I finished reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird today. It was the first time I read since high school. What a remarkable novel! I was hooked from the first page, lulled by the nostalgic warmth of small-town childhood, and then the tension builds to the thrilling courtroom scenes. The tension, the humour, the plot, the characters (who doesn’t want to be Atticus Finch?), the emotions. I have mixed feelings about the denouement–did Boo Radley kill Mr. Ewell (probably, given the mockingbird theme) or was it Sheriff Heck Tate? And I somehow remembered, who knows why, that Tom Robinson was acquitted. Nevertheless, it was a delight.
It’s a shame what I missed in my high school English classes. I’ve been meaning for some years now to revisit the books read in high school English. I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird on a whim a couple of days ago and could hardly put it down. I’ve got Lord of the Flies, The Chrysalids and the complete works of Shakespeare waiting on the shelf. I read The Great Gatsby once or twice after high school in an effort to “get” it. I still don’t (what’s the deal with those modernist writers?).
I didn’t catch on to reading until later in life. The first “real” book I remember reading was Winnie-the-Pooh. Sometime later came The Hobbit, which I have read numerous times over my lifetime. Other than that, I’m pretty sure it was Hardy Boys Mysteries right through ’till grade 10 or 11. I believe every single one of my grade 7 book reports was on a Hardy Boys book. (Anyone else remember the “new” series, which included an actual death? In the first book, Joe’s girlfriend dies when Joe’s car explodes!) Of course, I read the assigned readings for English class, but they didn’t mean much to me at the time.
In college, a buddy of mine gave me a gift certificate for the town’s bookstore, which I used to buy the Lord of the Rings books. I was mesmerized–those books are magical. Yet I still didn’t catch on to fiction in general until university. In those years, based on friends’ recommendations, I discovered A Prayer for Owen Meany (one of my all-time favourites), Catch-22, and The Slaughterhouse-Five. And from then on there was no turning back. For a time, I was on a long Vonnegut bender. Around this time I began buying books at a much faster pace than I could read them. Suddenly I found myself very behind in my reading. Then, after Bible college, where it would have been useful to me, and well before seminary, I caught on to theology.
I can’t say I read voraciously, but I read when I can. I enjoy it most when it’s not required reading (that sort of reading can suck the life out of the best of books). I will flip through the books on my shelf until something catches my eye or I get a feeling about one of them. Occasionally–and this is what keeps me reading–I will come across a real treasure, a book that is an unmitigated delight to read: The Alphabet of Grace; The Genesee Diary; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; A Life in the Bush: Lessons from my Father; The Shipping News; The British Museum is Falling Down; Island: The Collected Stories (of Alistair MacLeod); Silence; the brilliant with of P.G. Wodehouse; everything by Bill Bryson I can lay my hands on. And now, To Kill a Mockingbird.
I feel a bit like I have come full circle.
And so, I will carry on, looking for treasures new and old.