Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jenny Reviews: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The Vitals

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Release Date: 14 July 2015
Page Count: 278
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction
Target Audience: Adult
Series: No
Source and Format: Borrowed; Hardback
Goodreads | Amazon

Summary (From Goodreads)
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience.

Notes on Go Set a Watchman:
I have not been so moved by a book in a long time. It has taken me a couple of days to process the complex simpleness of this book. (Yes, you read that right. I will come to back to it in just a minute.) I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird  before I read Watchman and I am so glad I did. I do not think you can fully understand it without first re-reading Mockingbird, most especially if the last time you read it was in high school. You will hate Watchman if you do not have an adult's grasp of Mockingbird. You might hate it anyway, but do not let it be because you do not have the full picture.

So, the complex simpleness. This is a simple book. Scout, beloved narrator of Mockingbird, returns home for a visit. This is, essentially, what the whole book is about. She has a beau, one Henry Clinton, who is Atticus made over, more or less. Perfect for the little girl who idolizes her daddy. She is trying to decide if she wants to love him enough to marry him. Atticus is getting older but is still practicing law; Alexandra has moved in permanently; Jem has passed away; Uncle Jack now lives in town. Maycomb is, more or less, exactly as she left it. This continuity is something Scout depends on even as she is exasperated by it at times. 

Intertwined with this permanence is the infallibility of Atticus. Scout has long held her dad as her own conscious, making moral decisions based upon the question "What would Atticus do?" I believe this is also a sin of which every reader of Mockingbird is guilty. He is, as Miss Maudie says, "the same man in the street as in privacy of his own home". He is a wonderful person, but he is also a flawed person. This is a painful lesson. It is never fun to discover that idols have feet of clay. Scout's awakening is, to be sure, more painful than it has to be. She does not listen well. She is impetuous and quick to accuse. She is, in short, every one of us in our 20's. We are coming to understand that the world looks different from how we thought it would, or should, that there are more shades of gray than we are comfortable with. 

This is where the complexity comes in. The issue of race in the South was (and still is) as complex an issue as can be found. It touched on every aspect of life and was not something that could be solved by the government. Please do not think I am saying that change did not need to occur, because that is the opposite of what I am saying. My point is that it was an issue that so permeated society that change needed to come from more than just the political sphere. Actions have consequences. Just because an action is positive does not mean that it cannot also have negative consequences. One must not shy away from looking forward to all the consequences and trying to take into account other changes that one change can necessitate. This is what Atticus was doing and what he was trying to get Scout to do as well. Do I agree with his position? Not at all. Does he raise valid concerns that need to be addressed? Yes, he most certainly does. We should not be afraid of conversations like this. Our generation resorts to social media as a place to put forth our opinions, rather than sitting and having a face-to-face conversation and actually listening to what someone else has to say. 

I am still wrestling over how prophetic this book is. Harper Lee wrote it in the mid-1950's. The issues that Scout and Atticus and Henry Clinton and Uncle Jack were dealing with are still very much what we are dealing with today. I can understand why Lee only wrote two books; what more could she have to say? Her insight into human nature is humbling. I was so upset when I realized how Atticus felt about things. I loved every word Scout threw at him. I was also cut to the quick by that last conversation with Uncle Jack, when I realized how much of Scout is in me... especially when I was talking about how I did not like her that much in the previous blog post. What good are Scout's convictions, which I agree with, if she cannot listen to another's view without becoming angry, without feeling as if a disagreement about a position was a personal attack? What good are her convictions if she has not thought through them, if she only has them because she thinks that is what Atticus's are, not because they are her own? What good are your convictions if you are only concerned about being right?

Memorable Quotes
“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”

“The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right—” 


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Throwback Thursday: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lesley Anne and I are life-long readers; that is, we have loved reading our whole lives. Sure, we played football at recess with the boys, but we also had at least 4 books checked out from our school library at all times. We thought a fun way to showcase the books that solidified our love of literature at a young age is to put a bookish twist on the ever-popular Throwback Thursday meme. If you, too, started your love affair with books as soon as you learned to read, you will probably recognize a lot of these titles. If your love of reading was something acquired later in life, you might have missed these gems. These books are near and dear to our hearts in a special way; it is through them we first learned the hidden power of words and imagination. The beauty of these books is that they remain just as wonderful to re-read as an adult. Ahh, the power of nostalgia. :)

The Vitals

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Release Date: 1960
Page Count: 324
Genre: Fiction (Classic)
Target Audience: Young Adult/Adult
Series: No
Source and Format: Purchased; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (From Goodreads)
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior—to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

Notes on To Kill a Mockingbird
I read this novel for the first time in 9th grade in Mrs. Smith's English class. Having just re-read it in preparation for Go Set a Watchman, I am now of the firm opinion that every person who loved this as a child/teenager needs to re-read it as an adult. Seriously. If you have not read this book since high school English, do yourself a favor and become acquainted with it as an adult.

I had a hard time reading this book in high school. It was the first time I was made aware, or rather made to deal with, the fact that life is supremely unfair at times. It was the first time I really grasped the subtlety of hate and ignorance. It was my first understanding of racism. It is a book that has stuck with me for a long time. 

