Book – To Kill A Mockingbird
Author – Harper Lee
Year – 1960
Pages – 309
Genre – Fiction
Recommended to me by Alex (she has been imploring me to read it for so long that she deserves the credit here, despite it mainly coming about due to it being a school text.)
I think that is is quite possible that suggesting that To Kill A Mockingbird is an excellent book – and very maybe one of the absolute best books that has ever been written – is one of the least controversial things that I have ever written in this blog. Every single person should take the time in their life to read this book. That was the view of a survey of British librarians in 2006 who decreed it a more important book than the Bible. I concur. It is marvellous.
I managed to go into this knowing precious little about the book itself, but I will cover the plot loosely here – I never really like to do that much here in this blog as I would rather you found the story out for yourself, but I think it is probably important in this case to at least have some context. Scout lives in a small town in Alabama named Maycomb, with her brother, Jem, and her father, the respectable Atticus Finch, a lawyer by profession and someone for whom we are shown we should have great respect for . The bulk of the narrative revolves around his representing a black man, Tom Robinson, in court during the Depression era. At least the first half of the book does little but allude to this however, and instead fills us in with the goings on in this little rural world through the eight year old eyes of Scout – from building a snowman, to telling ghost stories about the reclusive neighbours, these stories build a rich setting with deep characters that you simultaneously understand both through the eyes of a child and from a more grown up lens.
There are so many ways you can look at this book, but I must draw attention to the way it presents the relations between black and white America. The book is set in 1935, but was written twenty-five years late in 1960. The United States was undergoing a huge cultural revolution at the time of publication, and differences must have felt enormous between the two eras. We are now sixty years removed from the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird – over twice that original gap – and it is a sad sign of the times that so many of the themes are still prevalent. I find it truly heartening that there are so many characters who understand that there is an unfair discrepancy between the rights of different races in the book, but equally as disheartening that there are still so many today who cannot see this. Things have certainly moved on from 1935 Maycomb, but in no way has it happened on the level that it certainly should have done so.
Quite aside from this though, there are still so many reasons that this book is incredible. Firstly, it is beautifully written. The language is not simple – the kids at school struggle with it – but still it flows in a way that is reminiscent of the time, and also quite timeless itself. Secondly, the characters are wonderful. Scout is a fully realised narrator – occasionally unreliable through her innocence and naivety, but endearing and strong. Atticus is everything you could wish for in a role model hero. Jem has fire and grit to him, Dill brings questioning and sympathy, and even the spectre of Boo Radley adds to the build of a wonderful cast of characters. Every figure has their place and reason to exist, not just within the narrative, but also the town of Maycomb. Thirdly, there is an ease to the book that not all classic novels have. Some books feel like a chore. It is a reason that I have never tackled Jane Austen with any success – I read for pleasure and too often gain little if it is a task to overcome rather than get lost in. This book is a masterclass in making excellent literature feel effortless.
I’m not scared to give high marks to books that I have enjoyed, but in this case, I am positive that there are few who would disagree with my summary that this is about as close to a must read as any book can get.