To Kill a Mockingbird, turned 50 this weekend. Yesterday was the anniversary date of its publication.
I've been teaching for fifteen years and for the past ten, I've taught To Kill a Mockingbird every year (twice a year because when second semester starts in January, I get new classes. So, to six classes per school year (3 and 3) multiplied by ten years, well, I've taught the book to a lot of students. This makes for a lot of class discussions and lots of different perspectives on Harper Lee's masterpiece.
When I started seeing articles lately about the anniversary and about the celebrations around the country, and especially in Monroeville, I also learned of Mary McDonagh Murphy's new book, Scout, Atticus and Boo. It's a companion to a documentary she's done in which she interviews a number of people about their reactions to the book. What fascinates me is that although almost everyone says the book changed their life or made them look at things in a new way, everyone gets something different out of the book.
Murphy says that what surprised her was how many different answers she got when she asked each person their favorite passage in the book. And what I always tell my students, and what is absolutely true, is that every time I re-read it, I pick up on something I missed before, or something new reveals itself to me.
I've left the book at my mom's (see previous post) or I'd quote something from it for you, but it's really been interesting. I'm about to read Murphy's interview with Alice Lee, the older sister.
As far as Harper Lee's (and nobody actually calls her that by the way), I don't begrudge her decision for privacy one bit. The almost universal explanation from those who know her is that she said what she had to say in the book, she was never happy with attempts at another, and she doesn't give interviews because reporters asked dumb questions. She gave a few after publication, but after a while, enough. Done. She doesn't like people making a buck off of her, either. In Murphy's book we learn that the author used to go to the local bookstore in Monroeville and sign lots of copies of the book for them to sell but then greedy folks would come buy them all and sell them on eBay, so she quit doing that.
I wish I had one of those! What a treasure!
We'll read the book in my classes again this fall and I'll share with my students this year some comments from Murphy's book. Maybe they'll be more motivated to read it when they hear what others have thought and how it impacted them. Some teenagers, of course, love to read, but it's always sort of a challenge getting some of my slower learners or those who have never read a novel before, ever, to read this one. Some of the language at the beginning of the novel might be off-putting to them; the history of Maycomb doesn't just grab them at first. I always show a brief clip of the beginning of the film so they can see what's coming and that usually does it, but not always. Some never read it, and that's a shame.
So. Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? How many times? And what was your favorite passage?! I want to know!
Here's a clip from CBS News on the anniversary, while you're thinking about your answers: