2017-10-18 / Editorials

Try following Atticus’ advice

Other Voices
Mitch Clarke

I love books. Fiction. Nonfiction. It doesn’t really matter.

I’ve been this way since childhood, when I was sharing the adventures of teenage detectives Frank and Joe Hardy. Soon after that, I was floating down the Mississippi with Huck and Jim, experiencing the Civil War through the eyes of Scarlett and Rhett and learning about racial inequality with Scout Finch.

I love the way it feels to open a brand-new book for the first time. I love the way an old book smells. The smell of an old bookstore is rivaled only by that of a freshly mowed lawn or brewing coffee.

I love the adventures that books can create. Or they can open a door so you can share someone else’s. In books, anything can happen. Dragons and wizards are real. We can capture a Soviet submarine from right under their noses. We can travel back in time.

Books can also be a window into your own world. Books can make you think. But this is good. It lets you expand your mind, become open to new things. Not necessarily change your mind. But let you grow as a person.

A school district in Alabama has pulled “To Kill a Mockingbird” from its eighth-grade reading list because its content makes some people uncomfortable. So what, I say.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is my favorite novel. It has richly developed characters, a strong storyline that is at times tense, at time endearing. Lee uses its Southern setting of Maycomb, Ala., to take a bold look a race, particularly considering it was first published in 1960.

I think “Mockingbird” holds a special place for people like me who grew up in very Maycomb-like towns. I can relate to Scout. I understand her questions. Like Scout, I needed to hear Atticus’ explanation in Chapter 3.

“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.”

In many ways, “Mockingbird” is two, distinct stories. There were the summer days of Scout, Jem and Dill, playing hide-and-seek and trying to sneak a peek at Boo Radley.

I grew up in the South more than 40 years after the setting of “Mockingbird.” But those summer days always connected with me. As a child, my friend Andy and I built forts in the woods near our houses and rode our bikes to the Suwannee Swifty convenience store to buy candy and drinks. Like Scout and Jem, we didn’t have to go in at night until our parents walked outside and yelled for us.

The other part of “Mockingbird” is more difficult to grasp. It’s the part that deals with racial inequality and the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man wrongly charged with raping a white woman.

Race in the South has always been a complicated issue. Was in Harper Lee’s world of 1930s Maycomb. Was when I was a child in Southwest Georgia in the 1970s. And still is in so many ways.

As a child, I was barely aware of the issues surrounding race. My first grade year was the first year Early County schools were integrated. There were concerns, I learned years later, that there might be problems. But like Scout, I didn’t understand. It didn’t make sense.

In many ways, things don’t make sense today. We are deeply divided as a nation. As such, I can think of nothing better this nation could do than re-read “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

And then follow Atticus’ advice.

Mitch Clarke, a native of Blakely, is the editor of AccessWDUN. com in Gainesville. He can be contacted at mitch.clarke@gmail.com. Read previous columns at www.accesswdun.com/ blog/mitch.

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