With the imminent release of Go Set A Watchman, the sequel of To Kill A Mockingbird and possibly the most debated and anticipated book launch EVER, reader Kitty suggested we read TKAM for this month’s book club.
For those who haven’t read it TKAM is a coming-of-age story by Harper Lee set in 1930s Southern America (it’s the only book by Lee ever published, until GSAW, which comes out in July). The story takes place over three years and is told through the eyes of Scout Finch, a not-quite six year old tomboy who lives with her older brother Jem and their lawyer father Atticus in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama. The summer the novel begins Scout, Jem and their friend Dill are obsessed with their reclusive neighbour Boo Radley, coming up with endless schemes to lure him out of his house. At the heart of the book is a trial in which Atticus is called to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman, a trial which divides the community and has fatal consequences.
When it celebrated its 50th anniversary back in 2010 TKAM had sold over 30 million copies worldwide. It won the Pulizter Prize. It’s been endlessly studied by school children for decades. It’s hard to know where to start with discussing a book with that kind of history, it doesn’t feel like you can say anything that hasn’t already been said.
The story, which takes place over three years of Scout’s life, made me laugh out loud, gasp in horror and punch the air along the way. The characters are so well written I feel that if any one of them was to walk up to me right now and say hello I would know exactly who they were. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the entire Finch family but especially Scout, and I’m curious to find out what kind of woman she turned into in GSAW which was written before TKAM but is set 20 years later.
The language simultaneously makes me want to be a better writer and to just stop writing right now because I will never come as close to putting a bunch of words together in an order so well. Take, for example, this sentence, one of my favourites: “There are no clearly defined seasons in Alabama; summer drifts into autumn, and autumn is sometimes never followed by winter, but turns to a days-old spring that melts into summer.” See? Perfection.
I didn’t study the book at school and I’m kind of glad about that. I mostly grew to loathe the books, plays and poems we analysed, dissected and pulled apart in English Literature lessons. I’ve never been able to bring myself to read Wuthering Heights again having studied it as a teenager and I fear doing so would cause some kind of horrific flashback. I have a feeling I would still have loved TKAM but I’m happy that I’ve been able to read it purely for pleasure, as opposed to an exam grade, although I wish I’d discovered it as a child – I read it for the first time in my 20s and this was the first time I’d picked it up since – I’m sure it would have been added to the list of my favourite childhood books that I reread every now and again (and which I wrote about here if you missed it). A huge thanks to Kitty for suggesting it as a book club read.
I can’t wait to hear what you thought of To Kill A Mockingbird. Did you read it as a child, either at school or for pleasure? Have you reread it recently? How did it compare to the first time you picked it up? Were you reading it for the first time for the RMS book club? How did you find it? Are you excited about Go Set A Watchman? Do share below!
For next month’s read I’m nominating The Girl on the Train a book that’s being hailed as this year’s Gone Girl. I just started it and I have a feeling it’s one of those books that’s going to make me skip exercise classes, miss tube stops and make excuses to get out of social engagements. You have been warned.