In today’s post for Banned Books Week, Emily discusses her love for To Kill a Mockingbird and how it influenced her personal beliefs and career.
Emily Harting, Director of Development and Communications
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Why was this book banned?
Technically, because of racially and sexually charged themes that are inappropriate for children. Vulgar language, racial slurs, and political content are other reasons. It’s been banned as recently as 2016 in Virginia. However, to me it is banned because people and the establishment are uncomfortable with the harsh and true portrayal of life for African Americans in the South in the 1930s (or 1960s when it was published … or even now) and what that says about white people.
Why do you love this book?
This book deeply informed not only my sense of justice, but how important it is to have integrity. It is why I work for social justice as an adult. It is also exquisitely written. The characters are indelible – they never leave you once you meet them. Jem and Scout. Boo Radley. Atticus. Calpurnia. The Ewells. Never have I loved a character as I love Atticus. And never have I hated one as much as I hate Bob Ewell. I think I read it at a particularly influential time in my life – I remember identifying so much with Scout – as a tomboy-ish child, too curious for my own good (I probably read this book for the first time at age 8 or 9). I think at the time I read it my eyes were opened to injustice for the first time – I identified with her awe at how unjust the world actually was. And I love the surprise ending.
What is your favorite quote from this book?
So many! The one that gives me chills every time I read it (think it, see it) is: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin.'” It is the whole book summed up in 8 words.
Why is literacy and access to books important to you?
Reading is to me as breathing. Which is another amazing quote from the book – “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” Reading is how I understand the world. There’s a famous James Baldwin quote – “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” I am certain that I am the person I am because I was taught to read by my Nana Hicks at an early age and loved it – and read voraciously ever after. I am certain my boundless compassion and empathy for others and my need to work for social justice and the betterment of the world is because of my love of reading and putting myself in others’ shoes – in others’ skin – so often. I feel their pain and heartbreak, challenges and triumphs, loves and losses. It’s also my escape. Currently the world is too bad. Reading is the only thing that gives me an escape. TV doesn’t. Friends don’t. Movies don’t. Only with reading can I fall through the rabbit hole and be in another world.
This week marks Banned Books Week, which celebrates everyone’s right to read. This year’s theme stresses the importance of the First Amendment and our right to read in the ongoing battle against censorship. As we reviewed lists of the top challenged books throughout the years, we asked our staff to talk about their favorite banned books, and the importance of literacy and access to books in their lives.