Monday, December 22, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It was June 2007 and I had been assigned to read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird for my summer reading homework before I started my junior year of high school. The book was one I had heard of as being a classic and a renowned piece of literature yet I had also heard from friends who had already read it that it was dreadfully boring and dumb. My assignment was simple. I had to find 15-20 quotes for three pre-chosen themes and then hand write three 150 word essays about the themes and integrate my quotes. It was a simple summer task but for most it was a complete buzz kill. I have always enjoyed summer reading. There was never any pressure for you to read the book fast or for peer interaction. It was just me and a book and my thoughts. I found that I enjoyed the assignment. In fact, it was this book in particular that changed the way I viewed books and literature and writing.
I loved this book. My 16 going on 17 year old self was mesmerized by Scout and her innocence and the adventures she had that so often reflected my own childhood although we were years and worlds apart. I loved the simplicity of the novel and it's call for justice. When I turned the final page I was confident that this book would be taking it's place on my favorites shelf.
I hadn't returned to the book since then and was curious to see if it would hold the same quality reading it a second time. I reread Where the Red Fern Grows almost ten years after reading it a first time and found I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as my 12 year old self did. This may be because Red Fern was my first experience with a subtle title. I remember thinking how brilliant it was that the author named the book after something so beautiful as the flowers that grew on the dog's graves. When I reread the book, I was experienced with so many books that did something similar and therefore Red Fern lost it's "wow" factor for me. Luckily, Mockingbird wasn't the same type of experience.
Mockingbird indeed introduced me to a lot of literary tropes but it also shaped the way I look at literature. My growth only stemmed from my first reading of this book. The second read was just as good. I definitely gained a better perspective on Atticus this time around and teared up after reading his speech at Tom Robinson's trial. 
I keep asking myself, why this book? Why is this the book that gained all of the attention? Well, of course it is written well and it's message is unlikely to be beaten. But I also think there is a timelessness to the story that resonates with many readers. Not much happens in Scout's day to day life. She goes to school or gets in an argument with her pubescent brother or gets reprimanded by an adult. She is a child in a mixed up world and Lee is able to capture this moment of all of our lives with stand out moments yet we still feel we can relate. We may not have had a mad dog roam the neighborhood street but we did have  moments that united the neighbors or scared the neighbors. We may not be teased because our father is defending a man who is racially discriminated against but we did get teased and were accused of things we shouldn't have been.
The book offers a unique look at childhood and though some call it didactic, I say it is a call to do what is right in the face of adversity. This speaks very loudly to recent events in the media. Make of that what you will. It is a call to return to innocence. This book is a 5 star book still. It still holds up to me and it will hold up as long as we continue to pick up books and seek knowledge and understanding.

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