Banned Book Week: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

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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 ClubRe-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.”

20140917_172744The 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.20140917_174445

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!

classicsclub


 

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17 thoughts on “Banned Book Week: To Kill a Mockingbird”

    1. I’d recommend it! As I said a couple times over the past weeks I’ve been reading it (mostly on my commute to and from work, so it was in bits and pieces), it is not the same book I read 20 years ago.

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      1. I switched school districts between 8th and 9th grade, so in one district TKAMB was part of the 8th grade curriculum and in the other it was part of the 9th grade curriculum. It was a different book even in that short time, having had a chance to sink in for me. Such a powerful classic. Would be delighted and wouldn’t be surprised if my grandkids will read it decades down the road.

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  1. As I’ve said before, this is one of my favorite books, and you highlighted one of my favorite parts. I don’t remember reading this in school, I discovered it on my own. Scout and Boo are legends of Southern literature. I can’t imagine why is still banned in areas. Such a shame.

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    1. It is interesting to read a little bit about some of the cases against it — I just did some preliminary research (ie. Googled “To Kill a Mockingbird Banned”) to see what there was and know I could very quickly stumble down a long involved research trip into them.
      Some of them, I felt, were because people didn’t read it within context. In context it is clearly not promoting racism, it is reflecting a time and place, and crafting characters that are working counter to the culture in that time and place. And it is about SO much more!

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  2. There’s something endearing about that little chorus.

    Atticus Finch is my fictional hero.

    I think I might’ve been 14 or so when I had to read this for school, and it started a real conversation with my mom, who is from the Monroeville area, about Harper Lee and the town and Alabama itself. It’s also one of the first books that I remember reading that moved me to tears.

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    1. It was really catchy (hence my still remembering it 20 years later). I know I have it written down somewhere, there were multiple versus that summarized the entire story.
      Atticus, I think, helped inform some of the early fathers of my writing… interesting character. But Scout…Scout is my hero 🙂
      Very cool when a book can really have that power, not only the emotional response, but also the ability to help create the opportunity for real conversation!

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  3. Sadly, I have to admit that I have not read this book since high school, and, like you, I loved it. Heck, the school gave us copies to use and return so I don’t even own the book. I’m going to have to rectify that and reread it. Thanks for inspiring me to do that. 🙂

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