To Kill A Mockingbird

Author: Harper Lee

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 1960

I read it: April 2015 (re-read)


I didn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time until I was 26 or so. For whatever reason it wasn’t on any of my school curricula. But thanks to Books & Bars, the book club I frequented at the time, I finally had a reason to get around to it. I loved it. Rarely does a book feel so tangible, so there. And because I read it as an adult, I considered it a very adult book. I don’t quite vibe with those who think it’s a young adult book, though of course that designation probably didn’t exist when it was published. (The year I read it, EW did a fun little piece on the YA-ness of the novel and how it might be received today.)

The book was still pretty satisfying a mere five years later (I realized I don’t re-read books within this span of time very often). I had remembered the broad strokes, and the unparalleled ending, but I had forgotten some of the smaller scenes. The book is very episodic, with little life experiences illustrated by the fire at Scout’s neighbor’s house, or Atticus shooting the rabid dog, and the kids visiting their relatives. There are also the countless little phrases that add life to the book. Here are some favorites:

  • Scout describing Dill as “a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.”
  • Scout re-phrasing lessons she has learned, such as “Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had” or “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”
  • Jem realizing that “around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.”
  • Miss Maudie’s lesson that “people in their right minds never take pride in their talents.”
  • Atticus’ infinite wisdom: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” and “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.”
  • More Atticus, with the weighty truths of the big trial: “She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance.” As well as the fallout of the town’s mistakes: “Don’t fool yourselves—it’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it.”
  • Also, Scout yelling at her brother, “You damn morphodite, I’ll kill you!” (Not a good word now that I’ve looked it up, but still, the execution is priceless.)

What a book. Should we roll our eyes that “Scout” and “Atticus” continue to be on the lists of top baby names, presumably among white people? Nah. Those characters are awesome. We shouldn’t squash the continued celebration of something so moving as To Kill A Mockingbird.

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