I can’t explain why To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book.
I know I’m not the only one who cherishes the novel. I know I’m not the only one saddened by the passing of its beloved creator. Harper Lee changed lives with her words, something we all, deep down, hope to be able to do in our lifetimes.
But rather than be sad about the end of her life – because I did not know her personally, and only know her through her work – my mind instantly traveled back in time, to when I first picked up a copy of Mockingbird.
I was, as many of you were, a freshman in high school. It was the first book I ever had to read for a high school English class. As much as I loved reading, I had never particularly enjoyed doing it for a grade. And I honestly can’t remember if I finished reading it the first time around, when I was supposed to, because a teacher said so.
But I do know I started it, and even if I didn’t read it the whole way through then, I fell in love with it.
Our teacher spoke to us about how when Lee first submitted a draft of the manuscript, she was told that her book read too much like a collection of short stories. How the tales of Scout and Jem’s childhoods lacked a connective element.
It was the first time I was ever introduced to how the publishing process worked. How, when you write something, it is not perfect the first time. You have to add and take away things. You have to revise, or it will never be good enough.
That was enough to make me read the whole book on my own, even after we had finished it as part of our assigned readings for the class. Since then, I have reread it at least four or five times in my free time. I fall in love with it all over again every time.
I still can’t say exactly why I love the book itself so much. Because when I look back on that year, what I remember most is how my dream of becoming a writer began to bloom in a more sophisticated, mature way. In that same English class, I remember meeting my teacher after school to ask more questions about Iceberg Theory, which he did not expect from a shy fourteen-year-old, and told me so.
That was the year that same teacher recommended I take a creative writing class, the idea of which terrified me. The same year, for the first time, someone encouraged me to write, and submit my work places. No one had ever spoken to me about writing as a process with the intention of actually helping me pursue my passions.
When I think of Mockingbird, when I pick it up and start reading it again, I am immediately transported back to one of the happiest times in my life. So coming up with a reason why reading this book brings me so much joy almost isn’t necessary. I cannot tell you why the story is my favorite, why I love the characters so much, why it will remain my favorite for the rest of my life.
But I CAN tell you that when I think of Mockingbird, and the beautiful words Lee wove together in those pages, I think not of Scout Finch holding Boo Radley’s hand as she walks him back to where he belongs, but instead I visualize myself, as an aspiring writer, being led by an author I admire toward the ambitions I refuse to let die.
To fall in love with a story is to recognize a piece of yourself on every page.
Maybe it isn’t just the books themselves we love so much, but the memories we associate with reading those books. The time we took out of our summers to hunt for hidden meanings we missed the first time; the anticipation we felt when we had to wait to read the next chapter. The sadness we experienced when we finished the last page, and had to put the story down.
If Harper Lee truly is the reason I fell in love with words, then my sadness for this loss runs much deeper than I originally believed. But she is not gone, you see. For when you pick up that story again, and begin to read it, she will be there. A writer never finishes a story without leaving a part of herself behind.
Thank you, Ms. Lee. For everything.
Image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.