I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird this year. We outgrow childhood books, but there are the special ones that we can never shake off because it was pivotal in shaping the adult you become.
Like Jeanette Winterson, I am uncomfortable with someone who has no books in their homes – because then the person becomes a blank slate to me.
But more than the books you read, what you focus on in a book reveals something about you.
This is one of my favourite parts of To Kill A Mockingbird. I still find it stirring when I read it earlier this year. This is after the "guilty" verdict has been passed on Tom Robinson. Atticus about to leave the courtroom.
Judge Taylor was saying something. His gravel was in his fist, but he wasn’t using it. Dimly, I saw Atticus pushing papers from the table into his briefcase. He snapped it shut, went to the court reporter and said something, nodded to Mr Gilmer, and then went to Tom Robinson and whispered something to him. Atticus put his head on Tom’s shoulder as he whispered. Atticus took his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it over his shoulder. Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit. He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle toward the south exit. I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door. He did not look up.
Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.
"Miss Jean Louise?"
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the people wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:
"Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’."
I have always believed this scene is an affirmation. I was looking through my journal, and to this scene, I wrote:
It alway seems silly to cry at this point. But it’s redemptive, almost, this scene. As though it’s never a complete defeat. That in some little way, fighting to the end is its own victory.
With hindsight, I realise that for me, it is not enough to do what is right, just for the sake of doing the right thing. I want the accolades for my struggles.
Like Atticus, I want to be someone who will stand up for a Tom Robinson even if the world tells me not to. But - I want people to stand when I leave the courtroom.
For all the admiration I have of the character, I am not Atticus.
One is about someone else, the other - is about me.
I am still sorely human. And that - is something to think about.
My entry for 15th March 2006, just after I finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird:
Reread the book you loved from childhood, and remember why you loved it then, and why you cry.
That you still can cry at the parts that used to break your heart – maybe you have not lost as much as you supposed. Maybe the years haven’t hardened you so much. Maybe your experience had not caught up with your instincts.
I wonder. Maybe a part of me has not yet changed.