To Kill a Mockingbird

I made it through 8th-grade or 9th-grade English without ever being assigned “To Kill a Mockingbird” as required reading, though we did watch the movie.mockingbirdcat

With my general avoidance of classics, I never was interested in picking it up on my own. As I got older and met more writers and readers, I kept hearing about it and how amazing it was. Over and over. And the result was a contrary streak. I wasn’t going to read it voluntarily and if life made me read it, I wasn’t going to like it.

Part of me is really bothered by the fact that Harper Lee is a one-hit wonder. Guys like Graham Greene write gobs of books and don’t win the Pultizer, but she picks it up on book number one. I realize there is a case to be made that Greene was mean and alienating to people, but it seems like one can make the same case about Lee. She won’t talk to the media, she won’t authorize a biography. If she’s that good of a writer, why hasn’t she ever done anything else so we can judge a whole lifetime body of work?

Then my book club had to go pick it as our book for August.

I drug my heels. We didn’t meet in July, so technically, I had two months to get it read. I started it less than a week before book club. Now, it feels like homework and I’m reading it so I can pass the quiz.

I decided to keep a blog record of my impressions.

up to page 100 (Monday, 8/11) 

Nothing has really happened yet. There was just a fire, but that seems like it was underplayed and yes, Jem lost his pants at the Radley place with the fence and they were hung up and mended for him, but not much else has occurred. People say they love Scout as a narrator but I find her grating so far. I want to know more about Atticus. I think that’s coming. Mostly, I’m thinking about how much I’d rather be reading something else.

Around page 200 (Monday, 8/11, evening)

I’m getting tired of the plot being not talked about. I remember Gregory Peck in a courtroom from watching the movie, but we’re not there yet and are just now finding out what the crime was. The best part of these 100 pages was Calpurnia taking Jem and Scout to church with her.

page 270 (Tuesday, 8/12, lunch hour)

Whoa. There is suddenly an active plot. Now the book is more interesting. Courtroom procedure! Why doesn’t the novel start here or closer to here?

The end (Tuesday, 8/12, evening)

I didn’t cry and the book didn’t make me want to be a lawyer. I’ve now read it once and it’s unlikely I will ever do so again.

 

Overall, I’m glad I read it, but it’s not jumping into “best book ever’ territory for me. Maybe if I’d read it at 12 or 13 like many kids in school do, I might have found it more engaging.

I don’t say this to belittle what the book is about. The message of it is still good and true and all that. This kind of prejudice exists in many, many forms today. But as a reader/writer, the story meandered a lot and included a lot of details that (to me) were entirely unnecessary.

If you are one of the many who love this book, let me know why.

 

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3 thoughts on “To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Molly Wetta says:

    I read this as an adult as well. I think it was the voice that really surprised me. Reading a story told from a child’s perspective as an adult was what really impacted me. But there are plenty of books everyone else loved that weren’t my favorites. There’s nothing wrong with it!

  2. I’m a movie guy and there are plenty of pictures that just don’t do it for me, but I’m supposed to like them as a film guy. Intolerance (1916)? Far from the best silent movie I’ve seen. Raging Bull? I have ten Scorsese movies above that one – and Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. L’avventura? L’Atalante, even seen twice on the big screen? Sorry, but yawn for both. The thing is, once these were just movies that were out, just as Mockingbird was once just a new book that was hot. You know, like The DaVinci Code.

    I generally will give classics a try when I hear from some human being I know well enough to trust, as long as they’re willing to answer your question – why do you like it (when they won’t, but keep saying with a smirk that I should just see it, I don’t bother. Usually it means something ‘shocking’ is going to happen and they want my reaction, which is often another yawn. Shock is for pansies). The result is my having quite a few films I do love from those Best Ever lists: Citizen Kane really is that good. The Rules of the Game is charming. The Passion of Joan of Arc, Buster Keaton’s The General and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans really *are* the best silents I’ve seen, among the best movies I’ve seen. Seven Samurai and Casablanca? Wholly enjoyable! It’s not because they’re classics, maybe even in spite of that except for Kane, where that status fits naturally.

    For this one the recommendation comes from my family, those who were around when the book and film were new and they were still kids. I don’t love Scout as a narrator but I do like her, though in my case she’s played by Sissy Spacek, let’s face it – that’s just perfect. I’m close to the very end, and my favorite part has been when the schoolboy took such good care of his mouse-scared teacher, this from one of the earliest chapters. It’s usually the moments that work for me. It did come alive in the courtroom, but I’m still probably going to fall in the 3 1/2 star (out of 5 – always 5) range.

  3. I never think of this one as a classic…it just seems too modern to me.

    However, I think that what I loved about the book is how Scout navigated through the really grown-up topics from her child’s perspective. It reminded me of reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I mean, it’s important and significant not only for what is written but also what is not said.

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