Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Go Set a Watchman braindump

This post is a full spoiler zone for Go Set a Watchman.

1. It's quite obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book in its current form to be published after To Kill a Mockingbird, because Henry Clinton wasn't in Mockingbird. (There's a "Henry" in Scout's class, but we know that Henry Clinton is several years older than her so he wouldn't have been in her class.)  If you already know that your child-protagonist's future love interest grew up in the neighbourhood and went to the same schools, why wouldn't you give him a quick cameo - just a named extra in a crowd scene? It's a quick and easy Sirius Black moment.

2. Another reason why it's obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book to be published in its current form after Mockingbird is that the description of Tom Robinson's trial is different in Watchman. In Watchman, the defendant was acquitted. In Mockingbird, he was found guilty.

3. But, since Mockingbird was written second, the change in outcome of the trial supports my theory that Atticus didn't actually give Tom Robinson a full and proper defence.  Which is exactly what he explicitly says he wants to do with Calpurnia's grandson as well!

4. I don't understand why Scout went to visit Calpurnia and told her that Atticus would do everything to help her grandson when she knew full well he wouldn't.  She could have warned Calpurnia about Atticus's plans. She could have not mentioned anything about the quality of defence he'd receive from Atticus. She could have not visited Calpurnia at all.  Why did she choose instead to visit and falsely reassure?

5. In my Mockingbird post, I theorized that Scout could grow into someone who is (or is perceived to be) racist in her old age. After Watchman, I still don't feel like we know enough to argue for or against that outcome. But if I were to start collecting evidence that could be used to argue that Scout is racist, I would include that conversation with Calpurnia, along with Scout's assumption that the dialect Calpurnia speaks in the black community isn't her natural dialect while the dialect she speaks when raising her white employer's children is.

6. The most interesting story alluded to in this book isn't told at all: it's the story of the impact of the Second World War. Dill is in Italy!  If you look at it from the universe of Mockingbird, that's unimaginable!  What's he doing there? What's his life like? But in Watchman, it's just mentioned in passing and wouldn't even be mentionable if Mockingbird didn't exist.

7. (If Mockingbird had in fact been written with the intention of publishing it and then publishing Watchman, I suspect the characters of Dill and Henry would have been merged into one. Henry is or can easily be presented as enough of an outsider to fulfill the role of Dill in Mockingbird. We would then have been shown rather than told Henry's and Scout's long-standing attachment, and we'd also better grok Aunt Alexandra's objection to him as marriage material because we remember that grubby kid from Mockingbird.)

8. The other interesting story that isn't told is Scout's everyday life in New York. The book mentions (about 100 pages after I started wondering) that Scout went to college and then went to New York, where she's been living for five years.  It doesn't mention what she does for a living.  (If I had to guess a Generic Job That's Not Interesting Enough To Mention for a woman in her era and circumstances it would have been some kind of typing job, but the book specifically mentions that she can't use a typerwriter.) It doesn't mention where she lives or what her day-to-day life is like.  It doesn't get into how she found adapting to the city after growing up in such a ridiculously small town. That would be interesting!  I would totally read The Adventures of Scout in New York City! But the book doesn't even touch on it.

9. I haven't looked into whether Mockingbird has a robust fanfiction community and I'm not sure that I want to have a fanfiction relationship with this universe, but the adventures of Dill in Italy and the adventures of Scout in New York would be excellent fodder for a skilled fanfic author who is loyal to the characters and the settings. (Or, like, for Harper Lee to write more books in this universe, but I suspect that's not something she'll be doing.)

10. Overall, in reading this book, a feeling I had all too often was "I don't get it".

Often what I didn't get was, as I mentioned in my previous posts, a result of my being too far removed from the culture in which the book was written.  There are things that feel like the author thinks they're meaningful, but are meaningless to me.

One important example not mentioned in my previous posts is the racist organization to which Atticus and Henry belong, which is called a "Citizens' Council".  Scout expresses shock that such a thing exists in Maycomb, then goes to the meeting and hears all kinds of vile racist rhetoric being spewed.

