2013 Challenges, Books

Book 214: To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Lee, Harper - To Kill A MockingbirdWhat a great re-read. This was required reading in high school and I remember reading it, but I had little-to-no recollection of the story other than the major plot points. This re-read counts for my Back to the Classics, a bonus for my Mount TBR and The Classics Club reading challenges.

Before you read my review read the To Kill A Mockingbird review in the list of 19 Depressing One Star Reviews of Classic Literature and then once the shock has fully settled in you can come back and read my review.

As bad as the review is, it’s not necessarily wrong in many aspects; this novel is a very specific and very short novel, but I would not go anywhere near so far as the person who wrote the review. I can easily see where someone would not be impressed with the book for its slow pace, but that’s what I love about it. Lee sets the setting, and thus the book, up perfectly:

“People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A Day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” (5)

So you can’t say you weren’t warned, I mean come on its page FIVE. However, where I disagree is the characters and their one dimension-ness according to the reviewer.

Don’t get me wrong, I can easily see where the reviewer could get that, but considering they weren’t even finished with the book and so much change occurs in the last half of the book for the main characters you have to ignore that part of the review entirely.

This book’s success clearly comes from its narrator, Scout. Scout reminds me a lot of Frankie Adams in Carson McCuller’s The Member of the Wedding (which I have not reviewed on this blog, but read in undergrad) and not just because of their tomboyish-ness or their being from small southern towns. It has more to do with their being outcasts within their own lives and challenging the expected-norms of young southern women in the 40s-60s. This is also interesting as there are a few conspiracy theories out there that Truman Capote wrote To Kill A Mockingbird and Capote and McCullers were close friends (just as Capote and Lee were childhood friends and she helped in researching In Cold Blood).

However, for me it was not the story or the characters that made this book what it is. It is the glimpse into a version of the old south similar to Gone with the Wind or many of Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Alice Walker or Jim Grimsley’s works. These authors, including Harper Lee, have written either about race relations, southern heritage, racial heritage or poverty. What Lee does so well is the cross dimensions of poverty. She profiles many types of families in poverty and how many were well off families at one point and how some were never well off. This is not a story of a rich white family and their fall from wealth, it is a story of the survival of the south, the survival of southern gentility to everyone in a time when extreme racism and segregation were the norm.

And telling their stories through the eyes of a children, often misfit children, makes these authors superb at touching on issues many adults find uncomfortable to talk about. It allows authors to explore extremely tense and controversial issues in such an open and innocent way that the reader can’t help but reflect on their own views, not to mention having children with little-to-no preconceived notions really opens up the options of how the story can end. This is incredibly poignant in To Kill A Mockingbird as we have Jem, who is on the edge of adolescence at the beginning of the story, and Scout, who is a few years away from adolescence, and at the end of the story we have Jem whose appears to have been jaded about the world having started adolescence and Scout on the verge of adolescence starting to question her childish innocence.

Recommendation: I’m sure my response made little-to-no sense, but there are so many things you can talk about when you read a major classic, especially one with such an iconic place in American literary culture. This is one of those novels I think everyone should read as an adult. I mean sure read it as a high school student, you may identify with it and love it forever (like my aunt Miriam :-D), but you may not appreciate it and should definitely revisit it as an adult.

Opening Line: “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”

Closing Line: “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from To Kill A Mockingbird
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” (18)

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (30)

“It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.” (108)

“Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” (227)

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26 thoughts on “Book 214: To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee”

  1. I didn’t have to read this for school, not in my class at the very least but my friend read it and for ages kept telling me to read it. I never did until many years later and loved it. Why is it the more a person tells me to read a book the more I dig my heels in and refuse?

    I think there’s a difference between a slow book and a slow story. Slow books are boring probably because you just wanna get to the end. Slow stories are moving at their own pace and it is the right pace. I think I kinda prefer a good slow story because you can relax and spread your arms and legs out a bit and get comfy.

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    1. I do the same thing, mostly because the people who recommend books to me don’t read on a regular basis so I take them with a bucket of salt.

      And I definitely agree about slow books and slow stories and most of the authors let you know if it’s going to be a slow story and you can set your brain up.

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        1. Obviously, however for the point of hyperbole it was overly exaggerated to an amount that makes it so excessive that you came looking to correct it.

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  2. Goodness that link is depressing. many of my faves didn’t fare too well. I love this book. My cat, Atticus, is named after Atticus Finch. And when my cat is in trouble I call him by his full name. So that means about 5 times a day. I need to reread this one for my challenge and I think you just bumped it up my TBR drastically.

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    1. It was depressing, but hilarious; and that is why I don’t generally take recommendations from friends that are non-readers. I assumed your cat was named after Atticus, it’s not a very common name 😀

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      1. A friend suggested it and I loved it right way. When my cat killed his first and I hope only bird I told him he wasn’t living up to his name. I tried explaining to my cat that he needed to be the champion of the little guy, not a killer. He ate the bird. Dang cat.

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          1. Mhm One of the best (and most frustrating) things about cats is that they’ve got minds of their own and ignore their humans with disdain. Atticus is a great name for a cat. 🙂

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  3. Well, no book is going to please everyone! I revisited Lee’s classic in July as part of Roof Beam Reader’s read-along, and I noticed that many of the other participants didn’t love To Kill a Mockingbird much the first time they read it (usually for school), but enjoyed it more as adults. So, the author of the one star review, who read it as part of an honors English class, may like it more in the future, when she or he has had an opportunity to see the ways certain themes of the novel remain relevant to modern life. Still, it’s an ideal novel for children/teenagers, who are at a stage in their lives when books probably have a greater capacity to impact them (as I discuss in my read-along posts).

    I’m surprised that the reviewer thought the characters were one dimensional when one of the Lee’s points is how complex characters are, that you “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” as you quote above. Many characters are not what they seem to be on the surface, such as Mrs. Dubose, Mr. Raymond, the juror related to the Cunninghams, and Boo.

    By the way, the cover you used in this post brings back memories for me! That’s what my old copy looked like, but I couldn’t find it in time for the read-along and had to settle for a different version.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting! I agree with you and I’m always torn about what should and shouldn’t be read in school. I understand the idea of expanding young minds and pushing them to their bounds, but is it too much too fast? And I definitely took that review with a grain of salt as they hadn’t even finished reading the book when they wrote the review!

      It’s the same cover I read in HS and I happened to find a copy, with a HS student’s name in it, and of course bought it and enjoyed it.

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  4. See, I’ve read this book twice during different years of school and disliked it both times. And the weird thing is I can’t exactly explain why. I have no real reasons- it’s just a general dislike. I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that I had to read it as an assignment, or if it is a slower story in general and that’s why… but I definitely don’t agree that the characters are one-dimensional! I would say my favorite thing about the book is its characters and their development throughout the novel. I definitely think it’s a relevant and generally good book for people to read- it’s just not one I keep near and dear to my heart, even though I really wish I did.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. I know what you mean about appreciating it but not liking the novel. For me the story actually draws me in more than the characters because of the pure southern-ness of the story and pace. I definitely did not appreciate this when I first had to read it, but having lived outside of the south for over 6 years now I’m coming to appreciate southern fiction more and more.

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  5. It’s so funny that Scout reminded you of Frankie from The Member of the Wedding (I haven’t read it). But I’ve read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by McCullers and Scout reminds me of Mick (13 year old tomboy) from that novel. Of course, Scout resembles most pictures I’ve seen of McCullers. Great review.

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    1. I could definiltey see that. It’s funny how much she wrote about her own life within her stories. I’m looking forward to re-reading a few of her works in the next few years.

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