Go Set A Watchman. Harper Lee.

IMG_5364I have tried to maintain a media blackout while I read this. To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Just one comment scrolled by on Facebook and I gave it a wide berth. I’ve opted to write this before I google.

I am no scholar; I can only tell you whether I enjoy a book and how it makes me feel. Right, here goes.

Through the first half of the book I was convinced that Go Set A Watchman was a phony. I’ve read my fair share of Pride And Prejudice fan fiction. There’s a certain, lazy pleasure in having someone else imagine a future for your favourite characters. Methadone for Darcy addicts. Of course it’s not as good as the original but it’s a bit of fun. It works for Pride and Prejudice because Jane Austen’s writing is all about having fun.IMG_5366 Anyway, I thought Go Set A Watchman was reading a lot like Mockingbird fan fiction. We are transported back to Maycomb, all our favourite characters get a mention and Atticus Finch is a Gregory Peck shaped super hero. The problem is that nobody wants to read Harper Lee fan fiction. They want to read more Harper Lee.

I read the second half in one sitting and I have to say, I started to roll with it a little. I chuckled through chapter 12 (falsies) which was, for me, the highlight of the book. I think that Chapter 12 could stand alone in a way that the book, as a whole, can’t.  I was saddened by Scout’s disillusionment with her father (sad for Atticus, not Jean-Louise). I almost cheered when Uncle Jack, the hero, informs Scout that she is an ordinary turnip-sized bigot ( not really a spoiler).

I thought that grown-up Scout was a self-righteous whine. Hank, the Southern gentleman, is adorable. Uncle Jack is so similar to Professor Snape that I think J.K. Rowling was lucky to have had her book published first (surely the role should go to Alan Rickman). The wonderful Calpurnia doesn’t get a whole lot of lovin’, for all the talk of colour blindness.

I have only a sketchy idea of the story behind this book. It is, quite clearly, unfinished. It is also clear that Harper Lee was not happy to publish it, as it stood, for over half a century. Why didn’t she polish it up and cash in?

My guess would be that the author of To Kill A Mockingbird could see that Go Set A Watchman doesn’t add anything of value. This one doesn’t match and certainly doesn’t complete the other.

And as for Atticus, I hated everything that this book did to Atticus Finch. Let’s just dust him off, put him back up on his pedestal and leave him there.wpid-wp-1434120724351.jpeg

July Fourteenth.

Well, we have been waiting and waiting. Some of us for a few months, some for more than half a century.
What a lovely treat; to walk in to a bookshop, on the publication date, and buy this. IMG_5257

The eye-watering price tag was cushioned slightly by the free bag that came with it.IMG_5256

I’m itching to get started but I am half way through this;IMG_5258

It is breaking my heart.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

IMG_5208I bought this book for Teenage Boy last year but he set it aside saying it wasn’t his thing. Game Of Thrones has taken possession of my son.

Teenage Girl said, ‘It’s very good but it’s a book for ten-year-olds’. She was less than impressed by her class reading list this year.

It is the assigned book for Middle Girl’s class next year so I won’t ask her to read it yet. Middle Girl is ten so, hopefully, her teacher is spot on.

Given all the rave reviews, I decided to read it for myself. I thought it lived up to its title. I was laughing out loud at page 5 and weeping snotty tears by page 222.

August Pullman thinks that he is just an ordinary boy. However, a small change to a single gene has made his face extraordinary. Not only that, but a series of surgeries has limited his facial expression. August is left with nothing to put between himself and the world but courage and good humour.

August tells us the story of his first year attending school (fifth grade). Some kids are kind to August because they have been asked to be kind. Some kids don’t know how to be kind and some just don’t want to be kind.

There are interjections from the other children telling us about their relationship with August. I would have preferred a single voice but I can see how this works really well in a children’s book. Every reader should find someone to identify with here.

‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view….until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it’ Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird.

There is  evidence that reading the right books teaches children empathy. (There is a nice article here.) It makes absolute sense. To Kill A Mockingbird tells us that people usually are nice. Wonder shows us how you can learn to be nice.

I can see why my teenagers thought this was a book for younger children. There isn’t a whole lot of suspense. At no point was I concerned that it wasn’t going to turn out alright in the end. There is no angst (teenagers enjoy angst).

This is a funny, feel-good, heart-warming book. You will read the last page with a huge, silly grin plastered all over your ordinary face. Wonder deserves a standing ovation.

This is a book that everybody should read, ideally at the age of ten. If you are older than ten, read it as soon as possible.

To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee.

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I was halfway through this last time we spoke. I watched The Good Wife on Friday night and noticed that Alicia was watching Gregory Peck in the movie. Sales figures for the book have rocketed by 6,600 % since February. I guess I’m not alone then.

I have a bad habit of reading too quickly, just gobbling up a story as quickly as I can. I was determined to savour this one so I paced myself.

I sat in bed on Saturday morning and read the court scene. Husband brought me coffee and found me teary-eyed. I tried to read Reverand Syke’s line aloud for him,

‘Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.’

but I couldn’t get it out and had to pass him the book instead. Well, that’s that, I thought, what more can happen? I drank my coffee and started work on our bathroom. We had decided that we would, finally, put a bit of effort into pretty-ing up our en-suite.

I painted what felt like two acres of tongue-and-groove timber panelled ceiling feeling forlorn.IMG_4758

I took a coffee break and got as far as,

Atticus said that Jem was trying hard to forget about something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while, until enough time passed. Then he would be able to think about it and sort things out. When he was able to think about it, Jem would be himself again.

I took time to think about it while I painted two louvre doors.IMG_4759By this time, I had recovered emotionally and I was falling  in love with Atticus Finch. It was lunchtime. I sat in my painting clothes on a dust sheet and I read to the end. I closed the book and set back to work at painting the walls.IMG_4761Snow blindness was setting in at this stage and I felt vaguely euphoric (probably the fumes). I was unsettled by the coincidence of people are nice turning up in the last paragraph (see previous post). Beyond that I was fit to burst with admiration for this book.

I didn’t expect it to feel so completely modern. The language is simple. The story is timeless. I didn’t expect it to be so suspenseful. Reading it felt as hot and sticky and scary as watching True Detective. I didn’t expect it to be so funny. The laughs are backed up so tight against the darkness in a sort of literary chiaroscuro. Expanding bubbles of horror are burst with a chuckle.

Robert E. Lee Ewell

That was my favourite.

I am now completely in love with Atticus Finch. I will love him forever, like Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jay Gatsby and Neville Longbottom.

I will need to read this book again, and probably again after that.

What more can I say?

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