The Book That Changed My Life

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My love of reading began very early on in life.  Whatever I wanted to read, my parents would buy it for me.  My sister, 13 years my senior, left for college when I was three – years – old and she would send me all kinds of books and I would read them.  It was rare that I would encounter a book that I didn’t like. I tell you this to emphasize that I have read a lot of books in my life and while I do generally remember most of them, there are only a select few that live in me.  Some of them were inspiring, like The Help by Kathryn Stockett, while some were devilishly funny like Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.  Then there were those that were just mesmerizing like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (all of them) and some that were just good summer reads like Terry’ McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale.  Best murder mystery that I have ever read is Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I promise that you will audibly gasp at the end of the book.  As you can see, I’m all over the place – I will read just about anything.  However, the one book that left and indelible impression on my mind, as well as my soul, is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

To Kill a Mocking Bird, written in 1960, is arguably one of the best books ever written.  I first read To Kill a Mockingbird approximately 30 years ago and I kind of don’t think that I need to go into details about story line.  Isn’t it true that anyone who’s over the age of 13 has probably read it?  I really hope so, but I have heard that there are those who are trying to remove this book from libraries and school reading lists.  It’s unfortunate and it hurts my heart, but that’s another blog post about censorship.  I will get to that some other time.  Right now I will tell you that reading this book was some sort of coming of age for me.   My family was always very socially and politically astute and my parents never shied away from discussions on race relations and bigotry.  The fact that they were born in the late 20’s and early 30’s raising a child that grew up predominately in the 1970’s presented its own culture clashes, but I was definitely never deceived about the world that we lived in.  Therefore, the story line concerning Atticus Finch as a the lawyer that defended the black man, Tom Robinson, who was wrongly accused and convicted of an assault of a white woman (he was later killed in prison) wasn’t lost on me.

Or, maybe my fascination with the book came from the fact that Atticus’s children figured so prominently in the story line.  Scout (his daughter), the protagonist, was the narrator of the story.  Even though she was retelling it as an adult looking back on her  childhood, there still were glimpses of her naivety and innocence lost as she faced the truth about racism, prejudice, and social bias in her hometown.  Heavy issues for a child to understand.   I think though, the character that captured my heart is Arthur “Boo” Radley.  I felt so sorry for him, that is, after I stopped being afraid of him.  Mysterious and reclusive,  Boo Radley is ridiculed and completely misunderstood.  Due to the fact that Scout and her brother, Jem, have never talked to him or  seen him, they fall prey to the rumors swirling about him.   Like the kids in the book, initially I thought that he was as bad as everyone said he was.  However, none of it was true.  He was, in fact, a sensitive soul, who wanted to be loved, but didn’t want to deal with the ugliness that existed in the world.    From the confines of his home, he kept and eye on Jem and Scout, which was a good thing because in the end, it was Boo Radley that saved their lives from the real bad guy.

It was this book that made me fully aware of the dangers of pre-judging people based on half-truths and erroneous information.  Bigotry does not only refer to race.  Bigoted behavior occurs when our pre-conceived notions cause us to mistreat others based on stereotypes, rumor and innuendo.  Tom Robinson and Boo Radley were both men persecuted simply because of appearances and both of them lost their lives, albeit in different ways.  Robinson, was killed in prison while serving time for a crime he didn’t commit.  By the way, I would be remiss if I let this moment pass without pointing out that this  book was written in 1960 yet, this is still happening today.  Think about that for a moment.   Radley, on the other hand, chose a life of self-imposed exile because he didn’t want to deal with the ugliness of society and the way it treats people who are at all different.   I have reread this book many times and I just can’t shake it.  I never want to because it is beautifully written and  wonderfully relateable then and now.

*This post is in response to the writing prompt 28 Days of Celebrating Thanks  Day 13: A Book that I am Thankful For.  Visit Champagne to Crayons to see more of the blog posts. 

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