True confession: until this past week, I’d never read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Somehow I was never assigned it in school, and although I have vague memories of the movie (Gregory Peck and something about a ham), my main association with the novel, aside from the admiration automatically accorded a classic, was gratitude to Harper Lee: she wrote one book, apparently decided a Pulitzer Prize-winner was enough, and capped her pen. Thereby giving solace to writers like me who don’t put out a new book every year. (“But look, Harper Lee wrote only one novel and she did all right!”)
I couldn’t call myself a card-carrying writer, however, if I skipped Harper Lee’s decades-long-awaited second novel, GO SET A WATCHMAN, released later this month. Nor could I live with myself if I read the sequel without first reading the classic. So I did what I usually do when I know there’s something I should read: wait a really long time, then buy the book in an airport bookstore and bring it with me on a flight.
I couldn’t help but worry that MOCKINGBIRD, like many books that have become classics, would be beautifully crafted yet carry with it the sweet dusty whiff of attic that often accompanies beloved but outdated novels.
My fretting was for naught.
Not only do I love MOCKINGBIRD (and have developed crush on Atticus), but at a time in our country when white cops use excessive force to kil black men, and white boys shoot black churchgoers, and black churches quietly burn, without much media attention, in the South–MOCKINGBIRD is more relevant than ever.
I’m sure you have your favorite passages and moments from the book (and I’d love to know what they are), so I won’t provide a book report here. Instead I will ask for reflection on what has really changed in our country since Harper Lee published TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in 1960: the good changes in some social areas and the continued stagnancy in others. And what we can do about it, in ways big and small, every day. And share one of my favorite passages:
” ‘I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.’ ”
* Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN will be released on July 14, 2015, by Harper, a division of HarperCollins. To pre-order, please click here. And please come back next week for another #FridayReads. *