Tomorrow is a big day.

"Go Set a Watchman" is released. If you haven't heard let me inform you, in brief, why this is a big day: [Nelle] Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird." [Moment of silence to acknowledge its greatness]. Then she never wrote another word. When reporters would approach her she would say something like, "The book said what I wanted to say," and add no additional comment. I've always thought if I wrote a book like Mockingbird, that is often ranked right below the Bible on lists of most influential books…THE BIBLE!!… I think I would have shut my mouth too. BUT THEN-- last fall her older sister died, and they found a manuscript to "Go Set a Watchman", a "precursor" or sorts to Mockingbird. I have tried to avoid reading too much about it, but I know it's been getting mixed reviews.

Here is the deal: I don't care if it's terrible. It is Harper Lee. And it isn't a fifty-year-later-Harper-Lee, it is vintage Harper Lee. Actually, it is pre-Harper-Lee-Harper-Lee. I want to read the book thinking of a young writer who was trying to figure out how to say what she needed to say, which she finally, apparently, figured out in Mockingbird. Is this book her "crappy first draft" [as Anne Lamott would say]? I don't know. But tomorrow I get to hold it in my hands.

Are you a FRIENDS fan? A SEINFELD fan? Imagine if those two shows announced a reunion season? [And it wasn't just a Facebook hoax!]. Your excitement would be like 1/20th of my excitement for this book :).

I've written about "To Kill a Mockingbird" on my blog several times, trying to explain why I love it so deeply. And since tomorrow is a day I thought would never come, I'm going to re-share a couple things I wrote about it to celebrate!

January 26, 2011
First, let me re-share the post where I try to explain why this book is so great:

all images from google images
If I had to make a list of my favorite things this book would be very, very high:

There are far too many reasons to take the time to list right now; however, I have spent the past month or two teaching, reading, and studying this with my sophomores. I had them fill out a little slip for me today, letting me know if they would recommend it for another group of sophomores. All but two of my students said they absolutely would.

Many commented on the timeless themes and lessons in the book, saying that if someone reads it with an "open heart they definitely will learn something." Many talked about how the character of Mrs. Dubose taught the kids a lesson on courage [Atticus says to the kids, "I wanted you to see something about her--I wanted you to see what real courage is... It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do... She died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."], or how Atticus taught the kids to stand up for what is right, no matter what.

Many mentioned Atticus' advice to "learn a simple trick...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." Some loved the theme of justice, and fully understood the symbolism in the sin of killing a mockingbird, or they connected to Atticus' closing arguments saying that "all men are created equal in a court of law."

Others liked the simplicity and innocence of Scout realizing that Boo was "real nice", and that "most people are once you get to know them."

A few of my favorite things about the book are these lessons/themes as well, but I also appreciate the beautiful way in which Harper Lee wrote the book. I have never felt like my kids really understood foreshadowing, but I now know that all of my sophomores understand. There is no way to read this book and not get it, because Lee weaves it into the plot so effortlessly.

However, anyone who has read the book or watched the film know what the true beauty in this book is: the characters.
You cannot help but fall in love with Jean Louise "Scout", and Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch. Seeing the world of good and evil through their eyes, the reader falls back into his or her own childhood and learns along with them. The tomboy Scout, in her overalls and bare feet, narrates the story and over the course of the two years in which it takes place, grows up and learns, as the book jacket suggests, of the human dignity that unites us all.

But there is also their dad, the lawyer, Atticus Finch. He is "same in his house as he is on the public streets," and in my humble opinion is one of the best literary characters every created. I wish he were real. I wish I could sit and talk with him. Gregory Peck won an academy award for his portrayal of him in the movie, and although he did do a phenomenal job I think it would have been hard for anyone to play that role and NOT win an academy award because Lee did such an unbelievable job of developing his character. One of my favorite moments in the book is when he is leaving the courtroom, and all of the blacks in the balcony stand up and one of them says to Scout, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up; your father is passing." I wish we had more people like Atticus Finch to stand up for these days.

And these are just three of the characters. I didn't even mention Miss Maudie, or the kids plucky sidekick, Charles Baker Harris [Dill], or Dolphus Raymond, or Calpurnia, or Heck Tate...the list goes on and on.

It is truly a work of art. Something that I think everyone should read at some point in their life. My students were a bit skeptical when we started the unit, thinking that I was slightly obsessed/crazy, and if I liked it so much that they couldn't possibly enjoy it. But I'm thankful they were wrong. I'm thankful they have got to walk in the shoes of the Finches and learned about the human dignity that unites us all too!