The problem for me as a reader is that "Citizens' Council" sounds like some kind of municipal volunteer organization that discusses the beautification of parks or something.  I was spoiled for the racist plotline so I was able to quickly put together what was going on, but if I hadn't been I wouldn't have understood Scout's shock at the organization's existence.  Then, when she attended the meeting, I would have concluded that the council had been taken over by some Rob Ford type and that the rest of the plotline would have to do with unseating him.  Then I would have been very confused for a very long time.

Googling "Citizens' Council" is actually informative - the very first result has the information you need - but if I hadn't known about this plotline in advance, it never would have even occurred to me from my seat in 21st-century Canada to look into the name of this seemingly clearly-named and innocuous-sounding organization for an explanation of why they're spewing racist rhetoric and why Scout seemed to see that coming.

11. Another thing I often didn't get was the then-current events being referred to.  In one case, a current event was described only with the name of the state (either Mississippi or Missouri).  And, since I don't know the exact year the book is set, it's not like I can just google "What was happening in Mississippi in the 1950s?"  There's a mention of a Supreme Court decision that's fairly key, and I could only figure out what the actual decision was by including "Go Set a Watchman" as a search keyword - there wasn't enough information to get there based on the text alone. The characters are talking like everyone knows what they're talking about, and I'm missing crucial information because I live in a different country and a different century.

12. But there were also non-cultural things I didn't get. I came away from the book feeling that I hadn't understood the whole story. So what does Scout end up doing in the long run? Does she stay with Henry or does she dump him? Was Atticus racist all along or did he become racist due to recent events? If so, which of the vaguely-alluded recent events triggered it?  I also felt like the book intended to have a moral of the story, but I wasn't able to determine what it was actually intended to be.

13. I think the cultural "I don't get it"s could be addressed with very minor editing. This is a book with multi-page "As you know..." conversations about US history. Surely it wouldn't be too arduous to slip in a few keywords here and there so 21st-century readers and their international readers (both of which they knew they would have, given that the book was published in 2015 as the sequel to a famous novel) could grasp the connotations just as easily as the author's contemporaries.  Since the drink "set-up" is mentioned in an explanation from the narrator to the reader about the drinking habits of the people of Maycomb, it wouldn't be at all incongruous for the narrator to slip in a few words explaining to the reader what a "set-up" actually is. The internet tells me that Citizens' Councils are also referred to as White Citizens' Councils, so it wouldn't be at all out of place to just slip the word "White" in there in the first occurrence to give those of us who aren't up on the subject matter a hint of why Scout might be shocked about it. The impenetrable references to then-current events could be also be made clear (or, at least, googleable) with a keyword to get us started.

14. As for the aspects of the plot resolution and moral that I felt I missed, normally I would assume it's because I'm not a sophisticated enough reader.  Despite being a voracious reader I've never been especially good at Literature, so I wouldn't be surprised if I missed the kind of stuff that people write papers about.  But what's relevant in the particular case of Watchman is that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything after reading Mockingbird.  Even though I did miss some stuff, as I discovered in my reread, I came away feeling that I had grasped as much of the plot resolution and the moral as the book intended me to.  And, frankly, it's only polite to make multiple books in a series equally accessible to the same set of readers.

15. While it is the author's prerogative to write the way she wants to without spelling everything out for outsiders, I think doing so here is a missed opportunity.  Given the cultural weight of Mockingbird, Watchman was going to reach a lot of people who are far enough removed from the culture in which it was written to not get it.  And, especially in light of some of the racial weirdness in the news lately, it has the potential to be particularly educational to those of us who don't get it.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Books read in January 2016


1. The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee
2. The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford by John Filion 
3. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Royall Tyler
4. Never Learn Anything from History by Kate Beaton 
5. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee 
6. Mirror, Mirror (short story anthology) by Robb, Blayney, Fox, McComas and Ryan


1. Divided in Death
2. Visions in Death 
3. Survivor in Death 
4. Origin in Death

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More things I don't understand in Go Set a Watchman

This is still a spoiler-free zone for Go Set a Watchman. I'm still less than 100 pages in.
In Maycomb, one drank or did not drink. When one drank, one went behind the garage, turned up a pint, and drank it down; when one did not drink, one asked for set-ups at the E-Lite Eat Shop under cover of darkness: a man having a couple of drinks before or after dinner in his home or with his neighbor was unheard of. That was Social Drinking. Those who Drank Socially were not quite out of the top drawer, and because no one in Maycomb considered himself out of any drawer but the top, there was no Social Drinking.
1. What's a "set-up" in this context? I'm not able to google it effectively.
2. I know that "top drawer" is a good thing (high class, elite, etc.)  Is "out of the top drawer" a synonym or an antonym? Drinking socially seems classier than drinking behind the garage. Does that mean the people of Maycomb are specifically attempting not to present as classy?

