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:


  1. I used my Kindle dictionary to look up 'contatenation.' New word for me. I'm glad you finally read TKAM. It's hard to be a grownup American and not have read it. Such a fabulous book!! I still own the paperback copy I purchased back in 1960-whatever. It says 60 cents on the cover. The print is way too small for me now, so I'd have to read it with a magnifying glass. Interesting parallel with Chaucer and the printing press. Good point. But are you really that angry at Ms Lee? I could give you some better things to spend your anger on. BTW, I am so glad you finally posted something new, becuase I put up with that picture of women's butts in pink underwear as a thumbnail photo on my blog list for long enough!

    1. Carol,

      Yes actually I am a bit peeved at Miss Harper. Why not release it for e-pub and kindle? There are a lot of people who rely on their e-readers due to physical handicaps. I have read of people with macular degeneration using Kindles with the font set to huge. What the hell does she care, how you read the book? You know we are not talking some side show 3rd rate book. It is one of, if not the leading book in American fiction and to prevent it from being published in an electronic format, to me, is irresponsible. There is a point where eccentricity departs being cute and becomes somewhat contemptible.

      Sorry I will try to be more discerning, had I simply switched the order, the soccer players would have been jumping out of the screen at your blog instead of the pink bums. So you are not a fan of the Lingerie Bowl?

      As always thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Great book Sextant. I read that novel in high school as one of our compulsory novels for English, can't remember what grade it was in.
    I can't really make any viable comment on the kindle books or e readers or whatever..cause I don't have em ! But I get where you are coming from.
    BTW ...good to see another post. I was getting worried bout you. Thought maybe you got tired of this retirement business and got yourself another job or something. ???

    1. Busman,

      The muse has died or something. Haven't been inspired. Too damned hot to go out and walk about. These 27 C days are killing me. I don't really care for that in July let alone March.

      If you have an iPad, try Kindle for iPad, its a free App, or you can get iBooks. The problem with iBooks is they do not support Macs. Good example of Apple taking care of its customers. With Kindle you can read on any Apple device. There are tons of free books and 99 cent'rs. I like my old Kindle because it uses the e-ink which is not back lit. The screen is light grey and the black print make for a very easy on the eye reading experience, especially because you can change the font size. From what I have read the iPad works very well for reading books except in bright sunlight.

      To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book and it frosts me that it is not available on the Kindle because the author believes one should read a book. Harper Lee is quite eccentric, which generally is charming, but in this case I am not amused.

  3. Excellent post, Sextant. I agree with you completely. I bet if Harper Lee tried a Kindle, she'd come to love it. Someone should send her one. A book is a book. It's not the format that matters, it's the words.

    1. Thanks Donna. Well with sales of a million copies per year I am sure she can afford to buy her own Kindle!

      You are absolutely right, the words make the book. I found the look, feel and smell of a "real book" pales in comparison to font size and search capabilities.

      Besides, the damn book flying out of my hand and hitting the floor ruins my naps. I prop up the Kindle with pillow in my lap and can sleep for hours and read a paragraph here and there. I always thought it was e-ink and font size that eased eye fatigue and would allow me to read far longer than a normal book...nonsense it is the ability to nap for 20 minutes between paragraphs that reduces eye fatigue.

  4. I have both because it is the book that made me want to be a writer. I wrote it in one of my entries, I think... I told Mom I was gonna be Harper Lee. "You can't, dear. You're Jeannette."

    "Well, I'm gonna be a Southern writer then."

    "You can't, dear. You're a Yankee. But you can Be Jeannette, a writer from New England."

    Thanks for your comments on my blog. There is one of my earlier entries--I think it's I wrote about grace there, too.

    Regardless, I loved this entry of yours, Sextant!

    1. ette

      Well, you are not Harper Lee nor are you a Southern writer, but I believe your writing to be on a comparable plane. Harper Lee has touched my heart with her account of a young girl's experience in Depression era Alabama, but you have broken my heart with your accounts of a young girl's, young woman's, and middle age woman's experiences of the grief, sorrows, and joys of life. I have shed more tears at your blog than I did for young Scout.

