I feel embarrassed even to share this – my latest literary confession – but I feel I must. Just this past week, at the age of 51, I FINALLY read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. You may have heard of it. How in the world I managed to get to this advanced age and never have read it, honestly, is a mystery.
As I read this extraordinary book, I had a million things running through my mind. I felt that I wanted everyone to read, or reread, the book and think about how long the racial injustices have been going on in our country and how little, shamefully, has changed.
Published in 1960, To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the 1930s but, frankly, aside from the lack of technology, it could just as easily have been from 10 years – or 10 minutes – ago. As each chapter unfolded, I kept thinking, “this should be required reading,” and then I remembered that for most high school students in the United States, of course, it is.
Which led me to two other thoughts:
1) How did I never read this until now? Clearly, between about 25 and 51, it was because I didn’t take the time to do so. Shame on me. But before that, I realize now how strange, and incomplete, my education was. For one thing, I only went through sophomore year in high school because I took the California High School Proficiency Exam and skipped directly to junior college which, for me, was a great option. There, I studied critical subjects like tap dancing and theater make up. I can do some fancy footwork and make your face look a different age, but I still wish someone had insisted I read this book. Truth is, I don’t remember ever having a single book of literature assigned to me until I went to university many years later. That’s crazy because I love to read and those are assignments I would not have skipped. Dissecting frogs, maybe, but not reading.
2) If it is required reading – and has been for decades – for those of us who don’t skip the last two years of high school, then why is this country still so deeply in denial about how things play out in real life? Do readers think it is just a good piece of fiction? Do they not see the importance of everything Lee so masterfully crafted in her novel? Or is it not well discussed? Or do people just not care because they’d rather text their BFF or LOL IRL?
I don’t know the answer, but I feel both ashamed of myself for not having read this sooner, but also motivated that perhaps one day, I too can craft stories even a hint as well as Lee and try to remind people of the reality of the world we still live in, the one that doesn’t value lives equally. Regardless, I am a richer person for having finished Lee’s masterpiece and if you haven’t read it yet yourself, I can’t recommend it highly enough.