With company came Calpurnia’s company manners: although she could speak Jeff Davis’s English as well as anybody, she dropped her verbs in the presence of guests; she haughtily passed dishes of vegetables; she seemed to inhale steadily. When Calpurnia was at her side Jean Louise said, “Excuse me, please,” reached up, and brought Calpurnia’s head to the level of her own. “Cal,” she whispered, “is Atticus real upset?”

Calpurnia straightened up, looked down at her, and said to the table at large, “Mr. Finch? Nawm, Miss Scout. He on the back porch laughin’!”
I know from Mockingbird that Calpurnia code-switches.  She speaks like educated white people in the Finch home, and speaks like other black people within the black community.  But I don't know how they're saying she talks in the presence of "company".

After some interference-riddled googling, I suspect "Jeff Davis" refers to one Jefferson Davis, who, according to Wikipedia, was the president of the Confederate States of America during the US civil war. However, I don't know what his English is like.

The phrase "dropped her verbs" suggests a deviation from what is considered standard English, which suggests that Calpurnia talks more black in front of guests. Why would she do this?  But in her answer to Scout's question, she appears to drop a verb (saying "He on the back porch" rather than "He is on the back porch").

Also, in Mockingbird, Calpurnia talks more black within the black community, which includes her immediate family. Which would suggest that she's "herself" within the white community and performing within the black community.

Unless this is another instance of unreliable narrator, and Scout is misinterpreting which language choices are Calpurnia's "company manners".  But that still doesn't explain why she would perform blackness in front of white guests.

I know that this is laden with meaning, and I'm too far removed from the culture in which it was written to grasp the meaning.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Things I don't understand in the first 15 pages of Go Set A Watchman

I just started reading Go Set a Watchman (no spoilers please - I'm only 15 pages in) and I all at once encountered a whole spate of things that confuse me because I'm missing historical information.  So I decided to blog them, as one does. This might be part 1 in a series depending on how the book goes.

"Although she was a respectable driver, she hated to operate anything mechanical more complicated than a safety pin: folding lawn chairs were a source of profound irritation to her; she had never learned to ride a bicycle or use a typerwriter; she fished with a pole."

She fished with a pole as opposed to what? I live 60 years in the future, and the only other way I'm aware of fishing (even on an industrial scale) is with a net, which certainly isn't mechanical.

[Discussing the car] "Power steering? Automatic transmission?"

I legit didn't know they had those in the 1950s! We didn't have a car with power steering and automatic transmission until the mid-90s!

"His father had left his mother soon after Henry was born, and sh worked night and day in her little crossroads store to send Henry through the Maycomb public schools."
To me, this sounds like she had to pay to send him to public school. Quoi?

Anyone have any insight on any of these?

(If you have spoilers or want to discuss the book, please wait for my eventual post following up on my speculations after rereading Mockingbird.)

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Things They DID Invent: a way to get alerted to new items in the library catalogue

I previously blogged that the library should invent a way to subscribe to a particular author or series. Ideally I wanted new titles from a particular author or series to be automatically added to my holds list, but, if that's too complicated, I'd be satisfied with an email alert.

I recently discovered that, while there still isn't an email alert, the library does provide an RSS feed for search results.  This means that I can search for an author or series, add the RSS feed to my feed reader, and get a notification when there's something new available that meets those search criteria.

For example, I blogged a while ago about how the library didn't have a print copy of a book I was looking for called Down the Rabbit Hole.  So after I searched for the book and found only an ebook available, I clicked on the "Subscribe to results" link at the top right, added it to my feed reader, and proceeded with life. And when the library finally got the print version, it show up right in my feed reader as I was scrolling through the day's updates.

