Another great guest post today! I asked the author of Through Angels Eyes, Steve Theunissen, what his favorite book is. I love this questions, because there are so many possibilities. Plus, it's great insight into a person.
My favorite book
I was 14 and looking forward to the text that had beens set by my English teacher. The sound of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein appealed to my teenage lust for gore. So I wasn’t too pleased when Miss Sykes announced that Mr Jones from Room 16 had beaten her to the library and checked out all 16 copies of Frankenstein two days ago. I’d already zoned out by the time she announced the replacement text. When a copy was plonked on the desk in front of me I announced that I wasn’t going to read some sissy rubbish about birds (yes, I was one of those students). Miss Sykes’ reply was formulaic yet oh so appropriate.
“Stephen,” she said, “You should never judge a book by it’s cover - or it’s title.”
“But, this title doesn’t even make sense,” I protested, “ What is ‘To Kill A Mockingbird” meant to mean? It’s not even a proper sentence.”
“Just give it a try,” my ever patient teacher replied. “I think you’ll really like it.
Well, she was wrong. I didn’t like it - I loved it. Still do. In fact, it’s the only book that I re-read every year. That book switched me on to three things that have had a major impact on my life ever since - reading, writing and the issue of racism in the American South. So what is it about To Kill A Mockingbird that hooked me and hasn’t let me go yet - 33 year after first encountering it?
The thing that first hit me was how the story is told through the eyes of a child and so reveals the hypocritical world around us as filtered through the innocence of Scout’s mind. The scene in which she manages out unwittingly dissipate a mob set on a lynching by innocently speaking to the mob’s leader as an individual is powerful because Scout brings the members of that mob face to face with their consciences.
The character of Atticus also had a powerful impact upon me. Atticus believes in being honest and straightforward with his children, always listening to their opinion and answering difficult questions, even the embarrassing ones. He is also consistent in character, whether at home or in public. When I became a parent, I strove to emulate these qualities in dealing with my own children.
The dual stories of Boo Radley and Tom Robinson and the symbolic mockingbird motif that refers to both of them also resonated with me. Both Tom and Boo show kindness, they are both innocent and they are both victims of prejudice. The connection between Tom and Boo is recognized by Scout at the book draws to a conclusion when she says that the public exposure of Boo Radley, with his shy ways, would be ‘sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.’
To Kill A Mockingbird was the first book I’d read that that had a poetic beauty to it’s language. It showed what really good writing could achieve. In so doing it inspired me to become a writer and a teacher of literacy - thank you Harper Lee.