I told myself last week that I was not going to read Pride and Prejudice again. I’m fairly certain I’ve read it more than Jane Austen ever did. I reread it three times in 2012 so there was no reason to read it again in the first three months of 2013. But I did anyway. It’s more than just the slow U-turn of their romance; it’s revisiting Miss Bingley, Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourg in all their pompousness.
Austen never described the food her characters ate, the clothes they wore or the rooms they entered. I once read a theory of why that was. Jane Austen could never envision a time where her books were read outside of her small circle of acquaintances. There was no need to describe such daily fare to them; they already knew. Jane would be so proud if she knew what her books grew into.
I closed a two hundred year gap moving from Shakespeare to Austen but opted for something more modern this week. I grabbed To Kill a Mockingbird again. OK, it’s not that modern since it’s already had its fiftieth anniversary but at least people aren’t brandishing swords anymore.
I saw the movie before I ever read the book, and I mostly understood it, even though I was too young to know what rape was. It’s a marvelous movie and probably would have won Best Picture if it had not been up against a juggernaut called Lawrence of Arabia. But like all marvelous movies, it can’t compare to the book. The movie lost, but the book won the Pulitzer.
Harper Lee is still alive and still as reclusive as ever. When Mockingbird came out, the Washington Post wrote, “A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Atticus Finch is one of the greatest American heroes of literature and who doesn’t love Scout? She takes to swearing at home, knowing Atticus will figure out she learned those words in school and will hopefully pull her out of it. In one of their earlier plots to get Boo Radley to come out of his house, they plan it for September, theorizing that if he caught them and killed them, at least they’d only miss school and not summer vacation.
I don’t know if my habit of reading the same books over and over is a function of age or a total lack of imagination. There are millions of books out there and yet I yo-yo between P&P, Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Gatsby, 1984, Animal Farm and Shakespeare’s plays way too often. That’s not weird, is it? No one thinks it is weird to watch The Godfather over and over, or Indiana Jones or the speedboat scene in Weekend at Bernie’s. It’s not weird to listen to Abbey Road or London Calling over and over or to watch Lucy stomping the grapes into wine when that episode comes on.
I admit to being a book snob. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes read what everyone else is reading. I still read Stephen King. I tried to read Nicholas Sparks and Janet Evanovich once, but I wanted to slit my wrists. Knock yourselves out anyway if that’s your cup of tea. I’d rather stick to books that have stood the test of time.
To Kill A Mockingbird is a seriously tough act to follow. I’ll stay on the Pulitzer track and move on over to Alice Walker and The Color Purple.