Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lost Required Reading

A friend was recently flabbergasted when she discovered that I've never read "To Kill A Mockingbird."  I assured her that I was familiar with its general outline, having seen several stage productions as well as the film.  I couldn't deny that this was a bit unusual.  TKAM is unquestionably part of the secondary school canon, and is something I should have come across during my long journey towards a degree in English Literature.

She foisted her paperback copy on me, and I read through it during a few days of train rides.  I must admit that it really is a good book.... not an all-time favorite, but better than some other canon books.  It manages to convey important moral messages without coming across as being self-righteous, largely thanks to its depiction of Atticus Finch, the saintly father who is the real hero of the novel.  Atticus gently keeps his children from ever identifying someone as being bad; even if they commit despicable acts, the person themself is usually doing it for some reason.  He encourages empathy, putting yourself in the other person's shoes, a skill that would make our society far better if it became widely adopted.

It's been a while since I've seen the dramatizations, but from what I recall, they are very faithful to the book.  There don't seem to be any major plot threads here that were not also in the play, though certain scenes and characters were probably dropped.

One thing did irritate me about the book, which is more a failing of my own than of the text: I strongly dislike dialect.  It's been present in American literature, off and on, since Mark Twain, but I still cringe when I read characters saying "Nome, ain't tere."  I get why it's there... it does make it "sound" more Southern, and without dialect you'd lose a significant insight into the characters' experiences, but visually it's very jarring for me.

Anyways... I'm sure there's nothing useful I can say about this book that hasn't been written before millions of times by eager young five-paragraph-essay-writers.  It is a bit encouraging to see that I can enjoy going back and reading the important books that I somehow missed during my formal education.  I'm not going to go crazy seeking them out - one of the best parts of being grown-up is getting to choose what you want to read - but I can certainly imagine eventually revisiting all the stories that "everybody" has read which I have not.  Towards the top of that list has to be reading Dickens, any Dickens at all... I'm still not totally clear on how I managed to dodge that bullet.

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