Banned Books Week – To Kill a Mockingbird

You’d think that in this forward-thinking society, books would stand a chance, right?

Wrong.

Books are being banned and challenged today. And I don’t mean just new releases. It’s not like people are standing in line picketing the latest Stephen King novel. I don’t mean to say that modern releases aren’t being challenged. I just mean that I’m less surprised when they are. It makes sense for something new to be protested.

What does surprise me is that books–classics that have withstood the test of time–are being challenged. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which I mentioned yesterday, was challenged more than 80 years after its initial publication. It’s like people don’t even know how to move on and hate something else. They’re just inheriting the hate of their parents.

That’s just no way to live. If I hate something, I want to hate it on my own. Not just because everybody else hates it. And trust me, I’ve had plenty of practice hating brand new things all on my own.

The weird new flavors of Diet Coke? That’s something to get worked up about. My students saying things like “lit” and “bet” in connotations that definitely don’t make sense? HATE IT.

Books older than any of my living relatives? Sit down and move on. They’re clearly not going anywhere.

Yet the challenges still persists.

In 2017, for instance, the Biloxi, MS school board voted to ban To Kill a Mockingbird from its curriculum because (and I really wish I were joking) it “makes people uncomfortable.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Now we’re just banning things because they make us uncomfortable? If that’s the case, I’m beginning a petition to ban (in no particular order): socks with sandals, crawfish, airplane chairs, the weird side of Tumblr, competitive cheerleading, every treadmill in the United States, faculty meetings, cold park benches, that sounds my water bottle makes when I open it, dress pants, and the word gouache. Feel free to add to this list as you please. I’m banning everything.

I’m the Oprah Winfrey of bans.

Of course, this 2017 ban is not the first challenge To Kill a Mockingbird has faced. Scout Finch’s story has been contested and challenged basically since its original publication.

Let’s face it. It’s a heavy book. It does make you uncomfortable. It does make you evaluate your privilege and your predispositions and your prejudices. It exists to make you think beyond and outside of yourself. To Kill a Mockingbird is art, and in the words of Rainbow Rowell, “art is supposed to make you feel something.”

I first met Scout Finch when I was in the eleventh grade. I was sitting in the back of my English class, cutting up as I always did, when this lavender book fell into my lap. I was really opposed to reading this book. For no particular reason. I just didn’t want to do what the teacher told me. (Remember that lifelong issue with authority I mentioned the other day?)

Clearly, you can tell by the cover that I hated this book and I hardly read it all. I mean, it was just atrocious. I couldn’t even stand it. I mean, I practically never cracked the spine. You can tell, right?

When I first opened To Kill a Mockingbird, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. I was 16 years old. The protagonist was a girl and was too young for my to connect with. Maycomb was not a place I could picture. And I definitely couldn’t connect with having an attorney for a father.

But then I read a little more and I realized that Scout and I weren’t very different. And Maycomb and the tiny town I grew up in weren’t so different. And things started to fall into place for me that To Kill a Mockingbird could just as easily be told in 2004, when I first discovered it. With a few minor tweaks, the backdrop of The Great Depression could fit today’s society. To Kill a Mockingbird was somehow timeless in its storytelling, even with its very distinct setting. I think part of its success is its translatability to modern times.

It was brilliant. And I read it so many times. It quickly became one of my all time favorite books.

Maybe it didn’t make me uncomfortable enough.

Or maybe I’m just not a bigot.

I guess we’ll never know.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

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