Category Archives: Reading

Book Review of Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’

I actually found this book (1st rough draft thought it may be) politically relevant to today’s culture and historically useful for the today’s youth. Read on if you don’t believe me. The 1st reviews I heard about this book left me questioning the worth of its read – but the biggest complaints are because of the one fact that the complainers have confused:  It wasn’t ready to be printed into a book in the 1st place! It was a rough draft. I think that if Harper Lee (or someone else that cared enough) revised, rewrote parts, worked on smoother transitions and confusing dialogue and arguments – then this book could have been almost as good as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ (for simplification purposes I will use the acronym TKAM for that book for now on and ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will become GSAW.)  Yes, GSAW needed editing but its basic premise was an idea worthy of a book of its own.  I know the original editing process turned GSAW into TKAM – but really, they should be two stand alone books or GSAW a solid sequel. Therefore, keeping in mind that GSAW was an unedited 1st draft, I rather enjoyed it and think it is worth a read. I will recommend it to all, with the caveat to keep expectations low because of the ‘unedited, 1st draft’ distinction.

To summarize the book in a nutshell, it’s about a woman who has been living away from home and comes back to visit her hometown and family. While there she discovers how the town has changed and/or not changed along with her family and boyfriend. She also has the unenjoyable experience of removing her father from the pedestal she had him placed on her entire life and has to come to terms with the fact that their life views are not the same – in other words, she has to grow up. Maturity doesn’t come easy for the girl who was able to do whatever she wanted her entire life, so her Uncle, Dr. Jack Finch, dutifully helps her along. (A conversation, by the way, that had it been edited and worked on- could’ve held some very deep truths for society and cultural relevancy in today’s world.) While home, Scout (who is now mostly referred to by her given name Jean Louise) does have some reminiscing of the old days and we learn some new stories as well as some repetitive information given to us in that unedited way that makes it less pleasurable to read than the smooth transitions in TKAM. But who doesn’t enjoy reading about Scout, Jem and Dill no matter how it’s written?

The title of the book, odd at first glance, is better explained when Jean Louise goes to church with her family and hears a sermon by the pastor, Mr. Stone, preaching over Isaiah 21:6

‘For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”

After this Jean Louise thinks,

“Mr. Stone set a watchman in church yesterday, he should’ve provided me with one.”

This is foreshadowing of what will happen with Jean Louise. The Bible references of watchmen (lookouts on the city walls) often appear in stories of prophetic visions of destruction.  Watchmen are the first to see trouble coming and there was  trouble coming for Jean Louise.  It alludes to her expectations of her father Atticus Finch and the disillusionment she discovers when she find his ideals do not agree with her own. Another (albeit random) foreshadowing occurrence was that Jean Louise kept bumping her head every time she tried to enter a vehicle (until the very end, after her revelation, when she finally found herself able to climb into a vehicle without bumping her head.)

We meet the boyfriend, Henry ‘Hank’ Clinton, right in the beginning since he picks up Scout (it’s more fun to say Scout, so I’m calling her that from now on) at the train station and drives her home to find her Aunt Alexandra living with Atticus since he has rheumatoid arthritis and needs help sometimes. I’m not going to tell the entire story, but I do want to highlight some of the points of discussion that happened later on while Scout was arguing with Uncle Dr. Jack Finch and Atticus. It helps to know a little history because they talk about Reconstruction (referring to the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War) and about another ‘possible’ second reconstruction happening again in the 1950’s when the story took place because of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Education which forced the South to desegregate their schools, etc. Dr. Finch says, “The have-nots have risen and have demanded their due – sometimes more than their due. The haves are restricted from getting more.” He goes on to say,

“As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he’ll look for his lessons.” (A bit prescient of today if you ask me!)

Another interesting dialogue happens with Scout and her Uncle Jack when he explains the origins of redneck racism (my words) in very simplistic terms – he basically said that before reconstruction the only thing that poor white trash had over negroes was the color of their skin that made them better. But after reconstruction that breed of white man found himself in open, direct economic competition with freed negroes – thus they fought to preserve their identity the only way ignorance knows how – by putting down their competition. (As good an explanation as I’ve ever heard and while I don’t condone it, this does make me understand it how it came about.) When Scout accuses Dr. Finch of being cynical with these views, his reply is ,

“Cynical, hell. I’m a healthy old man with a constitutional mistrust of paternalism and government in large doses.” (How many people feel this same way about government today?!!!!  ALOT!)

Another excellent quote from Dr. Finch that is relevant to current society is this doozy:

“The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in. The only thing in America that is still unique in this tired world is that a man can go as far as his brains will take him or he can go to hell if he wants to, but it won’t be that way much longer.”

