What's so Special About TKAM?

I’ve been told I have an obsession with To Kill a Mockingbird. Actually, I prefer the term “passionate enthusiast,” and I do indeed hold this great novel in very high regard. In case of a house fire, Matt knows he better get the wedding pics because I’m going for my signed copy of the 40th anniversary edition. The book is just that good. In his biography of Nelle Harper Lee, Charles J. Shields shares that To Kill a Mockingbird is cited as being the second most influential book on people’s lives. (The first most influential book? The Bible.) My first experience with TKAM was in my freshman year of high school, and with a very gifted instructor. Coming from a very small part of the world where people’s minds were also very small, race relations and prejudice weren’t discussed- they just “were.” I saw rebel flag-toting sons of KKK members participate in class discussions in which they realized the maltreatment of Tom Robinson and sympathized with his character. It was a very powerful learning experience that moves me even now. Even if you strip away all of the other funny stories, the mystery of Boo Radley, the witty dialogue from the most precocious Jean Louise, the beautiful imagery, and the perfect snapshot of southern culture, the story of Tom Robinson alone is powerful enough. But the other stuff is what takes the novel from being a good story to being a timeless classic.

Every time I read it/listen to it/watch the movie/etc. I notice some new thing and I love Lee's book that much more. Recently, I visited the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Alabama to see the play (based, of course, on the book by Harper Lee and adapted by Christopher Sergel). With few exceptions, the players embodied their characters very well. While the play is by no means a substitution for the book itself, it is a great supplement to gathering a more complete understanding of the story.

As a librarian my philosophy is that there is a book for everyone. People have different tastes, needs, attention spans, and preferences, and it is because of such diversity that so many options exist in reading material. This is a pretty bold statement, but I feel very strongly that there is exactly one novel that carries a message from which all readers (circa age 14 and up) can benefit, and that book is To Kill a Mockingbird.

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