The obvious flaw in this approach is that not everyone uses feed readers, but tools for converting RSS feeds to email alerts do exist. (I can't vouch for any particular tool since I don't use them.)

There's also a risk of getting too many false positives - for example, getting a new item in your feed every time the library acquires an existing title in a new format or languages. This could probably be mitigated with robust use of advanced search functions, although I haven't actually experimented with this yet.

I do still think email notifications would be optimal and automatic holds would be ideal, and I'm concerned that RSS might seem opaque to less techy users, but I am glad to see that there is an existing solution to the problem of wanting to know when there's a new title from your favourite author or series, and extra pleased that it's something I can use without any changes to my normal technology use patterns.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books read in December 2015


1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
2. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
3. The Trouble with Brunch by Shawn Micallef
4. After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson


1. Imitation in Death
2. Remember When

Monday, December 28, 2015

The real fantasy of Pemberley is the servants

I've fallen down a bit of a Pride and Prejudice rabbit hole lately, exploring fanfictions and historical background information.

While I do enjoy poking around in the Jane Austen universe from time to time, unlike many Pride and Prejudice fans I never found Mr. Darcy particularly dreamy.  He proves to be kind and honourable and madly in love with the protagonist, all of which certainly come in handy, but doesn't have the je ne sais quoi that it would take to make me fantasize my way into Elizabeth's place.

However, in my recent revisitation, I realized the actual fantasy of being mistress of Pemberley isn't having Mr. Darcy for a husband - it's having Mrs. Reynolds for a housekeeper.

Mrs. Reynolds has been serving as Pemberley's housekeeper since back when Mr. Darcy's parents were still alive, and has kept it running smoothly even after his mother died.  This means that Pemberley can run smoothly without a lady of the house, but also knows how to accommodate a lady of the house.  So the position of mistress of Pemberley can be as much of a sinecure as its incumbent wants, and as much of an apprenticeship as she wants.

Being the mistress of a well-run estate is pretty much the most prestigious role in life that someone in Elizabeth's position could reasonably dream of. So imagine you end up in the most prestigious role in life that you can reasonably dream of, and the support team is in place to ensure that you will succeed. Even if you do nothing, the endeavours under your responsibility will succeed and you will get credit for it.  If you want to actually do the work, they can train you up so you can do it independently, and if you want to introduce your own ideas, they know how to adapt to that.

On top of that, the presence of Georgiana means that, despite the absence of a "lady of the house" for many years, the estate is equipped for there being a lady in the house.  They no doubt have a maid who knows how to do hair, an existing business relationship with a local dressmaker, a horse who is accustomed to a sidesaddle rider - all kinds of things that it would be convenient for Elizabeth to have in her home and less convenient to have to acquire from scratch.  On top of that, Georgiana probably knows a little something about being the lady of the house at Pemberley, but, since she isn't out yet, she doesn't officially hold the role (and would never expect to hold it in the long term since she'll likely get married and be mistress of her own household) so she wouldn't feel usurped by Elizabeth.  Mrs. Annesley probably also knows a thing or two about being mistress of a household since she's an upper-class lady and a "Mrs." herself, and part of her role is likely to prepare Georgiana for her future. But, at the same time, Mrs. Annesley is an employee, so she is incentivized to help Elizabeth succeed as well.

Compare this to the situation of Jane and Bingley, who are going to buy an estate of their own and start the Bingley dynasty from scratch.  Neither of them has ever run a large estate before (except for Bingley's time leasing Netherfield, which doesn't entail running the whole thing.)  Probably neither of them has ever hired a whole staff of servants before, and the servants they do hire won't necessarily know how to run the place optimally since no one has run that estate before (or, at least, not for the Bingley family). Caroline Bingley is around and has been mistress of the Bingley household (formally, because she's out), but because of that (and what we know of her character) she's likely to feel usurped, so she's less likely to be a useful resource for Jane.

None of this is hideous hardship, of course, because they are rich, but Jane does have to put in effort and diligence to succeed in her role as Mrs. Bingley, whereas all Elizabeth has to do to succeed as Mrs. Darcy is nothing. As long as she doesn't insist on overruling her experienced household with subpar ideas, she will succeed gloriously.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Books read in November 2015


1. The Marvels by Brian Selznick
2. Euphoria by Lily King
3. The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan
4. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)


1. Portrait in Death

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What if some copies of popular library books didn't have a space on the shelf?

