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Banned Books Week: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

September 24th through October 1st is Banned Books Week. Last year, I blogged my thoughts on book banning. This year, I’ve picked seven books from the ALA’s list of frequently challenged classics, and will explain over the week why those books are awesome. Also, I have a copy of each book, and will be giving them away to seven lucky winners! Read to the bottom for details.

If you’ve been living under a rock: Told through the innocent eyes of his six-year old daughter Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch, his defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman, and the turmoil that the case creates within the “tired old town” of Maycomb.

Why it gets banned: I could basically repeat most of the reasons why Huckleberry Finn gets banned for this book too. Language, of course. The book contains such profanities as “damn” and “whore lady,” as well as racial slurs and other such verbal barbs as were an integral part of the fabric of southern speech during the Great Depression. But to me, this reason why the book was challened at the Warren, IN Township schools in 1981 pretty much takes the cake:

[The book] represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.”

Why that’s dumb: I’ve talked about offensive language more than once in this series, and won’t do so again here. As to institutionalized racism, well duh, that’s what good literature is for! Among other things, of course, good literature should represent the ugly parts of society exactly so we can talk about them, recognize their ugliness, and work to fix them. Huckleberry Finn was treated the same way and for the same reasons. The Catcher in the Rye got criticized for exposing society’s underbelly of hypocrisy. Same with Lolita, only for talking about pedophilia instead.

It’s always the same. Good literature should challenge us with the things we do wrong, so we can stop doing that. One of these days, somebody’s going to write a great novel with global warming as its theme—how we’re being poor stewards of the earth, how unfair it is for today’s generations to mess the planet up for tomorrow’s, et cetera—and I promise you that at some point, somewhere, somebody’s going to challenge that book for “representing global warming under the guise of good literature.” When that happens, it will mean the book is doing its job.

Why this book is awesome: This is a personal reason, but I love this book simply for the way it’s written. Harper Lee captures the voice of young Scout Finch so beautifully. A great novel lets you live for a while inside somebody else’s skin, and the voice of that character is the primary tool by which this happens. Harper Lee did such a masterful job with Scout Finch that she fits the reader like a glove.

I also love this book for its bittersweet, yet entirely believable ending. Having written my share of manuscripts, I know that can’t have been an easy thing to do. It took courage to write the ending like she wrote it, and I don’t know that I’d have had the courage to do the same thing. It would have been easy to reach for the happy ending, for the ending in which good triumphs over evil, and the cancer of institutional racism that yet ran strong in the 1960s was given a way to avoid looking at itself in an un-distorted mirror. I can only imagine that Harper Lee must have been tempted, at least a little bit, to end it that way.

But it wouldn’t have been the right ending. It wouldn’t have been the honest choice. I salute Harper Lee for her bravery and can only hope that if I’m ever faced with a similar choice in one of my novels, that I remember the lesson of To Kill a Mockingbird. Then I’ll know what to do.

Win this book! Besides pontificating, what could be a more fitting response to Banned Books Week than to give away copies of these books? I’m giving these seven books, one per winner, to randomly selected people who share this post on Twitter. Just click the Tweet this! link at the bottom of the post. I will announce the winners on Monday, October 3rd.

If you’re just joining us, here’s the rest of the posts:

September 28, 2011 16:38 UTC

Tags: Banned Books Week, Harper Lee, censorship

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