This is banned books week. The American Library Association has a list of the most challenged books of the decade, and I highly recommend checking it out. If you're like me, the list will boggle your mind. It's important to remember that there are still people out there who would censor some of the best books ever written. A number of the bloggers I follow have written about their favorite banned books, and reading these posts has inspired me to write about the banned book that means the most to me.
To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time-hands down-banned or otherwise. I didn't read the book in school, which is surely an indictment of my education. I read it on my own after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. I read it over the course of a Western road trip with a good friend of mine, and it had an immediate, profound effect on me. For my money, Atticus Finch is the best character in American literature. His integrity and perseverance in the face of evil still inspire me to this day.
Then there's Scout. Let's just say Jean Louise Finch made quite an impression on me. When the doctor told Meg and I that our first born was going to be a girl, I knew her name had to be Scout. Luckily for me, Meg was amenable, and I have to say, our Scout embodies the spirit of her namesake.
We did get a little push back from Scout this summer about her name. Like any good millenial (I think that's what they're calling her generation), she googled her name. There's not a ton out there (I did some googling myself), but there are some negative comments: Scout is a dog's name, no one will ever take anyone named Scout seriously, that kind of thing.
Ah, the internet, home of anonymous ignorance and cowardice.
I think Scout was mostly concerned about the transition to middle school and fitting in. As much as it bugs me, middle schoolers, for the most part, don't like to stand out. I was sympathetic to Scout's feelings and we had some long talks about the things that truly make a person unique. Now that Scout has made it through her first quarter of middle school, I think she's feeling better about her name. We were talking about names in the car the other day, and Scout commented that there are a lot of unique names nowadays, much more so than in the past. I told her that sounded about right, sensing that she had made her peace with her unusual name. I've always known Scout would need to be older to truly appreciate her name. I can respect that she's still working it out, and I have faith that she'll get there.
I think the main reason people have tried to ban Mockingbird is because of racist language, particularly, use of the n word. The language makes people uncomfortable, but that's the point. Harper Lee was shining a light on hatred and racism. Yes, the n word is abhorrent, but to exclude it from a book set in Jim Crow Alabama would have been dishonest. And that's the thing about To Kill a Mockingbird. It is the most unflinchingly honest book I have ever read.
I make it a point to reread The Bird every year. If you haven't read it in a while, maybe now is the time.