To Kill a Mockingbird

The Rocky River Readers Book Club discussed both of Harper Lee’s novels — To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman — earlier this week. Little did we know when planning the year’s reading that this discussion would come just three days after Ms. Lee’s death. Illness prevented my attending the meeting but, in light of Harper Lee’s recent death, I wanted to post a blog in tribute to her.

Rereading To Kill a Mockingbird is always a pleasure. One can read it just for the story. One can read it for the skillful writing. One can read it for the slice of American history on which it sheds light. One can even read it for the humor. I tend to forget Scout’s sense of humor between my readings of To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the Scout in that book.

The grown-up urbane Scout/Jean Louise of Go Set a Watchman is not as easy to love. The young adult Scout struggles — really struggles — to understand and accept Atticus. The child Scout put her father on an impossible pedestal. The adult Scout sees prejudices in him that don’t jive with the Atticus of her childhood who withstood public outcry when he represented a black man in court. She is conflicted. Throughout Go Set a Watchman I yearned for her to work through her concerns and not turn her back on Atticus.

Both of Ms. Lee’s novels give as much food for thought and fodder for discussion today as they did when they were hot off the press. Harper Lee set the bar high for great American literature. Her novels will, no doubt, be read in the United States and around the world for centuries to come.

A Tribute to Harper Lee

My blog post today is a tribute to Harper Lee on the occasion of her 89th birthday. Born in Monroeville, Alabama on April 28, 1926, she finished writing To Kill a Mockingbird in 1959 at the age of 33. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has been translated into approximately 40 languages.

What an iconic book of 20th century American literature! The book makes an indelible impression on just about everyone who reads it. The story shines a light on racism in a powerful way and, in so doing, reminds us that racism still exists today in every part of the United States. It is my hope that To Kill a Mockingbird will prompt everyone who reads it to strive to stamp out racism in his or her own life and community.

In honor of Harper Lee’s birthday today, I challenge you to read To Kill a Mockingbird again. Take it to heart. Put yourself in the place of each of the main characters. Get inside their skin and their hearts.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the racial unrest happening today in Baltimore, Maryland. Our country has come a long way, but there is much work to do. There are lessons for each of us to learn. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou:

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
― Maya Angelou