Which tense should you use when talking about a book if it is narrated in both the past and present tenses? I am asking this because in To Kill a Mockingbird (Can you underline book titles here?) Scout uses both the present and past tenses when narrating the story.

  • Can you give an example sentence you might want to write about the book? "Talking about a book" doesn't appear to mandate any tense in particular. (Using italics for book titles is fine. SE uses underlines only for links)
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 22, 2012 at 17:39
  • Well, Scout jumps between narrating the story in the past and present tenses. I don't exactly have an example, but how woud you give a summary of, say chapter 11, in which she jumps back and forth between past and present tenses quite a few times. Apr 22, 2012 at 17:47
  • 1
    I think underlining is what you do in handwritten script to tell the typesetter to set the words in italic. And you've already done that in markdown.
    – Mitch
    Apr 22, 2012 at 18:32

2 Answers 2


When analyzing literature, it needs to be done in the present tense. Literature lives as you read; it never happened, it is always happening.

Pretend this is part of an essay

For example, when "Dill [leaves them] early in September... [they see] him off on the five o'clock bus."


In your writing about a book, I think you should select either present tense or past tense and stick with it throughout your report. So, for example, you might say:

In this coming of age book, Scout finds that rumors have destroyed Boo Radley's reputation. OR, In this coming of age book, Scout found that rumors had destroyed Boo Radley's reputation.

We call this being parallel, or staying true to your writing's tense.


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