Last week, I attended the New England Chapter of the Romance Writers of America Conference.
But this post is not about what I learned about craft, Regency undergarments, writing sex scenes, themes and images, and what it sounds like when a room full of women hears there’s chocolate about to be served.
This is about not reading. During one of the workshops, the presenter mentioned Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and said everyone should have read it, and if you hadn’t, shame on you.
I’ve never read it. How could this have happened? I’m totally embarrassed. I don’t know exactly how I missed it; I was an English major in college, before that took a lot of high school English classes, both my parents were avid readers. And somehow, I missed it.
It’s not like I haven’t read a lot of classics; besides the ubiquitous Jane, I’ve read all of Dickens, Fitzgerald, Wharton, and various books by Nabokov, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Woolf and Hammett (for fun, check out the top 100 list, but don’t get in a tizz about the inclusions and ommissions; it’s not worth it). I’ve read indiscrimately, but have never opened Ms. Lee’s classic, and only, work.
So–have you read TKAM? Do you agree it is a classic? What classics have you missed out on? Do you plan to read them in the future? What makes a classic, anyway? And do you think I should feel as ashamed as I do?
Eh…I didn’t read TKAM until college and I still wish I hadn’t read it. 🙂
Gee, Nicole’s statement intriques me. Why, Nicole?
Megan, I read TKAM in 8th grade when I was recuperating from a tonsillectomy (is that TMI?). I remember being glued to the pages at the time.
But there are libraries full of the classics that I’ve never read. When I was an English major, I avoided American Literature and focused on English Lit, so I’ve never read Faulkner, or F. Scott Fitzgerald for example.
My high school English teacher was related to “Harper Lee” — I can still hear her say “Hahpeh Lee” in her Southern accent!
I live (and grew up) about an hour away from Monroeville, AL, the town where TKAM is set and where Harper Lee still lives. And, gulp, I’ve never read it.
Like Diane, I was more into English Lit than American lit (hello? Regency fan here!). And I never had to read it for school. I have also never read Moby Dick. And I consider this to be a blessing rather than a curse—getting out of reading MD, that is. I do feel guilty about TKAM, but I don’t agree that I SHOULD feel guilty. There are way more important things to feel guilty about. Like the fact that injustice is still around. Or that some adults don’t know how to read Green Eggs and Ham, much less TKAM.
What is surprising to me about TKAM is that it’s some people’s ONLY association with Alabama. When I lived in Toronto and people asked where in the South I was from (to them our whole country is south, but I’m pretty sure they pegged me from my accent) and I replied Alabama, more than one person grinned and asked about TKAM.
I haven’t read this since high school, but back then it was a favorite being reread over and over. At 17 I thought it was an American Classic, at *cough* 39 and holding *cough*, it would need a reread.
I don’t know about guilt, but in my opinion TKAM is just a really, really good book. Just forget about the “shoulds” and try it. You won’t be able to put it down. And yes, I’ve reread it recently.
I have tried to read “1000 Years of Solitude” twice and each time I fall into 1000 years of coma. I think I’m missing something with that one.
I’m very suspicious of statements that I “must” read something, particularly when it implies doing so for anything other than pure enjoyment. Like, you will be an imperfect human being or writer if you don’t do so…There is so much I haven’t read–lots of Dickens and Trollope (whom I’m told is funnier than a rubber crutch). Altho I come from the deep south of England I can’t get into southern lit–I read TKAM but can’t remember a thing about it, and was thoroughly confused by Faulkner.
I guess the theory is the classics stay with you, improve you, increase your cultural awareness etc. I’m not so sure. It’s rather like Woody Allen’s joke about speedreading “War and Peace”–it’s about Russia.
I’ve read TKAM at least three times. It is an absolutely wonderful story, IMO.
I read the novel in lit class in 9th grade — enjoyed it very much. But I certainly wouldn’t say everyone MUST read it! In my opinion, there are very few works of literature that are absolute musts… I think one needs to have read (or seen) Hamlet, and — well, that may be the only “must” in my list. 🙂
And there are many great books I never read. But at the university I attended, English majors were either lit majors or writing majors — and I was a writing major. So I never really felt I needed to read everything!
Among the “greats” that I have not read:
WAR AND PEACE
TALE OF TWO CITIES (though I’ve read other Dickens)
The last 3/4 of LES MISERABLES 🙂 (I liked it — I just got distracted or something)
CLARISSA (though I feel no guilt about that — one of my life goals is to NOT read Clarissa)
And many, many more. 🙂
I read TKAM every other year or so. Needless to say, I adore it. I even upgraded to a hardcover reprint.
There are loads of books I’ve not read, and can’t be bothered to…mostly bestsellers. If I get them at all, it’s years after they fell off the list.
