Mockingbird and Watchman

When I was a freshman in high school, our class was asked to read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t remember much about the book, except a few lines that I liked enough to write down, but other than that I completely missed the point of the book, as I did with many other things my freshman year (long story).

Anyway, after many years, Harper Lee has finally published a sequel to Mockingbird, titled Go Set a Watchman. And the thought police are already upset about it because Atticus Finch is now supposedly represented as a racist.

I don’t think characters should act to please the sensibilities of readers. Characters need to act in a way that is natural for the character and the story. Now, I can understand if the outrage is because Atticus Finch acted completely different from the character established in Mockingbird. That’s warranted. But in real life, people have many different sides to them, and not all of those sides are agreeable. Why shouldn’t characters be the same way?

Also, Watchman was published 55 years after Mockingbird, so we are reading it from a totally different frame of reference. Had Watchman been published soon after it was written, it might have been better received by its audience. Perhaps Harper Lee did not do the right thing by waiting so long to publish it. No matter what, the book should be judged on its literary merits: Was it written well? Does it have an important message? Does it logically follow the storyline set up in Mockingbird? Do characters act in character?

And if you’re still upset about Atticus Finch, there are three things you can do: Write pointless comments on the Internet, write angry letters to Harper Lee and/or her publisher, or simply don’t read the book (or put the book down if you’re in the midst of it).

Assigned Reading

You usually remember the books you’ve read in school, because either you hated them with a passion or you discovered that “literature” wasn’t really that boring after all, and hell, it could even be fun. Here’s some of the “assigned reading” I remember most:

1. Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls

Quite possibly the saddest book of all time, it’s the story of a boy and his two Redbone Coonhounds. Really makes you want to get a dog, if only to experience the closeness of the human-animal bond.

2. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Most people I’ve spoken to (and most of the people in my 9th grade class) hated this book. I enjoyed it; I got attached to the characters and was fascinated by the evil within all humans.

3. The Giver – Lois Lowry

This remains one of my most favorite books. Set in a dystopian society, the book teaches an important lesson about the dangers of living in a society where so much emphasis is placed on “sameness.”

4. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

I never cared much for this book. Even after I watched the movie, I still didn’t get what all the hype was about — and to this day, I still don’t.

5. Little Men – Louisa May Alcott

It was fun to read about a group of boys and their adventures at a school run by Jo (my favorite of the “little women”), and it was also fun to be taken back to an earlier, more simple time.

What were your favorite and least favorite “assigned readings”?