"Until I feared to lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."
~To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 2
Scout Finch and I are almost as unlike as any two little girls could be. The first and most obvious difference might be that at the ripe old age of seventeen-going-on-eighteen I no longer consider myself a little girl. However, this really isn't a difference at all, because at the advanced state of antiquity known as eight-going-on-nine, Scout no longer considered herself a little girl either.
Secondly, Scout's a rambunctious ragamuffin. And though I was never the most prim and proper little girl--nor the very model of a modern major general--I wasn't in the habit of sealing deals with spit, cussing about ham or beating up kids who said bad things about my father. (Now, if I had had an old inner tube to spin down the sidewalk in, I certainly wouldn't have been opposed to that form of entertainment, but that's neither here nor there.)
Thirdly, Scout's family life is completely different from mine. I have two parents and four younger siblings--Scout has a father, an overbearing aunt, an elderly housekeeper and a bossy older brother. Her dad is a lawyer, mine a pastor. She goes to public school (bored stiff, of course) and I've been homeschooled for the last thirteen years.
Yet in just a few ways, we're a lot alike. (Wow, can anyone tell that I had to write a lot of compare-and-contrast papers in ninth grade? Old habits die hard.) We both have been reading almost as long as we can remember. We both puzzled mystifying things out for ourselves and didn't bother to ask people about them when we were little. We both have, at various times, listened to our fathers voice an unpopular opinion (and though I'm not going into personal details here, we've both seen the consequences of standing up for what is right).
"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
~Atticus, chapter 11
If I'd been nine years old in Depression-era Alabama--or if Scout had been seventeen years old in twenty-first century [insert state name here]-- would we have been friends?
Who can say?
Nevertheless, Scout became one of those literary phenomenons to me when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. She was completely and indisputably real. Sure, there are hundreds of fictional characters out there who are likable and empathetic and even memorable. But there are just a handful, when you get right down to it, who step right off the page and onto the sofa beside you. (And in Scout's case, I doubt she'd bother to remove her shoes before tramping on the cushions.)
I read TKAM for the first time last summer, and had to force myself to drag it out so I wouldn't devour it in one afternoon. I like my books long, and I like them to last. TKAM is, sadly, not so long as I might have wished-- yet I really can't fault it for that, because Harper Lee told her story in just the right amount of words and stopped at the perfect time. I can't ask for any more. When I reread it this August (yes, I know... my Classics Club reviews are perpetually late...) I couldn't stop marveling over what an amazing book it is. Seriously. It is. Books like this are the kind that all but depress me and make me never want to attempt writing again. (Never fear, the feeling passes, and no doubt more quickly than it should.)
I sound like a broken record, I know, but in order for me to truly love a book, I must have a connection with at least one of the characters. In TKAM, I connected with almost all of them. Peering over Scout's shoulder and seeing everything as she saw it, being alternately annoyed and charmed with Dill, enduring Jem's know-it-all superiority. Reverencing Atticus with something akin to hero-worship (the fact that I heard Gregory Peck's voice in my head every time he spoke may have helped somewhat... ahem...), feeling safe under Calpurnia's stern motherliness, standing up straight and resisting the urge to fidget in Aunt Alexandra's domineering presence. Coldly hating Bob Ewell and regarding Mrs. Dubose with a sort of horrified, pitying fascination. Pitying Mayella Ewell, too, in a way, and crying over the horrible turmoil poor Tom Robinson was flung into.
This isn't a book for the wimpy. This is a book that will reach in and grab you by the heart and refuse to let go until you've finished it. It's not the kind of book that can be put in a box. It's not a romance (though familial love plays a big part in it), it's not a comedy (though I defy you not to roar at certain sections), it's not a drama in the strictest sense of the word (though if you can make it through the courtroom scenes in utter calm, you are obviously a robot). It's a book about folks. People and how they relate to each other and the terrible things that one human being can do to another without even realizing it. People who are cowards and heroes, tough little girls and determined old ladies, little boys who run away from home and judges with long beards who don't kiss their wives much.
It's a sad book, it's a funny book, it's a heartwarming book, it's a make-you-want-to-tear-your-hair-and-scream book. It's a book that will (hopefully) make you sit up and take stock of the people all around you, to see them through the eyes of a child, to remind you of the first impressions you formed when you were little, to stop and think about how you treat those who are different.
It's a book you'll ration, so you won't read it too fast. You won't want to waste a single word of it, or to let it end too soon. It will end eventually, of course, and you'll sigh and go back and underline all your favorite quotes, and put it back on your shelf for next time.
Because of course there will be a next time. You'll be reading it again.
P.S. Couldn't figure out how to artfully weave all my favorite quotes into this post, so I'll just slam them all at you in one fell swoop.
"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--"
"--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."
~Atticus, chapter 11
"Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'."
~Judge Taylor, chapter 21
"How could they do it, how could they?"
"I don't know, but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it-- it seems that only children weep."
"Naw, Jem, I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
~Scout, chapter 23