The books that changed my life: #1 To Kill A Mockingbird

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I’m going to start my new series with a cliché, but it’s true- this book has had a profound effect on my life.

I first read this book ten years ago when I’d decided to become a teacher. Before then, it had kind of been on my radar, but as a teenager I’d never picked it up. So I read this unassuming novel in the summer when I lived on my own in a tiny flat in Leeds. I think I finished it in a day or too and came away utterly convinced that this was one of the best books I’d ever read.

Why does it affect those who read it so strongly? I think it’s because it has such a simple message- that despite all our differences, in Atticus Finch’s words:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

It’s something that is so easy to forget, especially in a world beset by people who seem hell-bent on us hating those who are different from us. The fact that the world in the novel is seen through the eyes of six-year-old Scout makes the whole premise of judging people as different seem a ridiculous notion. After all, we’re not born hating people because of their skin colour or their religious beliefs. As Scout simply puts it,

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

The book has so many messages that I want to live by and to teach my son to live by; every so often, I revisit it and re-read it, just to remind myself that the world is not completely a dissolute place. I also show the film to students whenever I have an excuse. Often, the film adaptation of a novel does not do the source material justice, but Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch is one of the greatest moments in 20th century cinema.

It’s one of those books that, if I find out people haven’t read it, I will make sure they get a copy for their next birthday. I’m not claiming that To Kill A Mockingbird would solve any of society’s ills, but maybe-just maybe- if we’d all read it, the world might just be a slightly better place to live.

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