To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

to kill a mockingbirdTo Kill A Mockingbird seems to be one of the most loved book in the history of literature, so I was excited to finally get to read it. Did I fall in love with it?

Prior to reading, I knew there was a lawyer as main character and I was expecting court scenes. But there was no court scene until the second half of the book, which was a peak too short finished too soon for me. However, looking back, I don’t think the court scene or the lawyer were ever the main focus of the book. To Kill A Mockingbird is essentially a coming-of-age story.

The narrator of the book is 6 year-old Scout. We have the privileged to view everything from her eyes. She has an older brother Jem, and father she calls Atticus (mom died). The maternal role in the house is often held by Calpurnia, a black maid who’s been with the family for the longest time. There are a lot of characters coming into view soon after: neighbors, friends, teachers, extended family. It’s a small town so everybody knows everybody and everybody has their own role to fit into: doctor, sheriff, lawyer, newspaper editor, judge, reverend, field owner, and so on.

Later on we find out that Atticus is given the task to defend a black man in court for alleged rape of a white girl, so racism is obviously one of the main themes. But not only that, with inquisitive curious Scout, the book gets to question many things in the world. About poverty, school system, role of women and womanhood, justice, fairness (or the lack of them), and evils in the world.

harper leeI admit, during the reading of the book, I thought it was pretty flat. The first half of the book was mostly about two-three kids running amok in the neighborhood. It is well written book full of gentle humor and I enjoyed reading it but there were very few things that made me want to pick up the book once I put it down. I wondered if the greatness of the book is mostly for the Americans. It seems to be The American book if you want to know about Southern US in 1930s. Is it great for nostalgic reason for the Americans? Is it as great looking from foreigner’s point of view who has completely different background and history? I wasn’t convinced.

I watched the movie (more on that below) soon after reading the book and read other people’s reviews. I’m thinking there are a lot of elements contained in this one small book that it’s possible to not pay attention to them the first time around and get more out of succeeding reads. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the books seems to have high re-readability value. Also, the main characters are drawn very strong that I’m sure they will stay with me for a long time. I adored feisty Scout, moody Jem, and admired The Great Atticus. Which other book features a fist-fighting 6 year-old girl? She almost sounds too good to be true! Then there’s the role of Dill (Scout and Jem’s friend) who is based of Truman Capote, my favorite author (Lee and Capote were childhood friends. Lee went together with Capote for the research of Capote’s In Cold Blood). Therefore after much consideration, I’m giving To Kill A Mockingbird:


1960, 281 pp

It’s a worthy read. Definitely.

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After finishing the book I just found out that there’s no better time for me to read it as this year is the 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird and there are celebrations all over. Both she is too fond of books and Capricious Reader are holding a month-long celebration in July. Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird? If you haven’t, there’s no better time than NOW :).

ps: Below is the Australian version of 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird by Random House. I like it!

To Kill A Mockingbird

First line
When he was nearly thirteen, my bother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

Awards
1961 Pulitzer Prize

Quotes

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” ~ p18

“… one must lie under certain circumstances and at all times when one can’t do anything about them.” ~ p128

Challenges/Projects
Book Awards IV (book #11), Read the Book, See the Movie (pair #5), 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, The Pulitzer

Also reviewed by
Rebecca Reads
| Serendipity | Graasland | Booklust | The Reading Life

The Film

to-kill-a-mockingbird-dvdcoverThe black and white 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck won him Oscar for Best Actor. It also won Best Art Direction and Best Writing. Mary Badham who played Scout was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and the movie was nominated for more categories.

In short, I thought the movie was great. Of course there are a lot of things that got cut, but you’d expect that for book to movie adaptation. In the movie Atticus and the court scene seems to get the most attention, not Scout and her growing up. But the mood and the general atmosphere stay true to the book, and Atticus in the movie is exactly like what I imagined him to be.

I love the scene where all the black people in the court balconies wait until everybody has gone except Atticus downstairs, and stand up as a sign of respect. A great cinematic touch. What I was really disappointed to be cut off was the part where Scout and Jem went to Calpurnia’s church. It’s probably one of my favorite scenes in the book, that shows the tension between the black and the white. In the movie with the omission of the church scene the kids suddenly meet Reverend in the court, who comes out of nowhere with no background story ever told, so it felt really odd.