Reading it as an adult was just as hard as reading it as a fourteen year old. There was so much in there that I did not have the ability to understand before. The core of the story was the same, but the characters took on different dimensions. I found myself not really liking Scout at all. Jem was a much more multifaceted character with depth I did not see before (he would have made a much more compelling narrator). Atticus is much more wise than I knew; not simply good or uncompromising (in the best sense of the word) but wise to the multitude of currents that are swirling around him, his children, and his town. And I seemed to have completely forgotten Miss Maudie altogether. I think she is my favorite now. 

I cannot sum up the unique beauty of this novel sufficiently, so I am not going to try. Go read it for yourself. It is just as thought-provoking the second time around as the first. I am positive that the third time will be the same. It is even more timely now as the South is struggling with how to deal with its past. It captures perfectly how no one or no history is two-dimensional. The same neighbor that would condemn Tom Robinson also would have commended Boo Radley for his actions. This complexity is why the South is so wonderful and so frustrating at the same time... as am I. As are you. 

Atticus's Words of Wisdom
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."

“The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.”

“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em.”

“It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Lord of the Rings Read-Along: Intro + Sign-Ups!

Background (from Lesley Anne)

There’s no question about it: The Lord of the Rings is my favorite story of all time. I binge read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was in eighth grade, and I couldn’t get enough of it! I was captivated by the epic storyline, the characters, the setting of Middle Earth, and the brilliant imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien.

For some reason since then, though, I haven’t made much room in my life for this book (except to have a movie marathon every Christmas, but that doesn’t count). I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that life is more complicated now than it was when I was 13, and time to set aside and read a tome as intimidating as The Lord of the Rings is hard to come by. But I know most of you can identify with this as well—lately I’ve felt a need to read this book again. Like it’s an old friend and it’s been way too long since I’ve pulled up a chair, grabbed a cup of coffee, and visited for a while.

I posted about this on Twitter a few weeks ago, and after a short conversation with Jenny, Lauren, and Britney, the wheels began turing in my head on some things we could do on the blog. Later that day, Jenny texted and said she wanted to read the LOTR with me—and the idea for this read-along was born!

We know several people with this classic on their TBR, or have been meaning to re-read it, so now’s your chance! Jenny and I are really excited to host our first read-along with this book, and we can’t wait for more people to discover this epic tale for themselves. Keep reading if you're interested in joining us!

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is a genuine masterpiece. The most widely read and influential fantasy epic of all time, it is also quite simply one of the most memorable and beloved tales ever told. Originally published in 1954, The Lord of the Rings set the framework upon which all epic/quest fantasy since has been built. Through the urgings of the enigmatic wizard Gandalf, young hobbit Frodo Baggins embarks on an urgent, incredibly treacherous journey to destroy the One Ring. This ring—created and then lost by the Dark Lord, Sauron, centuries earlier—is a weapon of evil, one that Sauron desperately wants returned to him. With the power of the ring once again his own, the Dark Lord will unleash his wrath upon all of Middle-earth. The only way to prevent this horrible fate from becoming reality is to return the Ring to Mordor, the only place it can be destroyed. Unfortunately for our heroes, Mordor is also Sauron's lair. The Lord of the Rings is essential reading not only for fans of fantasy but for lovers of classic literature as well.


If you’re interesting in joining, you don’t have to be a blogger to participate. Everyone is welcome! Having a Goodreads or Google account will make it easier to participate in the discussions every week, but that is definitely not required.


The Lord of the Rings is divided into three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Often these are separated as three distinct books part of a “trilogy,” when actually they are just one book. To make it a little less overwhelming, we have a reading schedule (shown below) that will have us finishing each volume in a month, averaging to about 100 pages a week. We hope that’s a reasonable pace for everyone! If you read faster than that, feel free to read ahead (we aren’t too worried about spoilers coming out since this book is more than 60 years old). After finishing the reading for each week, come to the blog to see our thoughts on that week’s reading, along with some fabulous discussion questions from Jenny!


We’ve created a reading schedule that has us reading The Fellowship of the Ring in October, The Two Towers in November, and The Return of the King in December. Here’s the schedule broken down by week:

Reading Schedule (October, November, and December 2015)

The Fellowship of The Ring
Week One (Sept 27- Oct 3): Prologue, Chapters 1-5
Week Two (Oct 4-10): Chapters 6-12
Week Three (Oct 11-17): Book Two Chapters 1-5
Week Four (Oct 18-24): Chapters 6-10

The Two Towers
Week Five (Oct 25-31): Chapters 1-6
Week Six (Nov 1-7): Chapters 7-11
Week Seven (Nov 8-14): Book Four Chapters 1-5
Week Eight (Nov 15-21): Chapters 6-10

The Return of the King
Week Nine (Nov 22-28): Chapters 1-5
Week Ten (Nov 29-Dec 5): Chapters 6-10
Week Eleven (Dec 6-12): Book Six Chapters 1-5
Week Twelve (Dec 13-19): Chapters 6-9


Every Sunday, Jenny will post thoughts on that week’s reading on the blog along with a few discussion questions. Feel free to join in the discussion in whatever way is easiest for you—in the comments, in a post on your own blog, on Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Just be sure to let us know where you respond so we can all come read your thoughts! If you use Twitter or Instagram, be sure to use the hashtag #LOTRreadalong.


To sign-up for the read-along, you don’t have to do anything fancy! Just let us know in the comments below. We want to keep this as simple as possible for you guys. Just read the book (along with some other awesome bookish people), and come to the blog every week to talk about it. That’s it! We can’t wait to get started next Monday, and don’t forget to use the hashtag #LOTRreadalong on Twitter or Instagram as we go along!