Book choice for September

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee [suggested by Lisa Williams]

front cover

Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus - three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman.  Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child.  The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up. Like the slow-moving occupants of her fictional town, Lee takes her time getting to the heart of her tale.  We first meet the Finches the summer before Scout's first year at school.  She, her brother, and Dill Harris, a boy who spends the summers with his aunt in Maycomb, while away the hours reenacting scenes from Dracula and plotting ways to get a peek at the town bogeyman, Boo Radley.  At first the circumstances surrounding the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, the daughter of a drunk and violent white farmer, barely penetrate the children's consciousness.  Then Atticus is called on to defend the accused, Tom Robinson, and soon Scout and Jem find themselves caught up in events beyond their understanding.  During the trial, the town exhibits its ugly side, but Lee offers plenty of counterbalance as well - in the struggle of an elderly woman to overcome her morphine habit before she dies; in the heroism of Atticus Finch, standing up for what he knows is right; and finally in Scout's hard-won understanding that most people are essentially kind "when you really see them."  By turns funny, wise, and heartbreaking, To Kill a Mockingbird is one classic that continues to speak to new generations, and deserves to be reread often. [review by Alix Wilber - the first of 1660 customer reviews on Amazon.com]

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, to Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee.  Harper Lee grew up in the small southwestern Alabama town of Monroeville.  Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who also served on the state legislature (1926-38).  As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and she enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote, who provided the basis of the character of Dill in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lee was only five years old in when, in April 1931 in the small Alabama town of Scottsboro, the first trials began with regard to the purported rapes of two white women by nine young black men.  The defendants, who were nearly lynched before being brought to court, were not provided with the services of a lawyer until the first day of trial.  Despite medical testimony that the women had not been raped, the all-white jury found the men guilty of the crime and sentenced all but the youngest, a twelve-year-old boy, to death.  Six years of subsequent trials saw most of these convictions repealed and all but one of the men freed or paroled.  The Scottsboro case left a deep impression on the young Lee, who would use it later as the rough basis for the events in To Kill a Mockingbird, her first and only novel, which was published in 1960 after a two-year period of revising and rewriting under the guidance of her editor, Tay Hohoff.  To Kill a Mockingbird won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize despite mixed critical reviews.

See also her Wikipedia page.

 

Shortlisted for this month

This is the second month of our second experiment into new ways of choosing our monthly reads.  Lisa also presented these two other books, with Therese narrowly missing being chosen (by one vote).

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

How does one demarcate pride and prejudice, or bias and stubbornness?  In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen deftly exposes the folly of and further ridicules judging by first impressions.

When Elizabeth Bennet first met the fine, tall, handsome eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she immediately deemed him arrogant, conceited and utterly obnoxious.  Her first impression of Darcy, who was initially looked upon with prodigious admiration, was quickly assured as his conceited manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity.

Darcy's conceit and selfish disdain of the feelings of others formed the foundation of Elizabeth's disapprobation on which succeeding events had built so inevitably a hatred.  When she later found out Darcy had deliberately altered Bingley's opinion of her beloved sister Jane and determined to separate them, she was determined to exasperate herself as much as possible against Darcy.

In the comedy of manners that follows, Austen, in a superb manner and prose so elegant and lyrical, verbalizes the stubbornness, bias, and prejudices of Elizabeth toward a man whom resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of his admiration for her escaped him.  Despite the fact that he struggled to maintain his composure, in his breast there existed a powerful feeling toward her, which soon procured her pardon and directed his anger elsewhere upon Elizabeth's weighty accusations of him.

Pride and Prejudice presents us a romance comedy with a modern feel and touch.  The opening of the novel Fitzwilliam Darcy is blackened as the most obnoxious snob for whom "there is not another woman in the room who it would not be a punishment" to him to stand up with.  To Elizabeth, almost all of Darcy's actions "maybe traced to pride" and "pride had often connected him to virtue."  No sooner had Darcy's superiority of mind (pride) been fully exposed than Elizabeth's prejudice was revealed.

Unlike her sister Jane, Elizabeth was more hasty in censuring anyone (especially Fitzwilliam Darcy) and never supposed the possibility of any extenuating circumstances in the case, let alone urging the possibility of mistake and misunderstanding.  In confronting Darcy of his inexcusable act of separating Bingley and Jane, Elizabeth judged from assumptions, suspicions, and the biased first impression. In a sense she sought to discredit Darcy and the relation of events that might be capable of a turn which must render Darcy blameless throughout the whole affair.

When Elizabeth finally considered how unjustly she had condemned and upbraided Darcy, her anger and indignation was turned against herself and Darcy's dejection (more or less disappointed feelings toward her) became object of her compassion.  Elizabeth's folly and rashness also become object of our compassion.  How awful her petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Pride and Prejudice evokes the fact that human nature is prone to pride and very few of us do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or another.  Pride usually relates more to our opinions of ourselves, of which Elizabeth has epitomized.  Pride is the real superiority of mind, when along with stubbornness, bias, and determination, would casue irremediable regret.  The novel also evokes the friendship, the values of marriage, and snobberies of English middle-class life in the early 19th century. [review from amazon.com by Matthew M. Yau (San Francisco, CA)]

About the Author

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 - 18 July 1817) was an English novelist whose works include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.  Her social commentary and masterful use of both free indirect speech and irony eventually made Austen one of the most influential and honoured novelists in English literature.  Her novels were all written and set around the Regency Era.  She never married and died at age 41.

The above text is the introduction to the Jane Austen Wikipedia entry.  Further information can be found on the Jane Austen info page.

Therese

Therese

Mauriac, who won the 1952 Nobel Prize for literature, later said of Therese that what she needed was a priest-confessor who truly represented Christ.  Since he (at the time of writing the novel) knew of no such person, he could only write of a woman whose passion cried out in futility for fulfillment.  The novel takes place in three (maybe four?) vignettes, with Therese first being accused of poisoning her husband, then moving to Paris and becoming a lover of many men, and finally her one truest act of love toward a young man who is drawn to both her and to God.  The novel may offend Christians (since there's no cute or easy ending), offend protestants (since Mauriac sees Christanity and Catholicism as synonyms), and offend non-believers (Mauriac, for all his literary brilliance, is a Jesus freak at heart). [review from amazon.com by Jon Trott (Chicago, IL)]

About the Author

French novelist, essayist, poet, playwright, journalist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952.  Mauriac belonged to the long tradition of French Roman Catholic writers, who examined the problems of good and evil in human nature and in the world.

Francois Mauriac was born in Bordeaux as the youngest son of Jean-Paul Mauriac, a wealthy businessman.  When Mauriac was not quite two years old, his father died, and the family lived with grandparents.  His mother was a devout Catholic who was influenced by Jansenist thought.  From the age of seven, Mauriac attended a school run by the Marianite Order.  The author never ceased to acknowledge the importance of his early education although he was unhappy at Ste Marie.

After studies at the University of Bordeaux, Mauriac received his licence (the equivalent of an M.A.) in 1905.  Next year he went to Paris to prepare for entrance in the �cole des Chartes, where he was accepted in 1908.  However, Mauriac remained at the school only a few months and then decided to devote himself entirely to literature.  His first volume of poems, LES MAINS JOINTES, appeared in 1909.

Read more of this biography, or check out Francois Mauriac on Wikipedia.

 

Previous Months' Book Choices

August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006