I’ve been sick for four days now. Actually, longer, with something else; as that something else went away, a cold descended, and I’ve spent the last four days lying in bed and on my couch, going through whole boxes of tissues, drinking a ridiculous amount of tea. Blehhhh.
I’d like to say the upside was that I got some reading done while I was home sick! But I didn’t. It was the kind of sick where just breathing makes you tired, and so doing anything that requires thought is pretty much out of the question. So no reading, and basically no writing, including this blog entry for a book I finished early last week: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
I’ve read TKAM before, in my ninth grade English class, and we know how I feel about assigned reading. But TKAM is a little different, in that I remembered really liking it, but for the life of me couldn’t remember why. Or anything about it, except vague impressions of Boo Radley, and something about a trial, and a fire, which I thought was the book’s climax. (It isn’t.) Curious about what ninth grade me had enjoyed so much, I grabbed a copy off of PaperBackSwap, and dug in.
And hey, it turns out the reason that I really liked this book — the reason it’s a classic, even — is that it’s really, really good! You know, you’re lucky to have me around to share things like this.
But seriously, it is.
I feel like I don’t need to go into a lot of detail here, because it’s a book that just about everyone has read, and it’s pretty much universally embraced as awesome. But I loved it; I loved how it dealt with racism (and sexism, for that matter) in a way that was completely moving, not preaching, and not talking down. Especially that last one was impressive: a lot of stuff goes over Scout’s head, but the reader picks up on it, and there’s no hammering it in. It’s just there, as part of a perfectly-crafted story.
But what really got me is the prose. From now on, when I think “narrative voice,” I will think of this book, because it is beautiful. That might be a quirk about me as a reader, actually; considering how much time I spend reading and writing, I almost never notice the actual artistic side of things. I read for entertainment; I zero in on story and character, but hardly notice the prose itself unless its particularly bad or particularly good. This is good, obviously:
Maycomb was an old town, bit it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rain weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.
It’s perfectly evocative, and so well painted that even someone like me, who rarely pauses to notice imagery and has basically no visual sense when I’m reading — I hear the words clearly in my brainvoice, but don’t actually picture things — can see it all clearly. I was actually taken aback by its loveliness, and I’m glad I stopped to pick it up.