November 19, 2011

As I mentioned recently, I'm reading/teaching "To Kill a Mockingbird" again with my sophomores. As I've said before, I'm slightly obsessed with this book. I could probably come up with 80 reasons why I love it. [And if you delete "slightly" and "probably" then those sentences are true]. However, when I came home from school/work, I looked out my front window and saw this:

They are totally stopped in the middle of the intersection at the corner where I live. And they sat there for approximately four or five minutes, just resting and talking and pointing [and being watched, little to their knowledge :-)]. They are maybe 8 or 9 years old. Finally, when whatever they were trying to accomplish with their stop was accomplished, they road again, all the while in the middle of the street.

Now what does THAT have anything to do with why I love "To Kill a Mockingbird?"

Scout and Jem Finch get to meander all over their neighborhood. At the beginning of the book Scout is a mere 6 years old, and Jem is almost 10 and yet they are all over the place with their sidekick, 7 year old Dill Harris. Their "summertime boundaries (within calling distance of Calpurnia) were Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose's house two doors to the north of us, and the Radley Place three doors to the south. We were never temped to break them. The Radley PLace was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom was enough to make us behave for days on end; Mrs. Dubose was plain hell." The adventures they are able to have within these parameters are formative, and they are many. Which brings me back to the bike boys outside my house the other day.

In those two boys I saw someone else: First, because I had just been immersed in the book that day, I saw Scout and Jem. But then, I saw my sister and I riding those same streets, not afraid to park in an intersection, and not afraid of being a couple blocks from home. We were safe. And we were always being watched…in a good way. Just like I was looking out my window at the boys, others looked out their windows at us, and if anything were to happen they would have been there for us, just as I would have jumped to those boys' rescue.

Once I made this connection, I realized there were so many other parts of the story of "Mockingbird" that I could relate to from my own childhood, and I began to understand even more my deep connection to the characters.

Like Maycomb, the town I grew up in and the town in which I now reside seems to be stuck in a simpler time. Scout describes Maycomb early in the book:
"Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks; the courthouse sagged in the square…People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with…closed doors meant illness and cold weather only."
And this is why two years ago Brent and I sat down and began talking about our dreams for our future. More than just I-would-like-to-be-here-in-my-job-then and I'd-like-to-have-this-much-saved-for-this-by-then, we talked about what we envisioned our daily lives to look like. When we began thinking about our children, we inevitably came back to the images, smells, and adventures of our own childhoods. We wanted open screen doors and a town square, and a slower pace, and larger boundaries for our kids to roam. Though we didn't express it this way, we realized we wanted them to be able to have a Dill Harris in their life and a Radley house surrounded with mystery on the outskirts of town. We wanted them to be able to walk to school and stand up for a Walter Cunningham because they knew where he came from. We wanted them to be in a town where people came out of their homes at one in the morning to help out when a neighbor's house caught fire. We wanted them to be able to walk next door and have cake with a Miss Maudie. And ultimately, we wanted them to learn about the human dignity that unites us all, and that most people are "real nice" once you get to know them.

And so we loaded a Uhaul and moved. We moved away from a lot of convenient things, and a lot of great friends, and an excellent job. We moved away and returned to "Maycomb," where we felt our dreams for our future children could take flight in its pot-hole filled streets and cracked sidewalks; where the courthouse sags in the square and people are a lot more likely to amble through life.

Are there days that I miss Louisville and the city? Yes. Are there times that I wish there were more people from my generation for Brent and I to spend time with? Absolutely. But then I think back to these dreams we discussed, which were such a big part of what brought us here. I realize that though we may feel like we are sacrificing having more people our age around, our kids will have the opportunity to learn that real courage is knowing "you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what" from a "Mrs. Dubose" in town. They will get to learn that a "Boo Radley" may just be the one to save them. And I hope they will also get to learn from an "Atticus Finch" who is still worth standing up for when he passes.

I surprisingly don't know who those two boys were on their bikes the other day, but I'm glad they chose to take their rest in front of my house and remind me of my memories so that I could remember my dreams.

And tomorrow, when you try to reach me and I am completely and utterly unavailable, you know why :)

Now: DISCUSS. :) Are you a Mockingbird fan? What are your thoughts about this publication?

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