#FridayReads: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

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!”)

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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would be beautifully crafted yet carry with it the sweet dusty whiff of attic that often accompanies beloved but outdated novels.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. * 

 

6 Responses to #FridayReads: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

  1. Loved the quote you chose. Reading it there were times that the language was sparse yet so rich. So many lessons to learn. I was saddened that not that much has changed.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Sue, and for reading the blog! Since it’s the day after South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds, I am feeling optimistic–we do see progress in this country. But the larger issues continue to cry out for our attention. I’m glad you liked the quote I chose from TKAM–one of many I loved.

      Are you going to read Go Set A Watchman?

      Happy reading!
      Jenna. x

  2. As a child, hunkered down in the stacks of my local Maine library, I discovered TKAM by chance. It was judged too old for me, but I devoured it anyway and it changed my life. I wanted to be Atticus when I grew up. I wanted to right the wrongs of racism. TKAM was the duct tape on my marching boots, the paint on my brush, the ink in my pen. I’ve written protest poems and a manuscript focusing on racism — Harper Lee’s work shaped my morality as I hope mine may shape others.
    How far have we come? Not nearly far enough while the racist flag flies in the hearts of so many and blood still stains the asphalt. Will I read Watchman? Not because of the hype, but in honor of the debt I owe the author. And yes, I’ll dig out that taped-up copy of TKAM to re-read first.

    • Mara, after reading your post I wish in some ways I had read MOCKINGBIRD as a child! (How I managed to escape this is beyond me.) But then I would not have had the significant pleasure of discovering it as an adult. Thank you for sharing your love of the novel. I’ll be looking forward to your opinion on GSAW ~!

      Yours,
      Jenna. x

  3. I adore TKAM. It’s so good for so many reasons. And, for me, it doesn’t read like a dusty classic. It’s timeless — as relevant today as it was back in 1960. I’m reading GO SET A WATCHMAN right now. While it seems a little skimpy on plot, I’m loving all the stories Scout tells about when she was young. It’s like reading deleted scenes from TKAM! Not sure what my overall opinion of it will be, but I’m enjoying it so far. I’ll be interested to see what you think of it …

    • Susan, I’m in the middle of reading GSAW as well. As for what I think of it…. I hope you’ll join me and Robin Kall Homonoff, radio hostess of Reading With Robin, for a GSAW discussion on Facebook 7.29 at 8 PM ET! (I know, a mild cliffhanger and a commercial rolled into one–not fair. 🙂 I’d love to have your opinion!

      EVERYBODY who wants to join us in discussing this long-awaited and fiercely debated book: please email [email protected] to be added to the group.

      Talk to you soon! Happy reading!

      XO

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