Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird  by Harper Lee (1960, 376 pages) came at once to my mind when I began to put together my to read list for "The Books to Read Before I Die Challenge 2010" hosted by Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea.       Over thirty million copies have been sold.   It is on many  lists of top 100 novels of all times.   The time had come long ago for me to read this book, this prototypical American novel praised and loved by nearly all.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a universal tale of children growing up in a climate of prejudice and hatred of those in some way unlike themselves.   No culture or country today is immune from this.   In some places it is subtle and in others it is murderous.  Here in the Philippines darker skin is looked down on as a sign of lower class origins.    To Kill a Mockingbird is also very much a work rooted in the the American South, in Alabama in the 1930s.   In this part of the United States, as a legacy of slavery of course, the population is around fifty percent of African descent.   To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee have received every form of award and acceptance a book can have in America.  It was made into a very successful movie.

The book centers around a family, a father (a widower in his 50s) his young daughter (who narrates the story) and her brother.   The father, an attorney, is defending as an unpaid volunteer a black man accused of raping a white woman.   The woman is from what was in the time called a "White Trash" family.   The only evidence against the man is the word of this woman.   The man is crippled in  his right arm.   Common sense dictates that upon an examination of the facial bruises of the woman that it could not have been caused by a man whose  right arm was crippled.   A doctor and the sheriff testify to this.   Clearly the man is innocent.     I do not want to give away to much more of the plot as many others have not yet read this book.    I think you will enjoy it as I did.

I think To Kill A Mockingbird is so popular and loved because it is a book of gentle wisdom.      For many  it will be the only  book they read that will ever be on a list of best novels.   It is almost a Young Adult Book even though it deals with adult themes.    The father is a very wise and strong man.   He loves to read and has passed this along to his daughter.   In fact the daughter says reading is just like breathing to her, she does not love it she just does it.   When I read what the daughter says about her father I had to show it to my wife as it hit close to home:

"He did not do the things our schoolmates' fathers did:  he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke.   He just set in the living room and read".

Harper Lee captures well the speech of the characters.   There is true insight into race relations in this work.   One of the common social functions of prejudices is to keep one class of people in place through making them think that they are superior to another one.  To Kill a Mockingbird does not tell us about this, it shows us how to learn  from our own thoughts.   There is real wisdom in this book.    It is for sure worth the time to read it.

It is an easy read but it will stay in your mind.   Millions of people love this book.   For sure I would be happy for my 13 and 16 year old daughters to read it.   I do not really think To Kill A Mockingbird should be approached as if it were a literary masterwork but it is a good read and a morally good book for sure.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a touching,  written from the heart "Feel Good" book.   It is an important part of the American reading life.   American presidents have given her awards    Talk show hosts swoon over Harper Lee.   She never wrote another book.   She was a childhood friend of Truman Capote and helped him research In Cold Blood.    If you have not yet read this book, you probably should at some point, especially if you are a teacher or librarian as it is a good first serious book for young readers.

I am be reading this book for the following challenges:
  1. New Authors to You
  2. Global Reading Challenge
  3. Awesome Authors
  4. Centuries Reading Challenge
  5. Wish I Had Read That Challenge
  6. 52 books in 52 weeks
  7. Read Before I Die Challenge
  8. The Book Blogger Recommendations Challenge
Mel u


Alyce said...

You got off to a quick start with your challenge reads this year! I first read this book my freshman year of high school, and I loved it. That quote about the father reading does hit close to home (except that I'm a mom). I hope that my reading wears off on my kids too.

Anonymous said...

Great review as always. This is a book I have tried to get the 16 year old to read but she just won't, in part because I think so many adults have urged her to read it, it has become the subject of a kind of minor rebellion. Her school libraian did a book talk on it urging the kids to read it. It has made me think I should be careful not to over hype a book to teenagers. This is such a readable book and Scout is a wonderful narrator it is a shame if teenagers don't get to read this book.
The lines you quoted also hit home as my other half is a quite bookish person not at all your typical Australian male, the result is a daughter who is a reader and a thoughtful, emphathetic person. I suspect she will pick this book up when she is good and ready and when she doesn't feel under pressure from adults. But like you I think it is a wonderful book for teens/YA.

Mel u said...

Aylce-of my 3 daughters 11, 13 and 16-the 11 year old is already trying to read Moby Dick-it is referenced in her favorite movie Matilda-I gave her my copy and inscribed it to her with a note saying you will read it when you are ready-my 13 year old loves the Twilight series and will start Harry Potter series soon-my 16 year old will read teen girl magazines but is not as much of the reader as the others-of course at her age she is very into the Drama of High School!

Book pusher-I personally just give my daughters books, I inscribe them to each one personally and just say they might want to read it one day-I admit I also sometimes resist what seem to be over hyped books-

Helen's Book Blog said...

This book is on my 2010 list for the Flashback challenge and the book/movie challenge. Our students read it in their freshmen year (of high school) and most seem to like it.

Michelle (su[shu]) said...

I so have to read this soon. It's been on my list of books-I-must-read for such a long time now... And especially because the book has been challenged/banned, I'm even more interested to reading it.

ds said...

Among my favorite books of all time, and you describe it beautifully! Thank you, Mel--and by all means, make your daughters read it. It is one to come back to, over and over again.

Suko said...

I may need to reread this book for its gentle wisdom.

Counts toward 8 challenges?! :)

Dorte H said...

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favourites! And I am happy to say that both my daughters (now 19 and 23) also love Scout and her family. I think the relationship between Scout and her thoughtful, loving father appeals to everybody, but their love of reading makes it especially memorable for devoted readers.

Mel u said...

hcmurdoch-I will look for the movie-I am also enrolled in the movie/book challenge and it would be a good choice-

Michelle-I will look forward to your thoughts on the book

ds-I will give the book soon to my middle daughter-she is most likely to read it

Suko-thanks as always-

DorteH-Scout and her father's joint love of reading was very moving to me-my wife and I both laughed aloud when I showed her the quote about her father doing nothing but reading-

Patrick said...

So this is her only book and she never wrote again? Interesting. And I haven't even seen the movie yet.
This book has been in my list of classic-books-to-read for quite a while now. Your review just nudged it up the priority list. Thanks for the great review Mel. ;)

Elizabeth said...

I read this for the first time in high school for an American history class, and it's been a favorite ever since. I feel I might need to do a re-read soon - it's been too long since I've visited Scout and her family. Glad you enjoyed it!

Carrie said...

Great review! Friends of mine named their daughter Aurora Scout after Scout in this book. I think it is a great name!

Irene said...

This is my all time favorite book, I could read it and re-read and I do. I wish I could track down a first edition. Just for the heck of it. Thank you for your review.

Jenners said...

I always loved this book ... and if I'd had a daughter I wanted to name her Scout. But I didn't so I settled for naming my cat Scout.