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Memories of reading To Kill a Mockingbird


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’ve read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird twice. I have no interest in reading Go Set a Watchman, and won’t be picking it up. My first encounter with Mockingbird came in the early 1990s when I was trying to read as many ‘classics’ as possible. Unlike Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness, I read To Kill a Mockingbird in a couple of sittings. You just can’t put that thing down and it’s tugging at your heartstrings all the way through. Joy, anger and frustration come through in equal measure.

Atticus. That character is a remarkable creation. Patient, brave, modest and wise. Even the name, Atticus Finch, is interesting. Harper Lee based the famous lawyer on her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, who also represented black defendants. When I heard that Atticus was portrayed negatively in Go Set a Watchman my heart sank. A little bit of my reading history was spoiled.

Harper Lee in the 1960s

The whole Go Set a Watchman thing was rather sad and Lee’s publishers still look shady. Lee’s  literary legacy was already complete. She didn’t need to publish anything else. She had achieved as close to perfection as possible with To Kill a Mockingbird. The only people to benefit from this entire shambles were the publishers. Did Harper Lee, mostly blind and deaf, really know what the heck was going on?

I don’t usually reference movie adaptations when talking about books but the 1962 black and white film of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Gregory Peck is also something special. It was regularly broadcast on Saturday afternoons on BBC2 in the UK while I was growing up. Peck was the perfect Atticus Finch. In 2002, the American Film Institute named Atticus as the greatest hero of American cinema. Peck won the Academy Award for Best Actor and Lee praised his performance for capturing every aspect of Finch’s quiet but strong character.

Nelle Harper Lee was born on 28 April in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She was the youngest of four children. Today, her death at the age of 89 was announced by the office of the Monroeville mayor. She was a Monroeville girl for her entire life. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Mockingbird, which went on to sell more than 40 million copies worldwide. The storyline covers race, class and the loss of childhood innocence. It’s regularly acclaimed one of the 20th century’s most powerful novels. Set in a small fictional town called Maycomb in the American South, a black man called Tom Robinson is accused of rape by a white woman. The story unfolds through Finch’s six-year-old daughter Scout. If you have never read the book, then find a copy, sit down and read it. The story is still relevant today – the writing will never leave you. You will always remember it.

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