To Kill a Mockingbird

Editor’s note: Harper Lee’s  To Kill a Mockingbird was published 50 years ago this month. To celebrate this important literary anniversary, Brad Allen shares what Mockingbird means to him. This post was originally written for  the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in observation of Banned Books Week

book coverWhen I was young, pretty much all you could get me to read were movie novelizations—Gremlins, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Fletch, the list goes on. I loved them; consider it a lack of imagination. But at age twelve, I befriended a girl who read real books. In her attempts to smarten me up, she insisted that I read To Kill a Mockingbird and harassed me until I agreed.

The book changed my life. Never had I read a novel of such humanity and meaning. Had I ever in my elementary school education read a book with a theme? I marveled at Atticus Finch’s bravery in his defense of a falsely accused African-American in 1930s Alabama. I appreciated the realistic, unapologetic resolution to the trial—no sugar-coated ending here. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great story for children who are learning how think critically and dispel the ignorance of past generations. But it is also a story for us all; it reminds us to question our prejudices, to stand and fight for justice and equality in our society. To Kill a Mockingbird showed me that a novel could entertain and enlighten, a book could mean something and communicate powerful messages about human character and decency. It deserves its popularity. It begs to be read and discussed.

So why is To Kill a Mockingbird one of the most challenged and banned books in America? It has been attacked as inappropriate for children because of racial slurs, profanity, and its frank depictions of rape. The book has been challenged as being racist and perpetuating African-American stereotypes and the paternalism of liberal South whites. Expounding on this idea, Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote a thought-provoking article in the New Yorker discussing “Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism.”


Meet Brad at the Evergreen Branch

The Evergreen Branch recently welcomed a new manager, Brad Allen. Brad comes to us from Kansas, where he worked at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. We’re happy to introduce him to you here. Be sure to say hello next time you’re at the Evergreen Branch.

Brad Allen
Welcome to Everett! You drove here from Topeka. That’s a long drive. Did you listen to any cool music or audiobooks?
book coverWarren ZevonIt is a long drive indeed, but I’m a fan of road trips. I listened to two great audiobooks: I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb and T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain. I also listened to some of my favorite music including Pavement, Wilco, Radiohead, R.E.M., Neil Young, Warren Zevon, and The xx.

Kansas makes me think of The Wizard of Oz. Can you recommend any favorite Kansas authors or books or movies about Kansas?
Wizard of OzWildwood BoysI’ve yet to travel from Kansas and not heard, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” It’s an irresistible response to learning someone is from Kansas. Two great authors more or less from Kansas are Gordon Parks and Langston Hughes. A great book is James Carlos Blake’s Wildwood Boys, a historical novel about the pre-Civil War Kansas-Missouri Border Wars told from the perspective of Bloody Bill Anderson. I love John Williams’ Butcher’s Crossing, set in both Kansas and Colorado. John Williams’ wonderful book Stoner is one of my absolute favorites, but it’s set in Missouri.

Do you have any favorite books or shows with a Washington setting or author?
Financial Lives of the PoetsTwo of my favorite television shows are closely associated with Washington: Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. As for books, I’ve recently become a fan of Spokane author Jess Walter and Olympia author Jim Lynch. The Financial Lives of the Poets and Border Songs are two of the best books I’ve read in the past year.

What’s your favorite book?
StonerRevolutionary RoadMy all time favorite is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. Yates is an incredibly underrated writer. My previous favorite book was David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The aforementioned Stoner is a recent favorite.

What was your favorite book growing up?
Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyTo Kill a MockingbirdThe book that blew my mind as a youngster was Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its meditation on the great expanses of time and the universe changed the way I thought about the world. The other seminal book of my childhood was To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it the summer after sixth grade and it hooked me on a life of reading.

What’s your favorite movie?
Nurse BettyThe Big LebowskiThe Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski is the greatest movie of the last 25 years. Other favorites are Mulholland Drive, Nurse Betty, Ghostbusters, and No Country For Old Men.

Infinite JestIf you were stranded on Jetty Island and could only take three books, what would you take?
Infinite JestI’ve been meaning to reread it and it’s really long. Charles Willeford’s Sideswipe. And Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow — it might be quiet enough to actually concentrate to read it.