After watching the movie I just realized that I watched Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday before, in which he played with Audrey Hepburn, my movie heroine. Two great movies in a row. Nods for Gregory Peck.

Rating: 8/10

Also reviewed by
Ripple Effects (with pictures of the DVD set) | Rebecca Reads (who hated the movie)

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36 thoughts on “To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee”

  1. I read this book in highschool and I realize that this is a controversial opinion, but I totally don’t love this book. I think it’s completely fine, but there was nothing about it that made my heart beat a little faster or think, “Ah, this is the perfect book!” Sometimes I think that maybe I should revisit it now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser), but I guess there are just too many other books out there I want to try first!

    1. To Di and Steph: I felt the same way when I read it back in, I think 1st year in college. It was my sister’s book, who was in high school at the time, and her class was reading it. I really liked the way the story was told and the issues were well conveyed, but as someone who was quite unfamiliar with American history and American life at the time, it was all very foreign to me and so I didn’t connect wholly. But I loved the characters, and ultimately, in hindsight, as I keep going back to think about it, I love it more than I had originally when I read it. I more recently purchased my own copy because I plan to reread it someday, with a more “aware” eye, and my copy is that one on top that you posted, Di. I love it, so beautiful. The Australian cover is also cute, is that the cover you own?

      1. Claire, I believe the fact that we’re not Americans (and very far away from it in fact) contributed to why we don’t love it as much. I should’ve mentioned I found it hard to imagine their dialect/accent and I kept picturing the kids as black at first because of the way they talk (I got mixed up with the “black” language). The movie helped in that regard, and I was able to adjust “the pictures and voices” in my head to what they should be.

        Unfortunately my copy is not that Australian one. I bought the book years ago when I was in Singapore. It’s this one, which is okay, but nothing special. You have a lovely copy!

    2. Steph, I totally understand. I didn’t experience that too and I did not like the book immediately, only much much later. It might be because I’m never a fan of coming-of-age book. I could sort of put Catcher in the Rye and TKAM side by side, but I like TKAM more.

  2. I abandoned this book a little while back. I honestly had intended to finish it, but I was still moving around at that time, and the fact that my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird is in the computer (a soft copy) makes it all the more difficult to read while commuting to and from work now.

    Glad you liked it in the end. I think I’ll pick it up again, hopefully soon. =)

    1. Michelle, better to pick it up and finish it now rather than later, otherwise you’ll need to start from the beginning again ;). I look forward to your thoughts!

  3. Thanks so much for linking to the month-long celebration of TKAM! I do think the novel has a huge re-readability factor, and that I get more/different views of it with each re-reading (and like you, agree that although race is a major theme, it is in the end a coming-of-age novel).

    Heather at Capricious Reader (@capriciousReadr) and I are inviting people to not only readalong, but viewalong, and are hosting a viewing on Friday 7/30 at 8:30 pm EST, with live-tweeting of all our reactions/comments, using the hashtag #tkam. Hope to “see” a lot of you then!

    1. Dawn, thanks for visiting. I’ll drop by if I can figure out the time over here on the other side of the world ;)

  4. A few years back, I was crazy about this book – Harper Lee’s one and only. There were things, elements of literature that were stirring, like the scene where Atticus went to sit in front of the jailhouse, knowing fully well that the others were coming to kill the black man, yet he went unarmed, such was his belief in justice!

    I borrowed the movie from the library then, and was glad that it stayed faithful to the novel.

    1. mrdes, good to know you loved the book so much! I guess my theory about the foreigners may not love it as much is not really correct. Of that scene I love how Atticus said that “havin’ a gun around’s an invitation to somebody to shoot you”. He’s awesome like that.

  5. I read this and watched the film when I was 18. I loved both, but often worry that I wouldn’t like them if I re-read them now. It is good to see that you still enjoyed both. I might get round to re-reading at some point, but I’m in no rush.