      I visited and commented on your linked post back last November, quite beautiful, and with my lousy memory, I am going to read it again.

      BTW, do you mind that I call you may be taking a familiar license of which I have no right. I must confess, my usage is somewhat driven by laziness and poor typing skills--you have a lot letters in your name!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting...always an honor.

    2. Jette

      Sorry I missed the J when I copied and pasted the reply. I mistakenly wrote it in a new comment, and then copied it to a reply to your comment. Missed the J. I guess even Jette had too many letters.

  5. I'm glad that someone else besides myself have those "They are wearing coats in hell" moments. They seem to come around and bite me in the arse quite often.


    1. Susie,
      How delightful a comment from down under! One of the hallmarks of being an intelligent human being it the ability to abandon self evident truths. If there is one thing I can say about you, it is that you are intelligent. Indelicately, I imagine your arse to be rather blemish free, where mine appears to have suffered an attack by piranhas. Thanks for stopping by and commenting

  6. I hesitate to say that I have never read this book as I know it was required reading for most people in high school. Somehow I missed out, maybe it was read during my Sophomore year when I got a case of the mumps and was out of school for weeks! But you've made me curious and I'm going to have to go out and hunt this book down.

    You know what a thrifty person I am...I can spend $4.60 on a cup of Starbucks coffee, but I will only buy used books from the Goodwill at 80cents each or do without! I guess if someone game me a Kindle I would use it and probably love it, but for my money, I'd rather just keep buying my gently used books and pass them on when I'm done.

    Did you do any research to find out WHY Harper Lee prefers actual books? It would be interesting to know her take on it.

    1. Alicia,
      Always a pleasure! I would highly recommend this book and due to the fact that it was been around since 1960 and sold over 30 million copies, pretty good bet you can get it at the Goodwill for 80 cents while you slosh down 35 cent sips of fru fru coffee.

      I read somewhere a couple of years ago when I first had my Kindle that Lee refused to allow the book to be e-published because she felt people should read books not contraptions. I searched about 4 or 5 times and only found vague references written on forums or book clubs by members, not a definitive statement from the author. Technically the publisher could be blocking it, or there may be some legal hiccup. The book was originally published by the now defunct Lippincott. Harper Collins is publishing it now. However it is my belief that if Miss Harper told the folks at Harper she wanted the book in electronic format, there would be a small army of lawyers solving any legal problems. I can't prove it, but it is my belief that e-publishing is being blocked by Miss Harper.

      Be that as it may, the book is well worth reading regardless of the format.

    2. In response to your question, I did another search this morning and did find this article:

      Not much information. Apparently Lee's health has deteriorated and she may not be capable of making sound legal decisions at this time. Here is a quote from the article regarding Lee's opinions of contraption verses books:

      "If readers are looking for some insight into what she might think of e-books, however, they may want to consider this excerpt from a letter she wrote to Oprah Winfrey in 2006: 'Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.' "

      Ray Bradbury was quite adamant about not releasing his books. In 2008, he criticized e-readers as not being books. In 2010 he criticized e-publishing, computers and the internet. But I also note that his books are now available for the Kindle and yesterday J.K. Rowling released Harry Potter but in her own way. She created her own e-publishing company Pottermore. You buy the e-books from her site, not Amazon. You can browse the e-books at Amazon but the "click to buy" button has been replaced with "Buy At Pottermore" which then exits Amazon and take you to Pottermore where one must create an account. Apparently Rowling has done away with Digital Right Management but places your digital signature on the copy of the book. If you release the book in an authorized fashion, your ID will be on that copy and can be traced back to you. This may be interesting to see where all this will go.

    3. Very Interesting! Thanks for the further info. It is hard sometimes as we get older to let go of the past and what we know. I imagine that's why Harper Lee is so set against ebooks, fear of the unknown and the future. I know even I have to force myself at times to be more accepting of current trends and styles and technology because I never want to be one of those people that refuses to move along things.

