The last time I read the book I was about 11; a keen and precocious reader. But not keen or precocious enough — I remember very little about my first encounter with Scout and Atticus Finch. Some books should not be read too soon.
I reread To Kill A Mockingbird this weekend in honour of the 50th anniversary of its first publication in 1960, and I urge anyone who doesn’t know it, or hasn’t read it recently, to do the same.
It’s an extraordinary book (infinitely better than Kathryn Stockett’s cartoonish The Help, despite that book’s 50 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list) and it hasn’t aged at all in fifty years.
For anyone interested in the amazing growth of YA literature (which most publishers will swear was invented in 1997), it’s probably worth considering that To Kill A Mockingbird would certainly be published as a young adult novel today — for better or worse. It’s hard to imagine it winning the Pulitzer Prize as a YA novel, and equally hard to imagine Harper Lee introducing herself at literary festivals, somewhat apologetically, as a children’s writer.
Lee, by the way, is very much alive — and not writing. Her first (and only) novel sold over thirty million copies and is still going strong half a century later. She was once wisely quoted as saying that there was no place to go but down.
P.S. Harper Lee and Truman Capote grew up in the same small town, were childhood friends, and covered a great deal of similar territory in their books. I read In Cold Blood only a year or two after TKAM — so I guess it’s time to revisit that one, too.