Saturday 10 July 2010

'Mockingbird' at 50

There's been a number of radio and TV programmes here recently marking the half-century since the Harper Lee novel was first published and this has been the spur to my re-reading it. But I won't pretend. I only first read it a mere 6 or 7 years ago, though I'd seen the film at least twice and found it pretty good, but maybe not in my all-time Top 100.
There's just been a first-rate TV documentary in which the presenter travelled to Monroeville, where the authoress still lives, and which is almost certainly the town of 'Maycomb' where the story takes place. I hadn't known that the writer had been the direct neighbour of Truman Capote and that he is pretty well certain to be the model of the 'Dill' character in the book.
The cameras went to celebrations of two anniversary events, a party and a fete - but what surprised me was that virtually all the faces there were white, save for two black waiters. How ironic! However, there was only a few minutes of footage so I might have got an erroneous impression. On the other hand it seems that even though there's no more segregation in law there is still a disappointing amount of unspoken 'social segregation'. But I'm hardly in a position to be sanctimonious. It's only just hit me forcefully that not only are all the blogs that I follow exclusively those of Caucasian males (all gay, too!) I've never in my life had one friend who wasn't white. It's not exactly something of which to be proud.
In this TV programme the presenter talked to maybe half a dozen people at the anniversary celebrations - and unbelievably, not a single one of these had read the book! ("I haven't quite got round to it yet." Yeah, right!) But again in just the short time shown it might not have been a representative sample., although I had assumed that 'Mockingbird' would have been one of those seminal books that all Americans would have read one time or another. How wrong one can be, it seems!
However I must say that in this country, for example, I have never met one other person who, like myself, reads Shakespeare for pleasure. I've read one of his plays every single month for the last 40+ years - and the level of profundity astounds me more and more on every reading. ("How could a human mind have thought of that and expressed it in that way?" I'm always saying to myself.) People like to keep reminding me that the plays weren't intended to be read. True, but I'm blowed if I'm going to sit around just waiting for a live staging to come to a local theatre or to watch repeat showings of films (some excellent) on TV. Besides, I like to read at my own speed which allows me to savour the words, and every now and again to stop and marvel at the language. In this country, as I would imagine everywhere else, people find him hard-going, and he certainly does require effort - but what rewards one is returned! Despite the fact that most are put off from the idea of actually sitting down to read him, yet still millions from both home and abroad flock to Stratford on Avon - for exactly the same reason as they do to Monroeville, I suppose.
Anyway, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is even more impressive and enjoyable this time around than before, having, as I do, more background information. If I ever happen to meet someone and the conversation turns to books and I find they haven't yet read it I wouldn't hesitate to make a strong recommendation. It's what I'd describe as "a very good read."


  1. I think it's about time I re-read the novel myself too.

    I've always been curious about Scout. She seemed like she would grow up to be a lesbian. Was the author lesbian?

  2. Never really thought about it, Larry. I don't know and never heard it even mooted, although now you've mentioned it....... 'Scout' in the book is certainly a tomboy and one can read far (apart from the very occasional 'she', 'her', etc) and assume that she's a boy.

  3. I'm feeling rather flattered, Paul. Hope that your meanderings will pay dividends. I bet they will.
    I've been really keen to see 'Infamous'. There was a lot of talk about it here when it came out but, unaccountably, it didn't get a theatrical release. (I'm afraid I've never yet rented a DVD or video so I'm just hoping that it's GOT to turn up on TV.) Yes, the opinion here too was that Toby Jones 'nailed' Capote even better than Hoffman, though I did like the latter.
    Ms Bullock is an enigma - clearly an actress who has huge capabilities but she seems to squander her talents on unwatchable, sentimental or kooky trash. Clearly she likes a big bank balance above all. But I dearly want to see her as Harper Lee. Only yesterday there was yet another radio documentary on 'Mockingbird' which talked of Bullock trying hard to get a face-to-face chat with Lee over the character that Bullock was playing, but each attempt was unsurprisingly met with a firm but polite refusal.
    Gore Vidal is always a compelling, but strange read, in both fiction and fact. He's a man difficult to pin down and generally leads to a viewpoint towards which I didn't think he was going, though I do like his measured rants against religion. Haven't (yet) read 'Palimpsest' but shall do.
    Returning to 'Mockingbird', I'm surprised on this re-read, at just how dense a book it is. It's not a work to be read rapidly. I also only learnt yesterday that in 1991 it became compulsory in the British schools reading curriculum. It had been long overdue, yes, but it got there. (If it hadn't been for the film I would never have heard of it even now.)
    By the way, Paul, can I just express my appreciation here for your comments on my blogs? They are always intelligent, informed and a pleasure to read. I feel really chuffed that you think my own blogs are worthwhile too. Thanks.

  4. Ray, Thank you so much for your kind comment. I look forward to your posts and appreciate the fact they have exposed me to new ideas. I alway comment on your posts, but most of the times, blogger rejects my attempts to post a comment. After 3 or 4 attempts, I give up. This is my fourth attempt. If you're reading it, I finally succeeded.

  5. I first watched the movie about 2 weeks ago. It's a great one. And now I intend to read the book.

  6. Thanks again, Paul. I feel quite flattered when anyone reads my blogs - and even moreso when the comments are worthwhile, as yours always are. When 'blogger' does reject your attempts to comment, it makes me even more grateful that you keep persisting.

    Thanks to you too, Vuong (is that the proper way to sddress you?) I'm sure you'll like the book. The way the story develops is quite unexpected - and brave too. Btw there are a number of 'American' words which I didn't know and where I had to search for definitions, but they aren't too frequent.