    1. Jackie, I’m not sure if I would like it if I read it at 18. I may have got bored with the lack of real storyline. But on the other hand, I might have connected with the kids more. Who knows.

  6. The movie IS great. And I’ve had to watch it multiple times. It was a favorite lesson plan for absent teachers, and I used to be a substitute teacher. I’ve spent entire days watching the movie over and over and over again.

    1. softdrink, lol interesting experience! Good that you love the movie! I guess if you don’t you would’ve picked another movie instead ;)

    1. Reeder, thanks for first time visiting! The book seems to be many people’s favorites of all time. It must be quite special. I’m glad I read it.

  7. I read this a few years ago and I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. I was dreading it really but I gave it a go and really got into it. The kids take a little getting used to but I warmed up to them. Atticus was marvellous though and I think I developed a crush on him. There’s very important lessons in the book which is always a great refresher for everybody to not judge people. I still have to see the movie though.

    1. Mae, I liked Scout almost straight away. She’s really adorable. I see Atticus as a father figure, so I don’t think I would ever have a crush on him lol.

  8. The reason I HATE the movie is they made things about Jem instead of about Scout. I absolutely adore the book, so maybe it was a mistake to watch the movie in the first place. I think it’s time for a reread of this book.

    1. Rebecca, did you mean about Atticus and not about Scout? I didn’t feel Jem got more attention than Scout in the movie. I think the problem is if you love the book too much you probably would dislike the movie adaptation. In this case I’m open for possibilities of other adaptation, so it worked well for me!

  9. I love this book! I don’t know if being American makes me more likely to love it than someone from elsewhere, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. I just reread it this year, after first reading it 10 years ago, and it’s definitely great on a reread. I also adore Scout :-)

    1. Aarti, it’s great to hear how people are so passionate about the book. And to hear how many people re-read it!

  10. I also read it around 17 or 18 and loved it. I remember being surprised at how much I liked it mainly because it was something I hadn’t expected – I don’t read many books about lawyers. Maybe part of the reason was also the age I was at when I read the book as I was much more impressionable and although I knew it was a classic, I didn’t realise how famous it was. As an aside, Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend reminded me a little of this book, not so much the story but the feeling of the book:)

    1. sakura, I remember you recommended Donna Tartt before. I have yet to read one of her books. For me To Kill A Mockingbird somewhat reminded me of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie. There’s similar gentleness to the story, and the young main character’s new awareness of the world.

  11. I love Gregory Peck! I have a total crush on him in this Alfred Hitchcock film Spellbound – he’s quite young in it and ridiculously handsome. Hearts. Plus apparently he was a really good guy. And also, he apparently played Atticus so fantastically well that Harper Lee cried and said he was just like her daddy, and she gave him her father’s old pocket watch.

    I can see how not being American might detract from a person’s appreciation of this book. For me at least, it’s not nostalgia that makes it resonate with me, but the massive and ongoing issue of race in America, which continues to trouble Americans a lot, particularly (I think) people from the American South. It also meant a lot to me because Atticus reminds me of my daddy, with all the standing up for what’s right business, and being courteous to everyone even when they are a jackass to him.

    1. Jenny, that’s what I meant by “nostalgic reasons”. Sorry I didn’t word it well. What I meant was that as an American you could relate with the things happening in the book (as you said, about ongoing racism) because you have connections with the things in the past depicted. Perhaps your parents or forefathers experience some similar issues and so on. It’s great to know that Harper Lee herself really appreciated Gregory Peck and the movie. I didn’t watch Hitchcock movies much when I was small because they were too scary for me!

  12. I loved this book. Completely loved it. I was wary as it had been a book other classes at school studied for English and I do have issues with books I know were studied at school. It charmed me and the characters have stayed with me since. The film is also wonderful, though not the book of course. Lovely thoughts Mee.

    1. Simon, it’s so readable for a book studied for English classes! I read The Great Gatsby in my English literature class and didn’t like it. That’s what “forced reading” usually does to you, doesn’t it?!

  13. I love this book to bits. Have been meaning to re-read it for quite some time now, but just never got ’round to it.

    Glad you enjoyed it – I’ve not seen the movie, but based on your thoughts, I really should change that.

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