so I only read it this year – but loved it! Glad you enjoyed it on a reread. I do love that line you’ve highlighted – it encapsulates the book so well.

  11. Care says:

    Beautiful review.

  12. naimahaviland says:

    I really love To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel and the movie. I grew up in Alabama, where To Kill a Mockingbird is often performed by local theatrical groups. The state is very proud of the story and Harper Lee is like a favorite daughter.

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