      Commenting brings to mind a previous co-worker that I used to have many years ago named Betty. Betty worked in a collection agency that I worked in and she had been there ever since they first started using the old manual typewriters. She had a big, clunky old Olympia Typewriter. When we moved on to the Selectric IBM typewriters she refused to even consider using one, preferring to stick with her clunky, old, LOUD Olympia. Then we went to computers & keyboards. Now mind you...on the Olympia she could type 20million words per minute, but when she was forced to give up her Olympia to type on a keyboard she went to the hunt & peck system of typing, like she had never before seen a keyboard! In fact she would place her glasses at the tip of her nose and she would stare down at the keyboard seaching for the letter she wanted while with her index finger on her right hand she made little circles over the keyboard. Then she would hit the letter she wanted and raise her head to stare at the computer monitor to make sure the letter showed up and then she would move on to the next letter.

      When she retired, instead of a gold watch, they gave her her old Olympia typewriter with a little gold plaque soldered onto it with a "thanks for your years of service" acknowledgement on it. I never want to be Betty and hopefully technology will never out-run or out-smart me!

    4. Alicia,

      To a degree, I am Betty. I don't much care about the latest contraptions. Our TV is ancient and with all the cable brouhaha, I don't even know how to turn it on. Most of the crap that is on my iMac, I haven't even tried...don't care about garage bands or iPhotos or iThis and iThat. My phone is just a phone. So in some ways, yes I am Harper Lee and Betty. In other ways not. I guess the distinction is how useful a piece of technology is to me. I love digital cameras, GPS receivers, and my Kindle. Sophisticated phones, texting, twittering, video games, and TV are pretty much useless to me and I have no desire to fiddle with it. Much of the items for sale in a typical Best Buy are totally beyond me...too many good books to read--both DTB and Kindle. I have a ton of both.

      But the fact that I don't text or twitter doesn't mean that I believe that no one should. That's what bothers me about Harper Lee. You don't want to read a Kindle, fine, but don't deny those of us who do one of the finest novels of the 20th century.

  7. When I read a book-forever I "know" the book. It's because I was raised with books. I'm 52. I know approximately where whatever I'm trying to recall is. we are intimate. I'm afraid this is going to sound, well, I have an unbelievable connection. I have a sense of the whole in the object that is the book.
    So a Kindle boggles me. How do I flip around in it, where is that thing I recall in the middle of that page sort of to the back. I should thank E-readers for making me aware of this "issue" I have-this embarrassing visual and text embedded book-i-ness. I know as sure as anything that if I pick up a book I've read I can find again what I want, in a few seconds. No such luck on the Kindle.
    And I can't dog ear the Kindle, dang it, nor see it get modeled with age or tear it or toss it or spill on it, and feel sort of guilty but not really and I'm still upset about a Kindle in the bathtub with that ominous feeling if I drift off and it slips...the money and the entire universe is gone.

    (I do like the Kindle at work, people can't see what I'm reading.)
    I like the idea of keeping up with the times.
    But the beauty of that page-my love affaire-a blatant one-with creamy papers and types. It's a real and unshakable indescribably physical, visceral connection.
    It's going to go away, but I'm so glad I had it.

    If Harper Lee asked me to drink sweet tea while reading this book, I might drink sweet tea and I'm not known for blind or even blindfolded compliance. I just figure she wrote the one book, a near perfect one, and knows what would be best.

    All my author friends, many dear, dear, dear to me prefer I read them in a book.
    I can definitely honor that.

    Except sometimes when my impatience makes me hit the buy button.

    I had a childhood battling a mocking bird. They can boss you to the point of the ridiculous, mine wouldn't let me out the front door due to their nutty nesting habits and taught all their successive generations this nonsense. Being dived at by that bugger was quite a thrill, I used to don my umbrella and brave it.

    Neat blog post.

    1. Sarah,

      Not long after writing this post, perhaps while researching for a reply, I ran into an article that stated that people use geographical clues in a printed book that help not only to remember where a passage was located but also aid in the actual content of the passage. This is lost in an e-reader which essentially is a very long featureless scroll. The point being that paper books are better for reading than e-books. I can buy this to a degree, but in my own case it hardly matters. First I will lose the physical book, have no idea where it is at and second within a short period of time I am going to forget the location within the book.