He also says, “What was incidental to the War Between the States is incidental to the issue in the war we’re in now, and is incidental to your own private war.” Here, I think he was referring to the fact that the government has its own personal agenda that has nothing to do with common decency, common sense, or conscience. (Such as the government does things in regards to business interests of its own, i.e. manufacturing v. cotton v. farming, etc.) But there are just allusions and we must make our own opinions on the statements made since it was a draft. (insert irritable sarcasm here.)

Moving on now to Scout’s argument with her father, Atticus also makes some enlightening statements. He said that Jefferson felt that “A man couldn’t vote simply because he was a man, in Jefferson’s eyes. He had to be a responsible man. A vote was a privilege a man attained for himself in a live-and-let-live economy.” Argue how you may, but this makes common sense. I don’t think anyone wants a person out there voting that is ignorant of who and what the vote is for. And if people today thought of it more as a privilege than a right, I think more people would respect and educate themselves about the issues.

In this decade I think Atticus would be a Libertarian or a member of the Tea Party movement because he says, “I’d like very much to be left alone to manage my own affairs in a live-and-let-live economy.” He also tells Scout,

“It might benefit you to go back and look at what some of our founding fathers really believed, instead of relying so much on what people these days tell you they believed.”  GREAT POINT ATTICUS!

Atticus thinks of the NAACP as a group of Yankees who have no clue what is going on in the South or what it is like to live and work there. Atticus says, “I’d like for my state to be left alone to keep house without advice from the NAACP which knows next to nothing about its business and cares less. That organization has stirred up more trouble in the past five years-…” (AND it’s still stirring the pot!) But Atticus is an intelligent, mature man and is okay that his daughter feels differently about these issues. He even encourages her individual thoughts. He tells Scout,

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscience.” (Oh how I wish we could get this through to our current society so we could lose the PC nonsense!)

Atticus did make some other statements that were racist and negative comments that I won’t repeat, but they do reveal a part of him that we (and Scout) didn’t realize before – he’s human and NOT perfect. He does have flaws and that is why Scout is having such a hard time accepting him – she had him fixed in her mind like a God and now here she is discovering he is just a man, flawed like the rest of us. Atticus goes on to explain to Scout that she’s heard some offensive talk since she’d been home but instead of striking it down she’s turned and ran. She’s effectively said, ‘I don’t like the way these people do, so I have no time for them,’ and he tells her, “You better take time honey, otherwise you’ll never grow. You’ll be the same at 60 as you are now.” He goes on to tell her that SHE is the BIGOT. To this she takes extreme offense and pulls out the dictionary to read aloud the definition.

“Bigot”, she read, “Noun. One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion.”

(Ok, who here doesn’t see the IRONY in this???!!! Guess who the ‘Bigots’ are in today society? The ones screaming the loudest that everyone else is that’s who!!!! And they come from both the FAR LEFT and FAR RIGHT in politics. The ones who conveniently forget that the left wing and the right wing are both part of the same bird.)

There is another dichotomy to the story and that is Scout’s relationship with Hank. Henry Clinton was born to white trash and ended up being raised by different people but because of being best friends with Jem in their youth he became forever linked to Atticus who helped guide him to a better life. He actually replaced Jem in Atticus’ law office and was set to become the eventual inheritor of the business. He also had been in love with Scout for a very long time and had been trying to talk her into marrying him. When Scout admits to her Aunt Alexandra that she is seriously considering it, her Aunt blows a fuse and tells her that she can’t because Henry Clinton has white trash roots and Scout is above him. She basically says you don’t inter-marry with that. Later on even her logical Uncle Jack says the same thing. So not only is there still racism alive in Scout’s hometown but there is also ‘classism’ – in which I guess Scout partially agrees with because she never does marry Hank. (She never married in real life either, right? Wonder if it was because the only man she ever loved was from white trash? Doesn’t that seem silly in this day and age?) But in any case, it’s another line of the story that could’ve been developed further to relate more meaningful ideas and dare I say, solutions?

I really hate that Harper Lee didn’t rework this book and turn it into a sequel that offered up the timeless life lessons like TKAM produced, because it seems that she had the seeds to do just that and she left them uncultivated to the disappointment of her many fans.

I’m going to leave this book review with this last little gem from Dr. Finch’s final discussion with Scout.

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends…It’s one of the oddities of this world.”


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Cliche, Adage, Platitudes, Proverbs and Revelation

My oldest son came into the kitchen yesterday morning and shared a great morning story with me.  He preempted with “You know I ‘always‘ take my contacts out at night before I go to bed, right?” Yes, I know this because he is a stickler for the rules and rituals in life.  Then he said, “When I woke up this morning, I looked around and thought ‘Wow, I can see!  It’s a miracle, I can see!’  Then I walked over and looked into my contact case and realized, ‘Oh man, I forgot to take my contacts out!'”  Haven’t we all had disappointing (yet funny) moments of revelation such as that?  I know it wasn’t too long ago that I was searching frantically for my sunglasses when my daughter laughed at me and said “Oh Mama, you’re so funny!  They’re on your head!”  And then there was the moment in a grocery store that my stomach took a roller coaster ride when I thought  “Oh no! I’ve lost my keys!” and a few seconds later realized “Oops, the keys are in my hand! (under my shopping list) Duh!”

