Before I get going here, I just want to remind everyone that you should not buy Harper Lee's new book Go Set a Watchman. It's a trap.
But the fact that GSAW is as boring and tedious and slightly icky as a bad Tinder date doesn't diminish the awesomeness of To Kill a Mockingbird. The only thing that diminishes the awesomeness of TKAM is the pious smog that engulfs so many discussions of it.
It's important to remember that the book is funny, gorgeous, and diametrically opposed to the institutions—like schools—that sprinkle it with holy water. (One of the major themes of the novel is how much school sucks, about how much you don’t and can’t learn there.)
Like Moby-Dick, which begins with 200 pages of a homoerotic buddy comedy wherein a couple of guys run around eating clam chowder and playing with harpoons, people talk about TKAM in a way that turns it into a bowl of steamed broccoli. It ain't a bowl of steamed broccoli.
It Disses People Right and Left
Part of what makes Harper Lee a genius is her ability to make the little chores of fiction (character introduction, backstory, etc.) enjoyable. For instance
Had I ever harbored the mystical notions about mountains that seem to obsess lawyers and judges, Aunt Alexandra would have been analogous to Mount Everest: throughout my early life, she was cold and there.
The Cynicism Is Stately and Dark
Local opinion held Mr. Underwood to be an intense, profane little man, whose father in a fey fit of humor christened [him] Braxton Bragg, a name Mr. Underwood had done his best to live down. Atticus said naming people after confederate generals made slow steady drinkers.
Scout's Feminism Is Punchy
There are so many instances of Scout resisting the feminine stereotypes everyone in town tries to force her into, but this one's my favorite for its brevity. Scout's uncle is giving her a lecture on cussing, and he says:
"... I'll be here a week, and I don't want to hear any words like that while I'm here... You want to grow up to be a lady, don't you?"
I said not particularly.
The Word Scuppernongs Is Everywhere
A scuppernong is a very round grape that grows in the US South, but it's also used in the book to mean a small, personal treasure or happiness. It sounds like a mix between scooper and supper and gong.
There's Rampant but Subtle Incest-Bashing
There's lots of implied incest in the book, and undercurrents of humor about the incest. Maycomb, Alabama, is small, insular, and comparatively old—or, as Lee has it:
New people so rarely settled there, the same families married the same families until the members of the community looked faintly alike. Occasionally someone would return from Montgomery or Mobile with an outsider, but the result caused only a ripple in the quiet stream of family resemblance.
That "quiet stream" just kills me—it's the most subtle way to express maybe a hundred years of people not admitting to each other that they're fucking their sisters. Anyway, the point is, like any great work of literature, the book rewards rereading, and it's different than you remember. Do your nightstand a favor and go buy a clean copy. You'll cry, sure, but you'll laugh so much harder than when you were a kid.