Friday, June 12, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (audio)



Don't you just love it when you read something that changes you forever? I knew in my heart that this would be the case when I picked up the audio of To Kill a Mockingbird. It did not escape my attention that almost without exception, this book was on everyone's BTT "Sticky 15" a couple of weeks ago. I know it is my mom's favorite book, and have been hearing her talk about it forever. Why I waited 42 years to experience this classic is beyond me.

But the downside of reading such a novel is facing the daunting task of reviewing it. What on earth can I say that hasn't been said a thousand times? Does it make any sense to run through the plot? Even before I read the book, I knew the plot. It is a permanent part of pop culture. I knew something of Harper Lee from my interest in Truman Capote, my love for the book "In Cold Blood", and the movie "Capote". Then there's the movie of TKAM (which I haven't seen either) that has been sound-byted and clipped to death, primarily as a result of Peck's Oscar-winning role as Atticus. Is there anyone on earth that hasn't stumbled across snippets of the courtroom scene?

In general, the story touches on many emotionally-charged issues. Racism and bigotry, intolerance, social status, hypocrisy, and unwritten laws that often govern over the written ones. Tough stuff. But at the same time, the story is about innocence, the basic goodness of some people, and the importance of doing the right thing. As tough as some of the story's themes are, they are told through the eyes of a precocious child. A child that is full of innocence and wonder, a keen interest in life, and won't take guff from anyone. I so loved Scout! On one hand, it almost softens the heartache of the harsh inequities we see in all of its ugliness, but on the other hand, I just wanted to cry as I could almost visually see Scout's innocence slipping away.

I've always found Harper Lee to be an enigma. With the exception of some short stories and such, she never published another novel. The book TKAM is very close to autobiographical, although Lee has always downplayed this. Her father was a lawyer, her mother wasn't present in her formative years and died at a young age, she had an older brother, and the family had a black housekeeper. She lived in the South and was witness, via her father's newspapers, to a particular case of a white girl accusing a black man of rape. The character of Dill was based on Lee's childhood friend, Truman Capote, who lived next door with his aunt while his mother was traveling. Since the publication of TKAM, she grants almost no requests for interviews and public appearances and lives a fairly solitary life. It makes me wonder why she has chosen this path.

Some may say that experiencing this classic via audio is a travesty, but I would firmly argue that it is not. The story is narrated by Sissy Spacek, who embodies Scout. It was magical to listen to this story unfold through Spacek's southern, childlike voice. I would imagine I will one day read this book in the written form, but would encourage everyone to give this form of media a try. You will lose yourself in it!
5 out of 5 stars

17 comments:

Molly said...

I had just thought to myself the other day that I am sure this book would be a GREAT audiobook. You can practically hear the southern drawl when you read the written words. I will definitely have to check it out sometime.

This is one of my all time favorite books and even though I teach it every year, and re-read it each time, I never grow weary of it.

You did an awesome job of reviewing a classic book!

Susan said...

I don't think you had need to worry, my dear! You did an outstanding job of reviewing this most wondrous of books. Please read the written word someday though. You won't regret having spent the time.

I love Sissy Spacek and will now have to listen to it as well.

Thank you!

Melody said...

I still haven't got around to reading this book yet! I've been hearing lots of raves about this one, so I know it'd marked as one of my top reads this year if I get to it!

Beth F said...

Blogger ate my first long and thoughtful comment. Crap.

Ok. Oh. oh. oh. I have heard that Sissy Spacek's reading is not to be missed. I have loved and read this book several times, but all the audiobook mailing lists I read raved about this audio production. I really must listen.

Iliana said...

It's been so long since I've read this book. I think it'd be great to revisit it via an audio book.

By the way, I highly recommend Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers. It's a novel but takes on the subject of what happened next to Truman and Harper... Dreamy, mysterious, a really good read. I still need to read In Cold Blood. One of these days.

Lauren said...

I read this book in 9th grade and still haven't forgotten it. It actually turned me on to reading classics - go figure! But, yes, I love To Kill A Mockingbird! SO much that part of me wants to name my child Scout. Part of me..

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I wondered about this one on audio, but it sounds like it worked!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Molly - thanks for the compliment! I honestly didn't know what to do with this one...

Susan - My mom has this book at her house, so it wouldn't be a stretch to borrow it from her. What even might be more fun is to try to track down an old first edition!

Melody - you simply must read this. It is magical.

Beth - I hate it when that happens. It just takes the wind out of your sails, doesn't it. Dumb blogger. Knowing your love for audio, this is a must-listen.

Iliana - I've heard about Capote in Kansas, right when I started blogging I think there had just been a blog tour of that book. I have it on my list (one of a billion books it seems like).

Lauren - I've actually heard of people naming their kids that after the book. I could think of worse names!

Melissa - it totally worked. It is tricky line to walk, putting a classic on audio. Someone knew what they were doing!

Literary Feline said...

I am glad you enjoyed this one, Sandy. I was actually thinking of re-visiting some of my old favorites through audio--if ever I get that iPod I've been wanting for a couple of years now. :-) Walk the dog, listen to a book . . . Sounds like a good combination, don't you think? Someday . . .

farmlanebooks said...

I read this when I was about 17. It is one of the few books which I am considering re-reading at some point. Perhaps the audio book would be a great way of doing this.
Great review!

ds said...

I have loved Scout and Atticus and Jem and Calpurnia and Dill and Boo Radley for a long, long time. You did an excellent job with this, Sandy. Five out of five stars for your review!

mattviews said...

Being a flighty youth who had come to this country in my pre-teen years, I had very little knowledge of the history. To Kill a Mockingbird has been solely responsible for imbuing in me the touchy and poignant patch of history that even today some people still feel sensitized to talk about. It's a classics to be read many times in one's life. An audio version is very tempting :)

Dar said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Sandy! As you know from the many times I've told you (lol) it is one of my all time favorites. I'm going to get it out from the library to listen to. I bet Sissy Spacek does a great job.

The Bumbles said...

The play production that we saw this winter had the daughter of the producer of the movie narrating things. She had that wonderful deep south drawl that I imagine should be used to read the audio. I'm not sure Sissy could do it justice in comparison. But rather than worry about it - just go rent the movie ASAP!!!! Bring it with you on your travels to Poland - find a way. Best movie ever.

Carrie K. said...

I "re-read" this via audio by Sissy Spacek last year - and I agree, it's a phenomenal rendition. One of the best audiobooks, ever - hands down.

C. B. James said...

Now you really must see the movie. I'd like to second the recommendation for Capote in Kansas. I have a review on my site and an interview with the author. He was a terrific interview by the way.

Enjoy your trip. And if you suffer from withdrawals look for an internet cafe. They have them all over Paris and London and must have them in Poland as well.

Anna said...

This has been on my to-read list for years. I should just get to it already!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric