Lit I Love, Title 14: To Kill a Mockingbird


I didn’t know I would love TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. Early on, I was forced (assigned reading) to read the book, and it didn’t stick. The story didn’t stay with me. It was okay, but at that point, I was just reading it to write a book report. I had to want to read it. I knew it was good and about anti-racism, but at that point in my life, I think I was too self-absorbed and pretty sure I wasn’t racist, so come on, you’re preaching to the choir. Moving on.

It wasn’t until adulthood when I felt compelled to revisit classics both highly lauded in literary circles and that friends held dear. So I picked up this weathered title with it’s sprawling tree on the cover. Its character names so familiar to me, the subject matter, something I thought I knew. But just like it has for so many others, my eyes were opened again. I’m not sure how they manage to fall shut so often, my eyes, but they do, and I am grateful to all the stories that help keep me awake, awake to the injustice in the world that I both need to work to right, and that I unwittingly participate in.

What I didn’t realize was how this story was about so much more than racism. It’s about being a single parent and still doing your best to raise caring, intelligent future-adults. It’s about finding your way in this prescribed world as a female child. It’s about friendship when things get hard. It’s about understanding White privilege (though that is a new term, it’s a very old concept).

By the time I finished this book, I knew it would stay one of my favorites, too. I understood then why a friend of mine would be so moved by it, she’d name a child for its author. I understood why so many “Tom Boy” friends of mine clung to Scout as their emissary, maybe it’s why she’s named Scout- out there forging new ways to be.

I know that when I’m writing I usually have some core idea I’m working around, some kind of fundamental stick in my protagonist’s craw that has to be worked out. I don’t intend for it to be multi-layered,  but sometimes it’s there anyway. I wonder if Harper Lee intended for all these components to be there. I tip my pen to her whether she did or didn’t.

Is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD one of your favorites? If it is, what made it stick for you? Are there books that you’ve read that have opened your eyes to injustices in the world?

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Lit I Love, Title 14: To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. TKAM is possibly my MOST important and influential book, for all of the reasons you’ve stated here. Some additional reasons:
    1. Simply outstanding writing, which I didn’t realize until I taught the book to 10th graders
    2. The character of Boo Radley, who touches me for so many reasons. I’m a bit of a Boo, in some ways, and I know Boos, and I know people who react to Boos in all of the ways in the book.
    3. The movie–I watched it as a teenager, and determined not to marry anyone who didn’t resemble Atticus Finch in some way. Hubba hubba Gregory Peck, who was born to play Atticus.
    4. As a teacher, getting to play the part of Mayelle Ewing with a fellow teacher who played Atticus in the trial scenes, and seeing teenagers with their eyes wide and their jaws dropped.
    5. I was young when I first read it, and the subtleties were lost on me, but I was SO DAMN MAD at the jury’s verdict. I can call back that anger at any time, and it has shaped the adult I am today.
    6. A paraphrase, I guess, of your post: TKAM taught me compassion, and then taught it to me again, and again, and again.

    1. I think that is the mark of a true classic. It speaks, and speaks again, and speaks again. When it can be in your hands so many times and bring new meaning each time… I get chills. I hope to entertain on a first read. I dream of it bringing something meaningful. But to be able to entertain and bring meaning over and over, I can’t even imagine.

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