Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, March 22, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

 Well I did something I vowed that I would never do,  I bought a print copy of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird.  I bought a Kindle e-reader back in December 2009 with the idea that I was going quit adding to the stacks and stacks of books that I possess.  All new books would be in an electronic format and kept in the Kindle.  I knew at the time that I would still have to buy an occasional book in print.  I read a lot of science books and I knew that some of the older books that had small print runs would probably never be available in a Kindle format.  So be it.

Somewhere I read that Harper Lee doesn't believe that people should read books on e-readers, tablet computers, iPhones or other forms of electronic publishing.  People should read printed paper books.  Oh really!  And who the hell are you, Ms Lee, to tell me how I should read my books?  I imagine an indignant Geoffrey Chaucer rushing into Gutenberg's print shop savagely overturning the movable typeset frame with metal characters wildly scattering across the floor because people should read The Canterbury Tales in a book copied by a scribe.  The uniform appearance of the font imprinted by a metal typeset would destroy the character and feel of the book.    Well my little scenario is a bit impossible because Chaucer departed this world some 40 years prior to the introduction of the printing press, but Lee's insistence that people read printed books seems just as preposterous.  So when I read this little piece of cranky, elderly, curmudgeoness, I decided it will be a cold day in hell when I let an author dictate to me how to read a book.  I will never  purchase a printed version of a book that is currently selling a million copies a year--Pulitzer Prize, Novel of the Century, and Presidential Medal of Freedom be damned.

Harper Lee in the 1960s
News Flash.  They are wearing coats in hell, big cold front come through.  Yes I broke down and bought the book in a print copy.  I kept getting recommendations for it from people in my book club.  So I bought the damn book.   I am about a third of the way through it and yes, it is very good.  And yes, I miss my Kindle.  I miss my larger font, I miss the search function, I miss the dictionary (but only a little), I miss my Kindle light, I miss being able to fall asleep in the chair with the Kindle safely tucked into my lap, I miss not having to search for my place after the book shoots out of my hand and onto the floor when I do fall asleep, and I miss not having to fight a cheap ass paper back book that constantly wants to slam shut on me, and I miss my underline and note functions.  Oh sure I can underline and write notes in the margin.  But why? Six months from now I will have no idea where the hell the book is.  I am not going to be able to fire up the Kindle and find the mockingbird quote.  So yes indeed Miss Harper, I am reading your book as you meant for me to read it in the form of a published dead tree book with print that is just a bit too small and wrestling the damn thing to keep it from closing on me.  Yes Miss Harper, I am 63 years of age, and by God should be old enough to know how I want to read my books, the Kindle ain't just the latest contraption for me--in a contraption filled world.  Yes, Miss Harper, reading your book is something of a pain in the ass, but I am doing it.  And oddly enough Miss Harper, despite being pissed off at you, it is a damn good book.

The Evil Amazon Kindle
Destroying How Books Should Be Read

Well I suppose it ought to be.  It was Harper Lee's only book. (EDIT: true at the time this was written.  Go Set A Watchman was published July 14, 2015). It was on the New York Times best seller's list for ages.  It was selected for Book of The Month Club and Reader Digest Condensed Books.   It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961.  The 1962 movie was nominated for 8 Oscars and won 3.  It was voted Best Novel of the 20th Century in 1999 by The Library Journal.  Lee was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Notre Dame in 2006 and in 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom by George W. Bush.  Along with other numerous awards and honors the book has over 30 million copies in print and sells about a million copies a year--but not one on a damned Kindle.

As I sit here and write,  there is and odd concatenation of memories.  My first memory is of my mother sitting in her chair with her right foot under her left butt cheek reading the Book of The Month Club edition while a cup of coffee and a cigarette sat on the large chrome ash tray--coffee stand next to her chair.  Damn, the sixth grade me can't turn on the TV with her reading that stupid book.  I passed by and thought what an odd title.    My next memory is of the book sitting on the shelf up in the hall closet next to the Scrabble game for years.  It was the only title up there and still there long after I got married.

Right at the moment, there is a mockingbird singing out in the large hemlock in front of my house.  When I was a kid there were no mockingbirds in Pennsylvania, or at least in our neck of the woods.  I first saw a mockingbird on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in June of 1970.  My family was on a vacation a week before I left for the Air Force.  We heard this odd bird and my father identified it with his Peterson guide and binoculars.  When the bird flew, that nailed it.  There were bright white bars flashing on its wings.  When my father identified the bird I can still remember of remembering my mother sitting in her chair, foot under her ass, reading the book with a cup of coffee and cigarette.  A week later and for every morning for six weeks there after, a mockingbird sat singing high in the tree next to the chow hall at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  And last summer the mockingbird was out in my hemlock tree singing and I thought of the bittersweet memories of my mother reading the book, the book in the closet, seeing the mockingbird in North Carolina, and hearing it in Texas.  And now it is singing again out in my hemlock.

It would indeed be a sin to kill a mockingbird for as Miss Maudie told Scout "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mocking bird."

EDIT 3-25-12: I finished the book today.  Simply magnificent, well worth the inconvenience of having to read it in Dead Tree Book Format.

EDIT 3-28-12:  The other great hold out from e-publishing, J.K. Rowling, has started her own e-publishing business for the Harry Potter series.  Some are stating that Rowling's endeavor will be the end of  Digital Rights Management and Amazon's lead in e-publishing.  Too early to tell but Amazon has proven to be very resourceful in the past.  It should be interesting.  Can we expect Miss Harper to do the same?  I doubt it.  TKAM sales are good, but it is one book and Miss Harper is in her late 80s.

 EDIT 5-7-2012:  We have been doing some long overdue spring cleaning.  My wife handed me a box of books yesterday, "Do something with these."  Most are fictional titles that I have read, Richard Ford's Sportswriter series and others that I bought before the Kindle era.  So what the hell do I do with these books?  Will I read them again?  Probably not, but I paid good money for them and there are some notable parts that would be nice to look up and quote.  In one of the Sportswriters novels Frank makes an amusing observation about the strange appearance of his son and alludes to a ukelele.  If I had those books on my Kindle, I could look up that passage in less than a minute.  Search ukelele from the home page and it will give you every instance that ukelele appears in all your books.  Now I could search by hand through three volumes, and if I take the books to the Goodwill, I can drive to the library and find it.  So indeed, what am I going to do with these books?  How much clutter of books should one live with?  At what point do you decide, this book no longer has any interest.  That is easy to do with some books, but Richard Fords?  Yet will I read them again?  What to do?   All I can tell you is, good book, crappy book, once you got it on your Kindle its your's for immediate access...with damn little clutter.

EDIT 6/2/2014:  To Kill A Mockingbird is coming out in Kindle format on July 8. 2014:

Miss Lee I take back all the rotten things I said about you.

CNN, 4/29/14, Harper Lee OKs e-book version of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'


Interesting article from Smithsonian Magazine:

The original review of To Kill A Mockingbird in The Atlantic August 1960:

Biography of Harper Lee, with an interesting short video:

Harper Lee, Wikipedia:

To Kill A Mockingbird, Wikipedia:

Mockingbird, Wikipedia:

The Bird With Personality, The Mockingbird: 

EDIT 8/9/2015:  THE ATLANTIC:  Go Set A Watchman: What about Scout?

Image Credits:

Book Cover:

Harper Lee:


Flying Mockingbird: 

Perched Mockingbird: