I have lost count how many times I have read or listened to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It's more than a dozen times.
The book was required reading my sophomore year of high school. Our student teacher, Miss Collard, taught the book. I only remember her name now because it was the answer to a quiz question I missed.
I returned to the book as an annual ritual in early adulthood. And later got the audioversion read by Sissy Spacek as a Christmas present. So now that I'm thinking of it, I've probably read/listened to it closer to twenty times.
The thing about reading the same book so many times is that with each pass, the reader/listener is a different person and hears different things. For years, I read the book and aspired to be like Atticus. This was a goal long before I became a mother. And then I had a daughter, and I listened to his conversations with Scout and redoubled my efforts to be like him.
For years I read it only as a reader, but in recent years, I've begun approaching it like a writer studying her craft. Now when I listen, I am mesmerized by the mastery of the storytelling. (How did Lee nail it on the second rewrite?) I marvel at the pace, where Lee used dialogue vs. prose, the sense of place and plot. I am stunned by the consistency of Scout's voice--it's mixture of childlike perspective, explanation, and wisdom beyond her years. And how she slowly and expertly ages Jem from a young boy into an adolescent without missing a beat.
The timeless quality of the story has always struck me. Though it is set in depression-era Alabama, it's never felt outdated or old-fashioned. It reminds me of My Antonia by Willa Cather in that respect. It tackles ages-old difficulties and human drama. And now listening to it with the backdrop of a new presidential administration, the story has never felt more relevant with its theme of discrimination of race, sex, and class.
During this listen, I adored Atticus as usual, but it was Miss Maudie Atkinson that piqued my interest. My pivot away from Atticus this time has to do with the fact that I now have a child old enough to discuss big, important topics with, and I feel good about my ability to do so. Atticus's cool, calm, composed way of explaining things--hard things--has settled into my bones in the years that I was childless. Waiting dormant and ready to be put into action. With Atticus as my guide, I've found my own approach to discussing the hard bits of life with her and I am pleased with my competence in the area.
Miss Maudie Atkinson is a minor character in many ways, and yet, she plays a large role in the Finch children's small world. She is a voice of reason when life gets chaotic. She is a moral compass not only for the children, but for her neighbors and the entire town of Macomb. She calls it like she sees it, and isn't one bit wishy-washy. I want to be like Miss Maudie Atkinson, and heaven knows how much we need her type--male and female--in the world right now.
I am fascinated by what captures my attention each time I pick up this story. It truly is like comfort food for my head and heart. I will never grow weary of it, and I miss the characters every time I come to the end of the story. I can't wait to introduce my daughter to this novel.