100 Essential Books – To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee (1960)

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There was a reason I wasn’t up at the crack of dawn this morning queuing up at a bookshop to grab a copy of the newly published “Go Set A Watchman” and that was because I think “To Kill A Mockingbird” is up there amongst my Top 3 favourite novels (and may very well be my absolute favourite) and I just don’t know whether I can bring myself to read the new book.  I’m not sure I want to know what happens to Scout when she grows up, she has existed in a little capsule of time for me for so long that I do not want any disappointment coming.  “Go Set A Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” although it is set some years afterwards.  We’ve known this book was coming now for a few months and I am still not sure what I think about its arrival.  But it has got me thinking about this book once again (something I do quite a lot).

Like most people my first introduction to “Mockingbird” was at school where it was the set novel text for O Level English Literature.  At the time I wasn’t really reading books of this length, I couldn’t tear myself away from “Record Mirror” long enough so it had to be good to impress.  And it did.  And it got me reading novels again.  Like many boys I hadn’t really made the transition from junior to adult fiction (other than Agatha Christie which I devoured too young to really appreciate it).  Trashy horror novels and anything deemed racy would be passed around but anything smacking of literature was pretty much avoided.  Until this. Then I was back in the room, wanting to read more and more (there wasn’t any more Harper Lee of course) but because of this book there was A Level, an English degree and a life-long love of novels.  Thank you Harper Lee and sorry if I am not rushing out to buy the new one, I am sure I will read it eventually.

Before I read the book I had seen the film and Boo Radley had scared the living daylights out of me.  I saw it one Summer Sunday evening on TV when I was about eight or nine and if my memory serves me right (although this could be one of the times when memories become protracted) it was on either the week before or week after a showing of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” which also scared me to death (and if the bird that is cheeping outside whilst I am typing this dares to come in through the open window you will not see me for dust) so it was a bit of a growing summer for me as well having to cope with things that made me frightened. (“It’s only a film….” I would be told).  The other film which turned me into a childhood quivering wreck was David Lean’s version of “Great Expectations” but that reminds me of winter nights and jacket potatoes so probably wasn’t shown around the same time. Anyway, apart from a few moments that still haunt my nightmares “The Birds” has lost its power to thrill but “Great Expectations” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” have not lost any of their power for this particular adult.

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Over the years I have re-read “To Kill A Mockingbird” many times and must be on my fifth copy, having lent out, given away or have had it fall apart as it has been read so much.  I can’t believe that anyone reading this would not be familiar with the book but it is sheer magic from the word go.  The narrator’s observation of Jem’s broken arm, which had occurred when he was thirteen leads to an examination of how things led up to this event.  “He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave the idea of making Boo Radley come out.”  And bang, we are into the story, a looking back to a childhood summer where there is much growing to be done and the lines between the carefree nature of being a child and the responsibilities of becoming an adult are smudged.  Scout, Dill, Atticus, Jem and Boo Radley are some of the greatest creations in fiction and this book has so much heart, is so involving and a perfectly crafted story with so many memorable moments.  Each time I re-read it is a different aspect of the book that really comes to life, sometimes the trial, sometimes the children’s behaviour towards Boo, sometimes the rabid dog incident. Lee’s tale is so rich it demands regularly re-reading.

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Feeling this way, should I read the new book?………………..I’m not sure………..

 

To Kill A Mockingbird was published by Penguin in 1960.  Go Set A Watchman is published today.

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8 thoughts on “100 Essential Books – To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee (1960)

  1. Oh how I wish we had had Mockingbird for our English literature O level, we were stuck with The Time Machine. I hated it, that and Julius Caesar and 50 selected poems by John Betjeman, none of which I can remember. I read Mockingbird a few years later when my sister was doing her O’s. She didn’t like this book and gave up lit. One of the parts that sticks in my mind is Scout rolling around on the ground stuck in her pageant costume and only hearing what was going on. Scout having to read to the old lady ( I can’t for the life of me remember her name). Miss Maudy’s garden. I could almost smell the smoke and hear the crackling of the house fire. The heat in the courtroom. This is one of the few books I really begrudged putting down and I was saddened when I finished it. But like yourself, each time I read it, something else sticks out. This is my joint number one along with Gone With The Wind.

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    • You’ve just brought all those episodes from the book back clearly into my mind! I’ve never read “Gone With The Wind” but I know it is a favourite for a lot of people so I will get round to it one day. I watched the film when I was recovering from a very painful dental operation and that’s clouded my judgment I think. I have watched it since but it still made my mouth hurt!!

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      • The film is different to the book in as much as we learn far moré about the characters and what drives them. The film has left out so much, but it would have been 12 hours long instead of four. (Wayne hates it, but that’s another story) it is my all time favourite film. I have to have a box of tissues handy. We can’t all like the same things. Sorry about the dentist though.

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  2. Oh dear, I’ve agreed to review the audiobook version of Go Set a Watchman (narrated by Reece Witherspoon) and am half looking forward and half dreading it. I was a bit older when I read Mockingbird as we didn’t do it at school, so I think in my early 20s. And I had also seen the film before reading the book. I agree – it’s a wonderful creation and the characters are so real to me. I wish they hadn’t brought out the new one really, and I wish I could resist reading it… but I can’t!

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  3. You make a good case here, Phil. I’m one of those philistines who still have this on a to-do list. One of you’re top 3 books? That’s a high recommendation! I say ignore the sequel for now because of media hype…I agree with you about “Great Expectations” film. That convict in the early scenes terrified me as a boy. Thanks too for “The Birds” mention. That’s one I’d forgotten about.

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    • It was the convict lurking on the marshes that terrified me too but also Miss Havisham and her house. The early scenes can still make me jump (even though I know what’s coming) but I have got over my fear of Miss Havisham now!

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  4. Pingback: The Author Strikes Back – Chris Whitaker Interview – reviewsrevues

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