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Garys September Stories  – Of All the Books I Read Before

I was raised in a house of books.  A house, unlike a house of cards, doesn’t collapse at the slightest breeze but stands strong against whatever life blows at it.

My mother, like her mother, were avid readers who passed along their bibliophilia to me. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have a book in my hand and another one or two on the nightstand. While all books add something to our lives, there are a few that are the cornerstones to our personal foundations. For me, that book was “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Before I tell you why this book left such an impression on me and why I believe it contributed so much in shaping who I am, here’s why I love books and why this particular book became such a surprise favourite.

I was fascinated at first by the very physicality of books. Even before I could read, I watched my mom sit with this block of pages on her lap.  As she opened and turned the pages, I’d watch her facial expressions change.  When I was able to read – at a very precocious age, I might add – books were my portal to my own Neverland, my own OZ.  They excited my imagination and ignited my curiosity.

As I got older, my literary taste leaned more to non-fiction. I wanted to know as much about stuff as I could. I haven’t changed. I loved biographies. Walking in the shoes of great people and learning about what made them tick, what gave them the courage and tenacity to accomplish their dreams in the face of opposition.

I wanted to know how we got here so read about the rise and fall of empires. I wanted to learn about religions, politics, science, psychology, architecture, music, geography, astrology, plants, animals, insects.  I was interested in everything.

I was in high school that I was introduced and mandated to read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. As much as I loved reading, I was suspicious of anything that was a school requirement and as I mentioned, I much preferred non-fiction. You may have had a similar story of having to read “Of Mice and Men”, “Catcher in the Rye” or Hamlet”.  And perhaps, like me, once I got past the first chapter or two, or in the case of Hamlet, Act One, scene 3.

You were hooked.

To thine own self be true

I rarely read a book again – too many books, not enough time.  “To Kill a Mockingbird” is that rare book that I not only had I read again but have done so numerous times since – at least once every decade. And, no, I’m not telling you how many decades that represents. I consumed every word, treasured every page, and vicariously experienced every turn that the Finch family took over the three years described in the book.

Atticus Finch, the father, and “small-town” lawyer was the ideal dad that lived the ideal that he passed on to his children, “Scout” (who narrates the story), her brother, “Jem” and their close friend, “Dill”.

Harper Lee’s prose landed me solidify on the dusty streets of 1934 Maycomb, Alabama, inside the sepia-toned Finch home and seated in the upper “colored” level of somber Maycomb courthouse.

I have always thought of myself as a social justice warrior and this story resonated with my sense of right and wrong in a way that not even my Sunday school stories had.  I think what made this book so popular was that it is the story of an ordinary man courageously standing for moral principles.

The book is timeless because its lessons are.

On COURAGE: – (Atticus to his son Jem)

”…courage is when you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what”.

On MAJORITY RULE:- (Atticus explains to Scout that he feels morally obligated to defend Tom Robinson regardless of the community’s opinion.)

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

On EMPATHY: – (What Atticus said to Scout on how to get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.)

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

On RACISM: – (Atticus tries to explain to the children that the jury can get away with a decision an obviously innocent man because of racism, a racism that happens every day.)

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash”

On LOSS OF INNOCENCE: – (Atticus to the children on giving them an air gun.)

 “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

  (Miss Maudie adds…)

“Mockingbirds never do anyone any harm and are not pests in any way. All they do is sing beautifully and live peacefully.”

I also saw this part as being when young Scout, from observing racism and deceit first hand, loses her innocence but is given the weapon of wisdom and courage from her father to protect those other Mockingbirds she will come to meet in her life.

There’s a long list of books that we had to read in school, is there a book that you felt forced to read as an assignment that had an impact on your life?

Here a few that have found their way on my English class curriculum.

Have any of these impacted your life, or can you share with me a reading list book that had?

  1. Nineteen Eighty-Four – Georges Orwell
  2. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  3. Animal Farm – Georges Orwell
  4. Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
  5. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  6. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  7. Macbeth – William Shakespeare
  8. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. A Night to Remember – Walter Lord
  10. Two Solitudes – Hugh MacLennan

Here are a few quote gems inspired by “To Kill a Mockingbird” that may find their way into your treasure chest as they have mine.

polished gem

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In case you missed last month’s Gems, you can check it out here: Gary’s August Stories – The “All the World is a Stage” Issue

Gary's Monthly Gems