Monday, October 4, 2010

Simply My Favorite Book, Ever.

Book 52: To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee

I've loved To Kill A Mockingbird since I first read it, in Mrs. Reid's ninth grade honors English class.  It was, I think, the first book of assigned reading that truly captivated me.  I've re-read the book countless times since then. In fact, I used to re-read it at least once a year. That frequency has died off a bit in the last few years, but it is still easily my most beloved book.  When I set out on this little quest of mine, to see if I could read 52 books in 52 weeks, this was the only book I knew I would read, and I knew that it would be book 52.  It is a coincidence that I also read it during banned books week, as it has been one of the most frequently challenged book since its publication in 1960.

What can I say about To Kill A Mockingbird that hasn't already been said, probably with greater eloquence than I can hope for, by innumerable people before me?  Not much, perhaps. But I can tell you why I this book means so much to me.

My mother's family is from a small town in Alabama.  Lee's description of the town and its inhabitants is as familiar to me as my own family, despite me not growing up in either the era of To Kill A Mockingbird, or having ever lived in such a small town myself. The admonishment to not "take a check from the Delafield's without a discrete call to the bank first..." is so true of a small town where every family knows every other family, and their business.  I think it is that sense of connection that first drew me in to the story.

Scout.  What a terrific heroine!  Running around with her brother Jem, just a bit precocious, getting into trouble. Yet smart, and fiercely loyal.  With a child's sense of justice, and a child's world view.  

Boo Radley. Misunderstood. Shy and quiet. An example of persecution and misunderstanding as much as Tom Robinson.  But also loyal and courageous, and a hero.

But, most beloved to me is Atticus.  Lee really shaped what a hero is, what integrity is, what character is, when she wrote Atticus Finch.   An intellectual, older than the other fathers in the town, Atticus is at first a dubious hero in the eyes of his children. As the story winds on, though, we see that Atticus embodies what we should all strive to be. His definition of courage- fighting a losing battle even when you know you are beaten before you start, because it is the fight itself that is important- resonates just as soundly today as it did in 1960.  

Lee's central theme, that all people should be treated equally, and with respect, regardless of the color of their skin,  carries through today. Race, still, is a divisive factor.  Let's throw into the mix religion and orientation as well.  Sadly, Lee's is a message we need just as much now as we did when the book was first published.

I could go on and on about this book. Had I not been reading a 50th Anniversary hardback edition, I would have had notes and highlights throughout the book. I couldn't do that to this one. But as I was reading it, I pictured in my mind the notes from that first purple, paperback copy, "Foreshadowing. Courage.  Metaphor."

I think, simply, Harper Lee said what she needed to say with To Kill A Mockingbird. I for one, am glad that she did.

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