Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Twenty-Six - To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee
. .. I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
How is it that I've not read this book before? I've seen the movie but of course the book is so much more... more profound, more touching, more meaningful.

Unsurprisingly, this book was banned in many areas when it was published. Fortunately that never stopped anyone from reading it. Mockingbird was first published in 1960 and has sold over 30 million copies in 18 languages. It’s an easy matter to understand why. This book has wit, intelligence, humor, history and love. 

The history of discrimination of blacks is well documented, but I did not know that if a woman over 18 was in the process of being sexually assaulted she was legally required to fight back, to kick and scream, to be overpowered and beaten; if she really wanted to prove her innocence, being knocked unconscious was her best bet. Well, other than being killed, I suppose. Men are legally more accountable these days, but socially it’s not much different. People still talk about an adulterous woman as a home-wrecker, as if the man who allowed his home to be wrecked had no choice in the matter. I hasten to add that not all people have this view and I have known both men and women who would find this notion abhorrent, but I still hear men being given a free pass quite frequently by both genders. A young beautiful woman who looks to seduce a married man is still evil in our society while the man is simply following nature’s call. Dude.

What does this book teach? Tolerance? Level-headedness? The value of respecting one’s privacy? Yes, but I believe the main message is love. It’s about the love Atticus has for his children and the love he has for all mankind (even those who commit evil) and the desire he has to instill that love for others in his children. Atticus is not about hate, even when most of the world would say he has every reason to do so. He’s all about love and acceptance of others for who they are.

To Kill A Mockingbird could have been set in any time or place, for in every community are those who need help and those who wish to help, but in our society it seems that they seldom get matched up properly. The helpers tend to give help to those overseas, to people who need the kind of help it is "acceptable" to give. Helpers tend not to want to help people with addictions or even those with lice. If only the helpers would spend half a day sitting in their county’s welfare office, they would learn what they could do in their own communities. But they seem to avoid this knowledge.

I suspect we are as misguided as those in 1935, only in different ways. Through their love and courage, people like Atticus quietly show us the way forward.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Twenty-Five - Swallows And Amazons

Arthur Ransome
Both images from

What a delightful book! Tales of pirates and explorers and important discoveries and treasure and even a parrot who says Pieces of Eight! Almost everything but the parrot is a product of the imagination of children. The Swallows (so named for their sailboat) have a father who is a real-life sailor and a mother who grew up sailing and having adventures of her own. They encourage the children to use their imagination and let them run free (within limits).

I’m sure I would have enjoyed the book even more if I knew anything at all about sailing. I can imagine the romance of the sailboat tripping along the sea with no motor to disturb the sounds of nature… and I would like to do this if someone else is doing the sailing. I mean, I don’t want to like, haul up the lanyards myself. I don’t know what tacking is but they seem to do lots of it. I don’t believe I would make much of a sailor. I’d be too interested in looking around and seeing the sights.

The children’s adventures resonated with me because I remember having adventures when I was young. We had a vacation trailer when I was growing up and wherever we went we met other children staying in the same RV park. We roamed the entire area, walking for miles. We went back inside only for meals, even when we were at home. Entire summers were spent outside.

Susan is the Swallow’s mate, otherwise known as chief cook and bottle-washer. Remember when you thought rinsing a plate in water got it clean? Tap water, lake water, creek water, whatever. It was clean. I have to admit I sorta miss those days.

One adult patronized the kids. When the able seaman said they were going to visit the lake again - the next summer and every summer for their entire lives – this woman said, “We all think that way when we’re young.” I’m fairly certain the able seaman, if she’d thought about it, would have thought, but I mean it. In this case it’s different. I’m different. You may have been a child once but when I grow to be an adult I’ll be different. I won’t conform. I won’t let others tell me what to think or how to behave. I’ll still be me.

Yet when the able seaman grew up I doubt that she visited that lake every summer for the rest of her life. The book was published in 1930, so many summers have passed since then. Is it possible to grow up and keep that magic? Keep the imagination? Continue making adventures?

Wild Cat Island

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Eagles & Stuff

Was out of town all of last week on a business trip and stayed an extra day to spend time with cousins who live in the area. Mostly, though, I haven't been reading because I'm spending an inordinate amount of time watching the baby eagles at the Decorah, Iowa site. I watched them hatch and now I'm watching them grow! The only sad part is that the chances of all three baby eagles surviving their first year are very slim. I understand survival of the fittest, but...

I go back to work and my usual schedule tomorrow and I'll get back to Swallows And Amazons.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Started Early, Took My Dog Again

I keep thinking about one aspect of the unraveling of the mystery in this book. At the beginning, Atkinson quotes the following rhyme -
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
For want of a nail. I won't say who or what this refers to, and in fact it is used by many characters. But there is one particular person I'm thinking of who needed a nail. In his/her case (I am so not spoiling a Kate Atkinson book!) it wasn't just one nail. It was a pattern of behavior. It was a decision to behave in a certain manner -- one moment of disapproval followed by months of acting out that disapproval.

For want of a wiser decision. For want of a bit of compassion. For want of remembering our own struggles and imperfections...

This is another reason I love Kate Atkinson. She makes me think. Her characters are real and terribly imperfect. I love Jackson Brodie the character while knowing that if I met him in person I would run away screaming. But Jackson is real, with weaknesses and strengths and I love seeing him figure out the mystery. He's always one step ahead of me, that's for sure. I know there are people who say they've figured out who done it in every Sherlock Holmes story - well, I never have. Nor did I ever figure out the puzzle in any of the Encyclopedia Brown books. (Encyclopedia may have been my very first nerd-crush. He was just so clever!)

How long do I have to wait for the next Kate Atkinson book? Sigh.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Started Early, Took My Dog

Just finished this book, Kate Atkinson's latest. She is my favorite contemporary author and an amazing plotter. I wound up with post-its all over the front cover - names, spouses, important details - just to keep the characters straight. Atkinson includes lots of narrative and I always feel as if I know her characters intimately... I can see, hear and almost smell them. She includes multitudes of sensory detail.

And she is wonderfully maddening. Just as soon as I think I've discovered a possible answer, the "clue" turns into a red herring. I just love it when that happens!

Now it's on to Swallows and Amazons.

Friday, April 1, 2011

An Announcement

I've decided to stop reading the books on the BBC list and return to my first love, Harlequin romances. They are not simply bodice-rippers! They have intricate plots and elaborate period detail. The male romantic leads always have impressive pecs. And who doesn't like pecs?

Okay, not really. Check the date on this post.