Cara, I knew I liked you for some reason. Our list of haven’t reads is pretty much the same (though I did read an abridged version of Les Miz.) I wonder how many of us Avoiders of Moby Dick there really are…
Diane, tonsillectomy revelation is not TMI…now if you start talking about other -ectomies then we might worry;)
Count me as an Avoider of Moby Dick–had to read it in high school, but I literally kept falling asleep at about page 9 or so. So, I read the Cliffs Notes and got an A on the test. 🙂 When it comes to Melville, I was just lucky to get through “Bartleby the Scrivener” without getting narcolepsy. The full-length novels are OUT.
Haven’t read TKAM since high school, either. I liked it–it’s very powerful, and definitely a classic for a reason, but I wasn’t as swoon-y about it as some of my friends. I never, ever wished my name was “Scout” or anything like that. 🙂
Megan, I too haven’t read TKAMB, and I also haven’t read Catcher in the Rye other. I don’t know why, partly because everyone I knew in high school thought they were Holden Caulfield, while I preferred to think of myself as the main character from the Bell Jar. Of course, now that I’ve seen Capote, I want to read both TKAMB and In Cold Blood. It’s all on my list.
Read TKAM in seventh grade with (swoon) Mr. Cunningham (swoon) as my English teacher.
I need to stop here for a minute and just put my hand below my collar bones to calm my fluttery reaction to the mere memory of Mr. Cunningham. This was the seventies, and Mr. Cunningham had a beard, and wore jeans, boots, and flannel plaid shirts every day. He introduced us to the words, archetype, trope, and genre; he was kind enough to sit on a log during First Break and read our poetry; and he would offer kind critiques such as, “You know, not ALL poetry has to rhyme.” Have I mentioned that I had a major, full blown, Oh-how-I-hate-his-wife-because-I-could-surely-love-him-better crush on him?
He told us he loved TKAM, and I agreed wholeheartedly. I cried while reading it, and I still sob when I watch the movie. However even my undying love for Mr. Cunningham never permitted me to enjoy the other book from that semester, Old Man And The Sea. Therefore I have to conclude that I love TKAM not because it makes my heart go all fluttery with memories of Mr. Cunningham (although it does), but because it is a “fine book,” whereas Old Man and The Sea just sucks eggs and Mr. Cunningham was simply blinded by its reputation when he mentioned that he loved it. Apparently this was his one and only flaw.
Amanda, speaking of Bartleby — I spent my junior year at the University of East Anglia, where I took a class on the American short story (don’t laugh — it fit, and all my other classes were British literature.) Anyway, we were told we had to write an original essay on a story — and it had to be a thesis that no one had ever argued before.
Okay. Hard. Especially when you’ve chosen “Bartleby the Scrivener”, one of the most written about, most bizarrely interpreted stories ever! (Bartleby, it seems, is… A peasant. A Marxist. An everyman. A symbol for Adam. A symbol for God. A symbol for Jesus. A psychological urge to return to the womb. And ANY OTHER jaw-dropping symbol you can think of!) 🙂
So the only thing I could think of that was at all supported by the text, and hadn’t been done, was to argue that Bartleby is a ghost. Yes, a ghost.
Actually, there’s lots of textual support for that! 🙂
But when I look back at that essay, I think — I wouldn’t never have the nerve to do that now! I was much bolder in those days. 🙂
Cara (smiley king)
Well, I’ve never read To Kill A Mockingbird, but on the scale of Things I Am Ashamed I Have Never Read (Yet) it comes pretty far down.
On the other hand, I wasn’t an English major. Maybe this is a hang-up that English majors develop. I was a Physics major, and we got serious points for being able to read at all. 🙂
Certainly I never tried to systematically read The Great Works of Literature. I don’t know that there are really books that one must read. I mean, what happens to you when you don’t? Nothing, apparently.
But Hamlet is still excellent. And Bartleby the Scrivener is obviously a presentiment of that quintessentially late-20th-and-early-21st-century creature, the Couch Potato.
Man, I got nothing more to add–you all have had such a great conversation while I was traveling to South Jersey!
I will read it, I won’t be ashamed, and I will admit to having had a crush on my French teacher, Mr. Inglis, who was kinda hard-line and confrontational (and I like WHAT kind of hero?!?)
I started out adult life as a math & computer science major, so I’m hideously behind all of you! About all I can truly claim is having read a few classics at school and everything by Jane Austen at least once. Sigh…
Since my TBR list is continually expanding and includes classics and new works, I will never catch up!
Elena, overcome with shame 🙂
Hey, that’s so cool! Mathematicians and computer scientists may be even geekier than physicists!