Everyone sees things through their own eyes thus perceiving life differently.  When confronted with a barren landscape one person might look at it as ugly and boring while another might choose to focus on the sky, noticing the vibrant blue behind the puffy cloud formations and label it as beautiful.  You know, the whole ‘glass is half full or half empty’ thing and the ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder‘ adage.  I’ve read many books about writing and they all, at one point or another, say to avoid using terms of cliche.  But a cliche can also be a universal truth and sometimes the best way to get a point across is by using it.  I find it ironic that these same writers will use cliches in their own writings.  I guess it goes back to that old proverb, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Lol.  That collective group, ‘They‘ say not to use cliches in writing because they are trite, unoriginal, etc. but the expressions have become popular because they are true and sometimes that is the entire point.  It is my personal opinion that some literary types try too hard to avoid ‘cliche’ and end up simply being pretentious.  The trick is to find that happy medium (pun intended).  I think that might be one of the tricks to a happy life as well.

The famous country musician Willie Nelson likes to say that “Too much of anything isn’t good for you.”  This is a simple truth.  The opposite can also be true – that not enough of something can be bad for you.  I think that ‘not enough‘ simple truth in life and writing can be harmful.  Sometimes there is no need to over analyze facts, stories, expressions, etc.  There are times when the simple truth is the only importance.   The simple truth can sometimes be the best way to express oneself.

Opinions may vary, but most describe the best writing as ‘revealing’ or stay up late reading a book just to get to that point in the story with the big moment of revelation.  Memoirs and reality TV have become extremely popular in large part due to the curiosity of human nature in seeking others’ revelations (heightened by the fact that they are supposed to be true.)  Blogs, also freshly popular, are by their own very nature, revealing.  My blog, Dragonfly Chat, may include the occasional use of the cliche – but it will also present to you revelations.  (Along with funny things my kids do and say, because ‘what is life without humor?’ lol

What are your favorite cliche’s? And what would you say if you couldn’t use them?

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I have a confession to make….hello, I am a book junkie.  Books, books and more books.  I LOVE books.  Fiction, non-fiction, I must have more.  I am always reading at least 3 different books at once.  A couple of nonfiction books that make me think and the fiction books where I can escape into another realm living vicariously through some character magically imagined in someone’s mind.  I even have lists of books that I want to read and books that I have already read.  I have shelves and shelves of books that I have read and/or want to read.  And I always want more.

My kids hate going into a bookstore with me because they know through experience that it’s going to take awhile.  I just love to browse the shelves in search of that special book that I MUST read.  I love going to the library book sales and finding unexpected little cheap treasures.  I love searching the books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and researching them – comments and opinions.  I have wish lists on both web sites.

I keep telling myself – “Self, do not buy any more books until you have read all of the books you already own!”  But my Self cannot be stopped.  I am greedy in my reading like a fat man at an all you can buffet.

I’ve considered adding another tab to my blog with my long list of favorite books and why they should be read by others – but then second guessed it, because who would care to read that?

I own a Nook so I have many books on it as well.  It works great when the rest of my household desires the room to be pitch black for the non-glare television experience and all I want to do is READ MORE.  Because sometimes life does have to stop so you can finish that book you’re inside of.  Sometimes you just have to ‘solve that mystery‘ before you can do anything else.  (I do not recommend the Nook to anyone else though, as I have found out through my research of comments I am not the only one to have problems with the charging plug.  It seems to be a common problem to Nooks.  I do not know why the company has not fixed this problem as of 2 weeks ago more than 230 people actually posted complaints on their website about it, so they know.)

Yes, some women collect shoes with joyful abandon, but I, the dragonfly, I collect BOOKS.  If I become depressed with life, all I have to do is go to our local library and browse the shelves of books to find a sense of peace and belonging.  Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve loved books since before I could read.  I wanted to learn how to read so bad that before I had schooling to teach me, I would open up books and make up my own words to the pictures.

Sometimes I even crave books.  I can’t imagine my life without books.  Yes, I am a ‘bookworm’.

Today I updated my wishlist on Amazon and discovered that some of the books were almost ‘out of stock’ (aagghhh!)  Of course, I had to order them before they were gone forever!  I even scored the very last copy of one.  But I did buy more than I should’ve.  I’ve outlawed myself from buying any more books for the rest of the year because of this.  Oh, except for the new Michael Connolly book coming out in the fall.  And the short story one on ebooks next month.  Except for those two – no more buying books!  I can do this – right?

God forgive me…I am a book junkie

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