Like most people, I was required to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee when I was a freshman in high school. I was a good student and I always did the required reading (at that point at least) but I didn’t always enjoy it. So I didn’t necessarily begin TKAM with high expectations. But from the beginning, I was completely sucked into Scout’s world and taken for a wonderful ride.
My 9th grade English teacher went on maternity leave right as we were starting TKAM. Our substitute for the remainder of the year was a teacher we all called “Ms. M.” She was the best sub I have ever had (she eventually got a full time position at my school and still teaches there today). We often read parts of TKAM aloud in class. Ms. M had just moved to Michigan from Tennessee and had this fantastic Southern accent when she read aloud. I would get completely lost in the world of TKAM when she read from it. I used to hate when teachers read aloud in class because I could read much faster to myself, but this was something I looked forward to every day. It remains a strong memory in my life and I will always be thankful to Ms. M for that experience.
Despite my love of Ms. M’s reading, I got so sucked into the book that I read ahead (this would not happen to me in school again for 3 more years when I read A Farewell to Arms). I just had to know what happened. I stayed up late one night finishing the book and knew, even at 14, that I had just finished something amazing.
A lot of lawyers credit TKAM with inspiring them to become a lawyer. I am not one of those people. But it did inspire a love for literature. I had always been a reader, but TKAM was the book that showed me “classics” could be enjoyable and introduced me to a whole new world of books (I realize TKAM may not be quite old enough to be a classic but it was my inspiration nonetheless). Thanks to TKAM, I approached subsequent required reading with an open mind and sought out other older books that weren’t taught to me.
So thank you, Harper Lee, for giving us To Kill a Mockingbird. And a big happy 50th anniversary to the novel.
Check out my husband’s thoughts about TKAM here (hint: it is his favorite book of all time).