If you follow me on twitter, you know I've been getting irritated with the Toronto Public Library having only ebooks and no print copies of certain titles. I find reading electronically inconvenient, and the app you have to use to read library ebooks extra inconvenient. So far, if a book hasn't been available in print, I just haven't added it to my list.

But I was quite baffled to find that Down the Rabbit Hole, the anthology containing the latest In Death novella, is not available in print at all!  In Death is a long-running series with over 50 titles, and every single title, including the anthologies containing the other novellas, is available from the library in print. But not this one.  Even the next book, Brotherhood in Death, which isn't due to come out until February, is already on order and holdable in print.  There's certainly precedent!

This is especially mysterious since the library has publicly spoken out against unfairly high ebook prices, so you'd think with ebooks being unfairly expensive they buy more print copies and fewer electronic copies.  (Or, since libraries are given a limited number of uses for each copy of an ebook they buy, they'd at least give customers the option of reading on paper if that's what they prefer.)  In the press release, the Chief Librarian is quoted as saying "Ensuring universal access to information in all its forms is key to public libraries’ mandate."  Surely ensuring access to information in all its forms includes in print!

But a comment conversation here made me think that the reason for not getting paper copies of everything might be lack of physical shelf space! Which gave me an idea...

If the problem is in fact shelf space, what if, for books where the library acquires a large number of copies and anticipates many times that number of holds, a certain number of copies aren't assigned a space on a shelf in a branch?  They just circulate throughout the holds system and are sent to the next customer in the holds queue. These kinds of titles rarely make it to a library shelf in the first few months of their life anyway - they're either checked out, on a hold shelf, or in transit.  Perhaps the computer could be programmed to prioritize these "non-shelf" books when allocating which book will respond to the next hold.  This would also increase the likelihood that "shelf" books (i.e. those that are assigned a space on a shelf in a branch) will be found by customers who are browsing the shelves, rather than being off circulating in hold land.

Once the ratio of holds to available copies gets below a certain threshold, the non-shelf books are pulled from circulation and sold, as already happens eventually with a certain number of copies of books with high initial demand.

So what does this achieve?  If not all copies of high-demand, high-circulation books need a space on the shelf, there's more space on the shelf for other books.  So titles that are perhaps less important and have less demand can have just a few spaces on the shelf, thereby making it possible to have a non-zero number of print copies and for customers to enjoy the book in their preferred medium.

For example, the library currently has 138 copies of Devoted in Death, the full-length In Death novel that comes before Down the Rabbit Hole. Currently, there are 45 holds on this title, but almost all the copies are checked out (and those that aren't are on the Best Bets shelf), so if some of the copies of this book were non-shelf, they'd still be doing their job, two months after release date, and probably for at least another month (assuming no new holds).

When Down the Rabbit Hole was first released, there were 80 holds for the 20 available copies, which means it will take 4 lending periods (12 weeks) for everyone to get a chance to read it. Let's use a conservative estimate that 10% of those holds are people who would prefer to read in print but are putting a hold on the only version available. (I suspect it's far more given the hold patterns on previous anthologies, but for the moment let's assume the library has a good sense of where the demand is.)  If the library had just 2 print copies of Down the Rabbit Hole, these hypothetical 8 people who would rather have print copies could also get a chance to read the book in their preferred format within 4 lending periods, thereby providing equitable access in all formats.

If the library designated just two copies of Devoted in Death as non-shelf books, there would still be at least one copy for the shelves of each branch, and there'd also be room on the shelves for two print copies of Down the Rabbit Hole. The non-shelf books would be in full circulation for several months and then could be put straight into the used book sale - where maybe they could even charge a bit extra for them because they're still recent bestsellers.

If this were done on a larger scale, with a small number of non-shelf copies of high-demand titles, then perhaps the library could have one or two print copies of every book, so that everyone could access every title in their preferred format with no negative impact on the availability of high-demand titles.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Thoughts on rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in over 20 years

This post contains spoilers for To Kill a Mockingbird, and refers to comments that I've read about Go Set a Watchman. However, I haven't yet read Go Set a Watchman, so no spoilers for Go Set a Watchman please!

