I am not entirely sure how my high school English classes missed To Kill a Mockingbird. I know other classes at school read Harper Lee’s classic and it’s not like my classes avoided literary classics. I remember reading The Great Gatsby, a pair of Dickens novels, and numerous works of Shakespeare. I just missed Mockingbird and, for some reason, that always bothered me.
Thus when I went to the bookstore with a gift card last week, I picked up a paperback copy to kick off my Christmas season binge of reading books that are not required by seminary courses. I finished it at 1 AM last night and I now understand why it is such a beloved book. In fact, I think I appreciated it more reading it in my late 20s than I would have in my teens.
Don’t get me wrong. I still likely would have enjoyed Mockingbird if I had read it in tenth grade. Great literature is great literature regardless of when you read it. Yet I cannot imagine enjoying it then as much as I did now. Age has something to do with it. I like to believe that I am more mature now than I was at fifteen and thus can understand nuance better.
Yet at the same time, I wonder if my enjoyment was enhanced by the freer environment in which I read the book. I read it of my own volition. There was not an essay hanging over my head. I was not told to look for anything specific. I just read and I kept reading not because I had to but because Lee drew me further and further in.
In this freedom, I was allowed to press forward when I had to find out what happened next. I was also allowed to step back when I needed a break or to take a moment to reflect. The reading happened organically and, I believe because of that, I ended up loving the book more.
Loving a book, it seems, is like loving anything. Though love can spring forth in all sorts of circumstances, it seems to work best when it’s not forced. So I’m glad that I read To Kill a Mockingbird this past week and not thirteen years ago. I think I love it more for that reason.