So! I’m back on the Times Union Book Blog and I wanted to make sure my FifteenThousandPages readers also got to read this one. I’m pretty proud of it. A lot has been happening in the world, recently, and since reading Harper Lee’s classic, I feel like I’ve been taking it all in a little deeper. To see what I wrote on the Book Blog, click here.
Or, you can read the full text after the jump!
Recently, I read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird for the very first time. For many in my life, this came as a shock: How could I, the prototypical ‘English Major,’ have missed such an important, such a pervasive, book?
The answer, honestly, is simple. In high school, I took an advanced English class that required a special project during our American Lit year, and TKAM just happened to be one of the books left off the list. I never really thought about it. In college, most professors assumed we’d already read it, so they branched out. It just happened.
But now, having finally read it, having truly sat with it and digested it in the way that you must do with heavy, important novels like this one, I’m finding that I’m pretty happy I didn’t read this book in high school, or even college. I don’t think I was ready for it then.
The reality is that I didn’t just not read TKAM in high school or college – I was never even spoiled of the actual events in the book. I knew the basic plot (there’s a trial!) and some of the character names (the Finches!). But when I started reading it, I realized I had literally no idea what was going to happen. I didn’t know the fates of Scout, Jem, Atticus, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, or Bob Ewell. I truly went in blind. And that was the best thing that I could’ve had happen. Because at 25, I was given the chance to truly experience this novel for the first time when I feel like I’m also finally starting to understand (as much as possible, anyway ) what’s going on in the world.
A lot was going on in the USA, and the world, as I read this book for the first time. The President of Mizzou resigned after intense student protests and pressure, continuing our country’s conversation about racism. The next week, Paris was attacked, and questions about our refugee policies were everywhere. Last week, a Planned Parenthood in Colorado was shot up, as was a disability services center in California.
And as those things have happened, my mind keeps going back to the book set in 1930s Alabama.
It always floors me how books written decades or centuries ago can still capture the feelings of modern times. And in its own way, TKAM very much encapsulates our current state of affairs. So many want to keep to ourselves, make things stay “the way they’ve always been,” while others want to see change. And really, it can give you whiplash.
But if this book is good for anything – and really, it is good for many, many things – it breaks down the human, moral element. In Jem’s distraught reaction to the Tom Robinson verdict, in Scout’s curiosity and trust in Boo Radley, in Atticus’ appreciation for Cal, we’re given a direct look into the human factor.
Mr. Rogers once said his mother taught him in tragic times to “look for the helpers.” In this book, and in the world, I’m glad to know I can still find the human, moral element.