Why Read To Kill a Mockingbird?

This year, the Watertown Free Public Library, in collaboration with The New Repertory Theatre, has selected Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as our community read for One Book, One Watertown. Some of you have asked why we would choose a book so many have already read, a book routinely assigned in high school English classes.  


We’re glad you asked.


In 1960, Harper Lee published her first and only novel, a tour-de-force dealing with race, class, poverty, justice, and rape. Mid-century middle-America recoiled in horror from the subject matter, yet the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Two years later, the film adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Picture. By 1966, the book had found its way into classrooms across America, and authorities in Hanover, Virginia had begun a battle to ban it from the school district. Harper Lee sent $10 to The Richmond News Leader suggesting it to be used toward the enrollment of “the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.” Many such battles would follow.


Fifty years on, To Kill a Mockingbird is still one of the most widely challenged books in schools and public libraries across the country. The American Library Association reports that To Kill a Mockingbird was the 10th most frequently challenged title in 2011. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged#2011)


In sharp contrast, a 2006 poll of British librarians named To Kill a Mockingbird ahead of the Bible as “the one book every adult should read before they die.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/mar/02/news.michellepauli


In a pair of 1999 polls, To Kill a Mockingbird topped lists by both librarians and booksellers as the best novel of the 20th century.  (http://www.usatoday.com/life/enter/books/b842.htm


So what does it all mean?   What is it about this novel that affects people so strongly?   Love it or hate it, it’s clear that people respond to it – are challenged and changed by it. We believe that it’s worth exploring why and how the written word so moves us. We believe that Harper Lee’s novel – set in the deep south of the 1930s, and written in 1960 – still whispers its secrets across the miles and decades to the people of Watertown, Massachusetts in 2012.  

Race.  Justice.  Inclusion.  Tolerance.   Loyalty.   Family.   Innocence.   Ethics.  Values. 

The issues ring out as sharply and urgently to us today as they did to Harper Lee in 1960. And indeed, as they did to Atticus Finch in 1936 in a little town called Maycomb, Alabama.  Please join us in reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  Then join your neighbors, friends, and colleagues for a series of wonderful programs and discussions about who we are as a community and how this novel can help us all to embrace our shared humanity.
(NB:  Plenty of copies of the book are available at the library! Stop by today!)

Upcoming Events

September 12
9:30 AM
Senior Center Book Discussion
Book discussion at the Watertown Senior Center led by a Reference Librarian and a member of New Repertory Theatre.

September 13
5:30 PM Dinner
6:30 PM Movie
Dinner and a Movie!
Dinner catered by Blue Ribbon BBQ (plus pies and beverages), with a dinner-time discussion.  We’ll follow dinner with the Academy Award-winning 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird on the big screen.
Tickets: $8 per person, or $15 for two, available at the circulation desk.

September 15, 22, 29, & October 6
1:30 PM
Creative Writing Class!
Interested in writing? Join our creative writing course!  In this entertaining and instructive 4-week course, you’ll get the tools and tactics you need to get started on your writing or keep it going. Learn how to make your writing engaging, so others will enjoy reading it and you’ll enjoy writing it.  Class will be taught by local writing teacher Lynette Benton.
Registration is required.  Please stop by Reference Desk.

September 20
7:00 PM
From the Page to the Stage with New Repertory Theatre
Learn what it takes to develop the written word into a professional theatrical production including story approach, character development, and the collaborative design process: sets, costumes, sound, and lights.

September 27
7:00 PM
Community Violence Through the Eyes of Children workshop with Families First of Cambridge.   Join us for this workshop designed to help parents to understand the effects of community violence on our children, and what we can do to help them cope.

October 3
7:00 PM
All-Community Book Discussion!
Community book discussion and a sneak peek at selected scenes from the new film Our Mockingbird by Watertown filmmaker Sandy Jaffe!   From the Our Mockingbird website:

Two high schools in Birmingham, Alabama
– one black, one white –
collaborate on a life-changing production of the play,
To Kill A Mockingbird.

How many lives have been changed by this story?

October 16
7:00 PM
Special preview screening of the complete film Our Mockingbird at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.

October 22
6:30 PM
Free gospel/traditional black spirituals performance by the AzOne Trio prior to opening night of New Repertory Theatre’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.
The concert will be free and open to the public.   Anyone wishing to stay for the play, may purchase a ticket from the New Repertory Theatre.
Tickets for opening night: $14 or $10 with library card

PLUS!
-    Our Monday night movies in September and October will explore themes raised by To Kill a Mockingbird.
-    The Great Mockingbird Trivia Challenge – keep your eyes on the Reference Desk for details!
-    And more!

Written by Reference Librarian Jill.

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