      An e-reader helps with both those problems. One) all my books are in the Kindle, and two) I can book mark pages (dog ear), underline passages, and leave notes. And I can search my notes and marks. I can search a word or a phrase within a book, or for all my books.

      I have a memory peppered by MS, it is extremely variable and hit or miss. The marking, note and search functions are invaluable to me.

      Believe me, I have a ton of dead tree books, stacks of them, I understand the love for a paper book, yet, my goal is to never buy another one (with the exception of illustrated books--e-ink Kindles are not worth a damn with illustrations). It is not my goal to eliminate paper books. Some people will always prefer them and for very good reasons. I also realize that many books with small print runs may never make it to the e-reader world.

      But a book as popular as To Kill A Mockingbird?


      Sarah, thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  8. What an interesting goal!
    I'm shooting for "try to be open minded" and "avoid mocking birds when they guarding nests" as well as the ever popular "support people in being happy". If I came off unhappy with your goal-it's not so.
    I just am rather self involved with my "saving the world" ability to have this seemingly super power of bookness.
    My high school English teacher once noted you get a super power or two but if you are born in the wrong century or somehow blow it you might never find out. In my case having a near perfect ability to remember the location of ideas that strike my fancy in terms of where they might be in a book-it's hard to convince others just how good I am at it AND that it saves the world in this super important way.

    Enough said.

    One day when all hope is lost I will get a good book out, find a passage and we will all somehow be better off and THEN the world will say,

    I think Harper Lee senses this.

  9. By the way my older daughter Syl is in complete agreement with you. Blast that she says, I want to see the entire world of books on ereaders.

    Ok, no moving huge book boxes to her houses when she one day gets one over her tiny apt.

    1. Sarah,

      Oh! I didn't get the part that you possess super power abilities in this regard, so the next Avengers movie you will appear in tights and cape Sarah the Bookeress and instantaneously find and obscure passage of Shakespeare needed to unlock the Gutenberg's tomb and find the missing typeset that will solve the grand unified theory and thus save the world from some Norse bad boy that slipped through the portal.

      So now I understand, you are in the position of having your super power partially usurped by ordinary mortals...gods never want to share their power.

      Alas I have the opposite super power. If UN Security Council decided that some idea would best be forgotten for the welfare of mankind--for instance the plans for the neutron bomb, or reruns of Giligan's Island--they would simply hand it to me and I would within several hours intractably lose the idea and forget where I put it. Lost to mankind never to be found again.

      The only way I can see around our disagreement is that from now on when I go to read a book, I will contact you to read the same book, and when I seek a passage, call you up and ask for the book and page number. The problem with that is it still does not address me losing the physical book. Of course there is always the library, but what if the library has banned the book (Fifty Shades in various libraries)?

      You know there is the makings for a epic classic here. Bezos The Kindler verses Sarah the Bookeress. Can Sarah save the world from being reduced to an AZW file. Sarah fights the evil Bezo with her super power memory while Bezos destroys entire libraries with a single shot from his $9.99 ray cannon.

    2. Sarah,

      Apparently my mockingbird has outsourced all security concerns to the robins:

  10. Alas my only power is just to be able to thumb to the spot fast. Over know the page.

    It's such a strange thing, i just like the feeling of books. Of the paper.
    But as I said I grew up in them, it's something of comfort, they were my comfort.
    I'm trying the Kindle all I can.

    I am not disagreeing-I know books will lose.
    I understand that the times have replaced them.

    I respect Miss Lee's position and yours as well.

    1. Actually I don't hope books lose. I think there will always be a place for books, but I also think there is a place for e-readers.

      You are right, there is something about the feel of a book, the smell of a book, the touch of the page. I do some times miss that, but I also love to read, fall asleep, and pick right back up where I left off without the book shooting across the floor waking me up and making me fetch the book. Life is so demanding!