To Kill a Mockingbird should never be read in school.  Period.

To Kill a MockingbirdI originally read it when I was 16; it was an assignment for some class or another. I rushed through it, impatiently endured the various discussions of race and class and prejudice and ultimately felt burdened by the fact that I was supposed to like it.   That was, I think, a typical reaction to class reading assignments and I know I was not alone.  And I was a reader, for goodness sake, and any educational system that gets readers to disregard truly great books is obviously doing something very wrong (and very very deterimental).

Harper Lee and her pal Truman Capote are in vogue right now, thanks to the movies Capote and Infamous and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve caught the fever (I reread In Cold Blood about a year ago).  I also just finished a awfully written novel surmising about their relationship post Cold Blood.  It was called Capote in Kansas (skip it, it’s not worth the time) and it kicked off a sudden desire to read that slim novel collecting dust on my shelves. 

Rereading this book now, as an adult, I realize that there are few books which can be read without cynicism (or maybe which can read without cynicism, an entirely different thing) .  An experienced reader learns to like books – with reservations.  We learn to tolerate poor writing in the search for a good story.  We forgive or willfully deny plot holes and wide spaces of imperfect style and content.  In short, we learn to say “I liked it, but. . .”   Because we think that we can’t do better.  That all the good books we already read with abandon by the age of seven.

With Mockingbird there are no buts or reservations.  This book is simply perfect.  It belongs to a short list indeed; I can count on one hand the number of books that can claim such a grand achievement. 

Which to me is all the reason I need to understand why Ms. Lee never wrote again.  She’s already succeeded at the unattainable.  Where else could she go but down?

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