Sunday, October 16, 2011
Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Harper Lee....
It's true, I'm an English teacher at heart and therefore biased when it comes to literature. But I believe all good teachers teach readers, not texts, and there's few (if any) books that I believe should be mandated curriculum. But if I were going to argue for a text, the text, that every adolescent or adult reader should have on their reading "bucket list" I could definitely make a case for To Kill A Mockingbird.
Harper Lee's one and only novel, set in the early-mid 1930's, is as relevant today as it was in 1960, the original date of publication. The Southern gothic tale's hero, Atticus Finch, represents the ideal parent, a model of integrity and human decency during a time and circumstances that were anything but decent. In 2003, the AFI (American Film Institute) proclaimed the character of Atticus Finch (portrayed memorably by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film) the #1 Greatest Hero of the 20th Century in it's "100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains in Film" special.
This afternoon, in an intimate matinee performance, on the same day the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall before a throng that waited too long for this day, I watched the Denver Center Theater Company bring Harper Lee's story to the stage. The theatrical adaptation captured the essence of the book in two hours and fifteen minutes, and reminded me of all of the reasons why I fell in love with To Kill A Mockingbird more than twenty years ago.
I first read the book as a child. Recommended to me by my mother as her favorite coming of age story, I reluctantly picked it up as a sixth grader, but quickly became lost in the world of Maycomb, Alabama and in the thoughts and life of Scout, whose narration sounded like the voice of a familiar friend or kindred spirit from a time and place far away. The time period, dialect, and complex issues raised in the text were foreign to me as an eleven-year-old, but the pages turned quickly as I anticipated alongside the Finch children, Boo Radley's appearance or the next finding in the knothole of the old tree. When I re-read the book as an adult, it was Atticus, not Scout that I found myself falling in love with, his goodness, his kindness, his courage. The courtroom scenes seemed to jump off the page and onto my own mind's movie screen. His words more memorable than scripture: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view....until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Harper Lee's one and only book. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Translated into more than 40 languages. Sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Adapted for the silver screen and stage. Voted by librarians across the country as the best novel of the 20th Century. Required reading in many a high school English class. Really, really good required reading. If its been a while (or you skipped the novel and opted for Cliffnotes in high school), take a trip to the 1930's South and feel the heat of an Alabama summer the way only Harper Lee can write it. You'll discover that it's a trip worth taking, a lesson worth re-learning, and many pages worth turning.