To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is one of those books that everyone seems to love (including Victoria Beckham!), and I’ve always loved it since I read it at school when I was about 13 or 14. It was the first real ‘grown up’ book I ever read, and although I’d been a reader since an early age, it was this book that made me really fall in love with reading, and also opened my eyes to how literature can speak truths about social injustice, and in its own way change the world.
Set in the Deep South in the 1930s, it tells the story of Scout and Jem Finch, who lose their innocence when their lawyer father defends a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, hypocrisy and violence is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice.
It’s been year since I’ve read it (although I always have my cherished copy close to hand), but it came to my mind again when I was researching for an upcoming exhibition we’re having at Glasgow Women’s Library for Banned Books Week. I find it really interesting that as well as a being hailed a classic, this book has also been continually dogged by controversy since it was first published in 1960.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most successful books of all time. To date it has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into over 40 languages. It has never been out of print and has become part of the standard literature curriculum in schools. A 2008 survey of books read by high school students designates the novel as the most widely read book in classes. In 2006, even British librarians placed the book atop The Bible as one that “every adult should read before they die.”
However, racial slurs, profanity, and blunt dialogue about rape have led people to challenge its appropriateness in libraries and classrooms so often that, today, the American Library Association (ALA) reports that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most challenged classics of all time and still ranks at number 21 of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 2000–2009. Even as recently as 2011 and amid 326 other book challenges for that year, it ranks in the top ten more than 50 years after seeing print.
Reading this book, in a tiny village in the Highlands in the 1980s, I had no idea how ‘dangerous’ it was considered to be. It makes me feel quite proud of my school and my English teacher that we actually studied it! Having done some research on the reasons behind it being continually challenged, it will be interesting to re-read it and see if it changes my opinion of it.
But you know, I’m sure I’ll still love it…..
For more information about Banned Books Week, you can check out the ALA’s website:
And of course come along to our exhibition at the library, starting on Monday 1st October until Monday 8th October. We’ll have lots of classic banned books available to borrow. Come and celebrate your freedom to read with us!