I decided to reread To Kill a Mockingbird in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman (for which I'm still about #200 on the library hold list, so no spoilers please!).  I was no more than 13 years old when I last read it, which may be have been part of the anti-racism unit in Grade 9 English class or may have been part of my personal project in middle school to read classic novels (which my middle-school self defined as "old and famous").  I felt fluently literate at that age and, looking back, my adult self would have told you that my preteen self was fluently literate, but I was surprised to see a number of things that I either missed, lost, or forgot.

For example, I failed to notice that Atticus is also a politician, in that he represents Maycomb County on the state legislature. When I read the book 20 years ago, I think I interpreted "going to the legislature" as just something lawyers do from time to time, not as a whole other career.  That's actually our first clue that there are far more aspects to Atticus than To Kill a Mockingbird lets on.

I also failed to notice that Boo Radley had a father who was alive and present and an active character during the time covered by the book.  I don't remember how I previously interpreted "Mr. Radley" and the cementing of the tree hole.  But I perceived Boo Radley as a scary old man (which a creepy 30-something would have been to my preteen self), so it simply might not have occurred to me that a scary old man could even have a father.

I remembered it as having been explicitly stated as courtroom testimony that Bob Ewell raped Mayella, but it was never stated outright - it was something I read between the lines, and there's little enough stated outright that it's also totally possible he just beat her!

On the flip side, the first time through I failed to perceive that Boo Radley had killed Bob Ewell and Sheriff Tate was covering it up to protect Boo from the scrutiny of a trial. I don't specifically remember how I read it as a kid, but I'm assuming I read it literally - Boo Radley rescued Jem and Scout, and Bob Ewell did in fact fall on his knife because, like, he's a drunken simpleton.

(Interesting that my preteen self could read between the lines for incestuous rape but not for the cover-up of a murder! I think we can blame Paul Bernardo for that - this was during the time when he was loose, so rape was very much on my mind, but it had never once occurred to me that a police officer would cover up a murder.)

Another thing my preteen self wouldn't have noticed: Calpurnia grew up near Finch's Landing. Atticus says at various points that Calpurnia is "like family". With my adult self's knowledge of how the world works, it occurs to me that it's possible Calpurnia is in fact a blood relative.


I haven't read Go Set a Watchman yet, but I did catch some headlines and snippets of reviews, many of which expressed dismay that Atticus was or came across as racist.  Before my reread, I figured this is realistic solely on the grounds that Scout is a small child in To Kill A Mockingbird and small children are less likely to see flaws in their parents than grown adults are.

But upon rereading, I could totally see how Atticus might get there.  There is certainly evidence of segregationist and misogynist attitudes.  They aren't outright malicious, they're more paternalism, which I didn't notice at the time because in my child-self's experience, that was simply how grownup men are.  But from an adult perspective, I can see how that attitude wouldn't stand the test of time. 

However, the thing that struck me the most about Atticus Finch is that he doesn't really want to be Atticus Finch, he just wants people to think he's Atticus Finch.

In other words, Atticus Finch the man doesn't actually want to constantly and truly live and think and do everything that a person would have to live and think and do to be Atticus Finch the masculine ideal who is worthy of being portrayed on screen by Gregory Peck.  But he does want people to look at him and say "There goes Atticus Finch, the masculine ideal who is worthy of being portrayed on screen by Gregory Peck."  The book explicitly states that he doesn't actually want to defend Tom Robinson, he's assigned the case by the person in charge of assigning defence lawyers.

Scout and the portions of Maycombe society who didn't want to see Tom hang and many real-world readers have lauded Atticus for providing Tom with a proper defence. But really all he does is point out that Tom's one arm doesn't work. While that is a crucial point, it occurs to me that a better defence may well be possible (perhaps incorporating a wider variety of evidence?), but our eight-year-old unreliable narrator wasn't able to imagine such a thing.  What if Atticus wasn't actually trying to properly defend Tom, he was just making a point of being seen to defend Tom?

