To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
I still remember reading this book as an 8th grader. I think it was one of the first books for school that we actually bought. An avid reader by that point, I always loved when I got to read actual books for school.
Like many of the books we read for school, I really liked this one, and the book remained in my library. I never quite got around to re-reading it, but I kept moving the book with me. It made it onto my Classics Club “Re-read” list, and I knew I would get to re-reading soon. Banned Book Week gave me just the excuse I needed.
This book has consistently made it to the list of top banned or challenged books through the years.
Every time I sit down and try to write about this book in terms of it’s being banned I find I just can’t. I can’t think of anything terribly new to add to the conversation.
What I find myself thinking about instead is about the book itself. For the longest time all I really remembered about the contents of the book was the chorus to a song a friend of mine in school wrote when we were studying it (to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”:
“To Kill a Mockingbirds a sin,
Jem and Scout are cool.
Boo is not stuffed up the chimney
and Tom didn’t do it.”
The copy of the book that I read this week is the same copy as I read as an 8th-grader… complete with my notes in the book (one of the first books I ever wrote in), and my doodles along the edge. This poor book, it’s been through a lot.
Some of the notes inside were clearly things that the teacher had drawn our attention to, others I underlined and highlighted for reasons unknown. I hadn’t quite gotten down my note-taking style yet (I like to pretend that I have now…but I know it’s just pretending.) Some of what I had marked, though, still spoke to me so clearly and strongly.
Here’s the thing about the book — I feel like it’s almost a disservice to the story that so many people read it in school and never pick it up again. In school the focus was on racism, on the time in history, and literary conventions. Reading now, though, there was so much more that I found in the story.
The back cover of this version makes a note that “Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story.”
Sometimes I feel like the focus of the reading ends up being on the trail, on racial issues — and I certainly am not saying this isn’t an important theme, but there is so much more in the story.
This time I was drawn to the different threads that weave together, the way Scout learns about her neighbors, like Miss Maudie. I enjoyed the way her interest in her mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley, grows and shifts as she grows and shifts.
It is a story about trying to stand in another shoes, about empathy and understanding, about pride and standing by your values. It is about seeing people, really seeing people. It’s about the fact that often what you see is not always what you get.
I could go on and on about this book. I hope I don’t let another couple decades go by before re-reading, because I’m pretty sure that another read will cause me to catch sight of other things that I’ve missed, other quotes that I want to carry with me, other moments where I stop and smile, or feel my breath catch because I can relate. Though it’s a story that takes place in a specific time, in a specific place, the reality is so much of what the story explores are human experiences. The shifts that happen as we grow up, the surprise at seeing someone change their ways, or act in a way that surprises you. Growing out of things, or not growing out of things, or having others seem to grow up before you are ready for them too.
It a powerful story, and it is a beautiful story.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a love story.
The Classics Club is a group dedicated to reading and writing about “the classics.” It’s a great group, and I’m glad to be a part of it!