Theme: A book you read as a youth but don’t remember
“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 see it through no matter what.” – Atticus Finch
The idea behind this month’s theme was to go back and re-read a classic, something that was read most likely out of obligation, but that one has no memory of.
This is something I like to do now and again, to read a book I read a long time ago and see if my opinion has changed. In this manner, I discovered that The Great Gatsby was really great, and how The Haunting of Hill House, which I had a mediocre opinion of the first time around, evolved into my favorite novel of all time.
I had first encountered To Kill a Mockingbird in the same dreaded environment where most of us had: the 9th grade reading list. I couldn’t tell you how I felt about it the first time around, because I don’t remember. I was fourteen years old and more preoccupied with the social milieu than great literature. If I had been a more thoughtful youth, certainly the novel might have provoked some reflection on the implications of attending a high school with exactly two black students.
There are some criticisms to be lobbed at the novel for sure, oversimplifications and caricatures, morality painted in broad strokes, but the narrator is so compelling, so vivid in voice and observation, that it shames me to think how relevant the novel is to this day, how entrenched our implicit racism remains in white America, whether the boogeyman du jour is illegal immigrants or Muslims or lady presidents. The recent uproars over the #Blacklivesmatter movement and transgender bathroom rights are enough to implicate the insidious tenacity of ignorance and hatred.
The re-reading of this book was timed to roughly coincide with the release of Go Set a Watchman, but I’m ambivalent to read a book published under the cloud of the lingering question of if Harper Lee ever meant for the novel to be read. Curiosity will certainly kill that cat sooner or later.