Friday, March 30, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird - 10/35

How do you find the words to do justice to a classic like To Kill a Mockingbird? Harper Lee's masterpiece is one of the first classics I was exposed to. My mom had borrowed the book on tape from the library and was listening to it in the car. I was in maybe the fourth grade or so, not that much older than Scout. I guess my sister would have been in kindergarten. Anyway, we would be in the car sometimes when Mom listened to the book, which was read by a female narrator with a soothing, mellow voice, and before long we began to get invested in the story. I remember scolding my mom for listening to it when we weren't in the car and bugging her for updates about what we'd missed. It's not so surprising. The story's told from Scout's point of view, and she is not quite six years old when the novel begins. Even though it's the recollection of an older Scout, the events are still related in a simple, understandable style. As a kid, I could follow the events of life in Maycomb County: Scout, Jem, and Dill making up games and trying to get Boo Radley to come out of the house, the puzzling rituals of school, having to deal with adults who have forgotten what it's like to be a kid. I know that I obviously didn't get everything the first time I heard the story, but when we got to reading it in eighth grade English, I was over the moon because I loved this book. There's something about how it's written. Scout tells us the pace of life in Maycomb is slow, and so is the pacing of the book, but it's artful, done for effect, and thus accentuates the sense of setting instead of detracting from the book at all. The characters are wonderful. Atticus Finch is perhaps the most lauded figure in modern fiction; he's a quiet paragon of morality, but he's still a real person, not a cardboard saint. Scout is an engaging narrator and a cute kid. I never really liked Jem much, but mainly because of how realistic a portrayal of a boy that age he is. The whole town of Maycomb is populated by real characters. Miss Maudie, Mrs. Dubose, Misses Tutti and Frutti Barber, Mr. Underwood, Aunt Alexandra, Miss Stephanie Crawford, Boo Radley, and the list could go on. They all bring life to the lovingly detailed town. This is a book that's definitely character-driven over plot driven. The pivotal courtroom scenes don't actually take up all that much of the book, though the trial's impact on the story is pervasive. Because of the gifted, human storytelling, this is a book that I have continued to come back to and read again and again. And I always pull something different from it.

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