Similarly, at one point Atticus sits outside Tom's jail cell at night to drive off people who are coming to lynch him.  The lynch mob comes, words are exchanged (with the involvement of Jem and Scout, who followed Atticus to see where he went), and the lynch mob leaves.  Then Atticus goes home with his kids.  Leaving Tom unprotected for the rest of the night.  Atticus says that's because the lynch mob isn't going to come back, but what if Atticus wasn't actually trying to protect Tom, he was just making a point of being seen to protect Tom?

Dirty lens: what if this performative aspect extends to his parenting?  What if he doesn't actually want to do the emotional labour involved in being a good father, he just wants to go through enough motions that he can feel "Look at me, I'm a good father!"  He lectures Scout about the need to see the world through other people's eyes, but still speaks derisively of femininity in front of her. (For example, joking that women don't serve on juries because they'd ask too many questions, to his daughter who's in the process of asking him questions.)


Based solely on the Scout we met in To Kill a Mockingbird and without having yet met 26-year-old Scout in Go Set a Watchman, I also think one possible outcome is that Scout may also come across as racist one day.  Maybe not in Go Set a Watchman, but sometime in the future, maybe when she's a senior citizen in the 21st century.  (She'd be in her 80s today.)  She comes from a place where her father was seen as heroic and/or radical for going through the motions of defending Tom Robinson. She comes from a place where it was perfectly reasonable (and, in fact, the polite option) to call people "negroes".  She comes from a place where a perfectly reasonable explanation of why a child doesn't have a lunch to eat is "He's a Cunningham." If she's not exposed to and open-minded to the evolution of society throughout her life, she could totally end up as someone's cringily racist grandmother in her dotage.

Actually, I didn't notice the inappropriateness of the "He's a Cunningham" moment the first time I read this book 20 years ago. The teacher had already expressed disapproval that Scout could read and write, which set me up for feeling that Scout is right and the teacher is wrong.  I don't know if I recognized the situation as "Scout is announcing in front of the whole class that the one boy doesn't have a lunch because he's poor," because of the cognitive dissonance of that happening in a situation a where Scout is right and the teacher is wrong.  I think I read it as "Scout is explaining a cultural nuance that neither the teacher nor I grasp."  (I also might not have recognized "a Cunningham" as a surname, because referring to people as "a [surname]" is completely outside the scope of my experience.)

But rereading that scene and realizing how unreliable our narrator was, I also find myself wondering if perhaps there was something wrong with the way Scout reads and writes, and that's why the teacher wanted Atticus to stop teaching her?  No reading or writing problems are ever explicitly mentioned, but the fact that it's assholic to announce in front of the class that this one boy has no food because his family is poor is never explicitly mentioned either.  (Various people scold Scout for doing so, but people also scold her for reading and wearing overalls and playing outdoors, so the fact that she was scolded didn't make my preteen self automatically thing it was objectively Wrong and Bad.)


Another thing I failed to notice about Scout the first time through is that she learns some social graces over the course of the book.  When Atticus and Calpurnia go to tell Tom's family that he's dead, Scout helps Aunt Alexandra keep their tea party running smoothly, so the ladies in attendance have no idea anything is wrong.  She's also able to be gracious to Boo Radley when he's in their house towards the end of the book, and, reading it as an adult, I think this is more a performance of etiquette than genuinely feeling comfortable with him.  Scout seemed to have learned performative social graces fairly quickly, which sets her up for becoming extremely skilled at them as an adult.

We'll see how many of these thoughts end up being accurate as soon as approximately 200 Torontonians finish reading Go Set a Watchman.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Books read in October 2015


1. Letters to the Midwife: Correspondence with Jennifer Worth, the Author of Call the Midwife
2. Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt
3. The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny 


1. Seduction in Death 
2. Reunion in Death 
3. To Kill a Mockingbird 
4. Purity in Death

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Books read in September 2015


1. The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother and Me by Cathie Borrie
2. Muse by Jonathan Galassi
3. Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan
4. Serving Victoria: Live in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
5. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
6. Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson
7. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton


1. Conspiracy in Death
2. Loyalty in Death
3. Witness in Death
4. Thankless in Death
5. Judgment in Death
6. Betrayal in Death
7. Interlude in Death

