To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of those books that everyone in decent schools in America reads before they are fifteen. Somehow, I never did, and I assumed that it must not be very good – sentimental and simple – if everyone else thought it was so great. As an adult, I didn’t read it, assuming that it was probably pretty good since it was so widely admired, but not all that worth going out of my way to read, and for me, to read something published in 1960 is a bit of a detour. I have seen bits of the film from 1962, and thought them fine, but never watched it either.
I just read the novel, and I now know that my snobby aloofness was horribly misguided. The book is, well, almost eerily perfect. How this woman could write of brutal racism, stifling small-town life, time-honored class antagonism, the bonds of family, and the stubborn tendency of people to assume that everyone who is at all different from them is worth ridiculing, and do it in such simple, direct, blindingly honest prose is a wonderful mystery to me. It treats of sentiments, and things sentimental, without being that itself. I wish I had read it earlier.
Now I will watch the movie to see how it compares. And by way of the character Dill, (Truman Capote as a boy) I find myself drawn to find out just why Breakfast at Tiffany’s is such a milepost of the 1960s. Is it only Audrey Hepburn, or is there more? Stay tuned.