Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

My daughter's seventh-grade English teacher read this book to her class this past spring.  I had to read this in the seventh grade, too, and while I didn't hate it, I certainly didn't enjoy it.  When my daughter came home talking about the book and asking questions, I found I had very little recollection of the book other than the fate of Tom Robinson and the shooting of the mad dog.  I have always detested the death of dogs in fiction as a cheap shot, emotionally manipulative, an all-around despicable literary maneuver.  As a twelve-year-old, I completely missed the point of that entire scene.

So I decided that I would reread the book so I could discuss it with my daughter.  I brought home a a copy from the library, and one for my husband, too, who joined us in our group read.

This book knocked my socks off.

Clearly I read this book when I was too young to pick up on the many things that are hinted at through Scout's narration - things that she is too young to truly understand, but that an adult, or more experienced teen reader, would get.  Also, the book was very upsetting to me at that age.  A twelve-year-old can read a book about an innocent black man on trial for the rape of a white woman and believe that it just might turn out okay.  Particularly with a man like Atticus representing him.  An older reader would go in with much more cynicism and be more prepared for a more negative outcome.  This difference in reading experiences makes me wonder how many other books were assigned reading that I think I read, but should probably go back and take another look at.

There are so many things I loved about this book.  Scout, first and foremost.  Although she was a likable kid to me when I first read the book, reading it this time with the awareness of the time in which she was growing up, and the fact that her mother is dead and her father is raising her with the help of Calpurnia - and later on, his sister - made me just adore her.  I remember hating her aunt, but this time I could see where she was coming from, and how her motivation was simply to help Scout have a more secure future.  And Atticus - oh, where do I start?  Suffice it to say he is on my top-five literary crush list.  What a man.

I'm so glad I reread this novel, and that my husband I read it along with my daughter, so we were able to discuss it and, I hope, help her to enjoy it and understand things about it that totally flew over my head when I read it at her age.  I love the fact that her teacher took the time to read the book out loud to her class, so they could stop and discuss tricky elements of the book together, and talk about the historical perspective.  When we had all finished reading it, we watched the movie together, and had a lot of fun talking about the film adaptation, what was the same, what was different, and why they may have made those choices.  It was a lot of fun.

If you think you read this novel but read it years ago, take the time to give it another read.  You won't be sorry.  And if you've never read it but think you know the story, give it a try.  It's a captivating read, one that I know I'll be picking up again.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (HarperCollins, 1960)

4 comments:

  1. I read this book for the first time on its 50th anniversary. It wasn't on the reading lists for me in school since our lists focused much more on Canadian lit. This book surprised me because I set out thinking I wouldn't like it. I tend to not like classic literature, but I liked it a lot. I had so many upset tummy moments over the conflict though, but I loved that a book like this was written because it discusses so many things that we're just not allowed to talk about anymore lest we upset someone. And it's banned so many places!

    Did your daughter end up liking it in the end? Do you think that because you and your husband read it with her that maybe she came away from the experience liking it more than you did in 7th grade?

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    1. I'm glad that you liked it too! It is a difficult book to read in many respects, but so many parts of it are absolutely delightful. She did like it in the end - particularly the parts with Boo, who she just adored. I think that reading it with her helped a lot, and also the fact that her teacher read it with them, instead of assigning it and giving quizzes to see if they'd read it. They apparently had a lot of good discussion in class, which carried over at home. It was a great experience, and I'm so glad I read it again!

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  2. My mother read this to my brother and I when we weren't very old -- I think I was maybe only 10 or so? It's one of my favourite reading memories -- the three of us curled up in my parents' bed, reading the book and then talking about whatever it was we'd just read (like Cat, I didn't have the opportunity to read this in school; we read W.O. Mitchell in grade 5 instead, I think). I then read it again in high school, just for fun, and loved it just as much then. It might be time for a re-read. But I think it's the reading together, plus the talking, that made it such a good experience. I'm glad you were able to put aside your bad experience and read it again! I know that's not easy. (See: I haven't read W.O. Mitchell of my own volition since grade school.)

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    1. I love that your mom read you this! That is great. It is a shame how many books can be totally ruined by being made into a mandatory reading assignment. Not that teachers shouldn't be introducing good books to students, it's just that so many of them manage to suck every drop of joy from the books with papers and quizzes and essay assignments. These days, though, it seems that so many of the students come into my library with reading lists that have such a wide range of choices - we rarely had a choice. Although I once had a teacher who asked the students for their proposals for an in-class read. Everyone voted, and in the end there were two to choose from: Watership Down and Dune. I ended up reading and enjoying both of them!

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