Monday, August 31, 2015

Books read in August 2015


1. Thrown by Kerry Howley
2. Architecture in the Family Way: Doctors, Houses, and Women, 1870-1900 by Annmarie Adams
3. Rides (French translation, by Carole Ratcliff, of Arrugas by Paco Roca.  Weirdly, my library didn't have the original Spanish or the English translation, but it did have the French translation.)
4. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
5. Studio Grace: The Making of a Record by Eric Siblin


1. Vengeance in Death
2. Holiday in Death
3. Midnight in Death

Friday, July 31, 2015

Books read in July 2015


1. The Alzheimer's Diary by Joan Sutton
2. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
3. Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan
4. The End of Memory by Jay Ingram


1. Calculated in Death
2. Ceremony in Death

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Books read in June 2015


1. The Housekeeper's Tale: The Women Who Really Ran the English Country House by Tessa Boase
2. Naked Came the Phoenix (serial novel) by Barr, Robb, Pickard, Scottoline, O'Shaughnessy, Jance, Kellerman, Clark, Talley, Perry, Gabaldon, McDermid and King
3. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine


1. Immortal in Death
2. Rapture in Death

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Books read in May 2015


1. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 
3. This is Improbable Too by Marc Abrahams
4. The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge
5. The Myth of Alzheimer's by Peter J. White house with Daniel George 
6. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman 
7. Gilgamesh (Stephen Mitchell version)


1. Naked in Death
2. Glory in Death 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Books read in April 2015

1. Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by "Leslie Knope"
2. This is Improbable by Marc Abrahams
3. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
4. Festive in Death by J.D. Robb
5. Elegy for Iris by John Bayley
6. A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes
7. Obsession in Death by J.D. Robb

Monday, April 20, 2015

Legally-mandated helicopter parenting vs. children's literature

When I was a kid, I always felt vaguely humiliated that my life didn't work like the lives of the protagonists of my books.  They got to have their own independent adventures.  They got to go to the park or walk in the woods or go to a friend's house or be home alone, all without adult supervision.  Sometimes they even bought things at stores or went to the library or went to the doctor without an adult.  And I wasn't allowed to do anything!  What was wrong with me?  Why wasn't I worthy of this basic human independence that all my protagonists got to enjoy??

Reading a recent article where "free range" children got picked up by the police, I find myself wondering how 21st-century kids feel about this.

I was feeling humiliated because my parents wouldn't allow me the freedom of the protagonists in my books, but today it's even worse - it's not just that your parents say no, it's that the police will come and arrest you!  (Yes, the police didn't technically arrest the kids, but I'm sure it feels to the kids like they did.)

But then it occurred to me that maybe this very serious sense of "You can't go to the park alone or the police will come and arrest you" might actually make it feel less bad for the kids.  It's not that you aren't allowed because you aren't good enough, it's that no one is allowed because it's against the law.  But, on the other hand, that might just cause confusion.  Peter and Jane did it, so why can't I?  If it's against the law, why didn't the policeman arrest Peter and Jane when he was talking to them?

Another possibility that I hadn't considered is that children's books may have caught up with reality.  Perhaps the protagonists of today's children's books are supervised at all times?  That would certainly make it more difficult to come up with a workable story, but so do cellphones and they appear in fiction.  (Or maybe that's why so many of my early children's books were populated by anthropomorphic animals living in the quaint, non-specific past?)

This all made me realize that children's books are in fact the original media that influences impressionable children!  People always talk about TV and movies and video games, but far, far more of my idea of How The World Is or Should Be were formed by the books I read at a very young age.  I think I was far more influenced by the idea that I should be able to ride a zebra because that's what a character in a book was doing than by anything I saw on TV.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Books read in March 2015

1. Paul a un travail d'été by Michel Rabagliati
2. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant
3. Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb 
4. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey 
5. Le silence du banlieusard by Hugo Léger

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Books Read in February 2015


1. The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
3. Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb
4. Cataract City by Craig Davidson
5. The Ig Nobel Prizes 2 by Marc Abrahams
6. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
7. Thankless in Death by J.D. Robb
8. Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk (English translation by Peter Frost)
9. Taken in Death by J.D. Robb
10. Aunt Winnie by Elspeth Cameron


1. Delusion in Death