Tag Archives: racism

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

YTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Leees, I know.  Most people read this when they were in high school.  To be honest, I don’t remember what the book was we read in high school.  That is probably because I blasted through about a couple hundred books a year.  But, I know that To Kill a Mockingbird was not one of them.  I did see the movie, as I said in my review of Go Set a Watchman.

So, I should start with that.  Its not that the movie didn’t bear any resemblance to the book.  It was actually quite accurate.  At least as far as the portion they took the scalpel to in order to remove what they wanted.  But, the movie starts with the kids in front of the court house with Atticus.  That was more than 9 chapters into the book.

I understand why this book got the high reviews and praise that it did.  It is haunting and picturesque and a delight to the senses.  Admittedly, I think the fact that I listened to it on Audio added to that, as Sissy Spacek was the reader for it.  I don’t believe they could have found a more perfect choice of reader for Harper Lee’s book than Sissy.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been on the Banned Book list for a laundry list of reasons since it was first published, including that it was published under protest of the publisher because of the content.  The reality is that with the negative comments about blacks, including the word nigger, you also have the white trash elements, the class division that existed/probably still exists in the South.  The book speaks as its characters would have, thinks as they would have, behaves as they would have.  You cannot take an eraser to the words you don’t like and pretend that they were never used.  That the good an upstanding citizens of the south did not use them.  They did.  And the bigotry in the book is as real as the words that depict it.  As are the complexities of many of the characters.

And I think that is the genius of the book.  She shows you the humanness of all of the characters, even the most vile of them.  She gives them history and a voice.  You can still hate many of their words, their actions, but its tempered with a taste of understanding as well.  For Harper places their shoes upon your feet and sends you for a walk along their path.

The book is far more about the Fitch family, the children, Scout and Jem, their father Atticus, and their aunt Alexandra.  Its about growing up in a small town and full of memories many of us can relate to such as treasure finding, daring each other into scary places, and trying to understand the world of the grownups.  Its full of family secrets both win their family as well as whispered secrets about their neighbors.

The section carved out for the movie is but a sampling of what the book is about.  It is more to show the reality of the times, and what the law held for a black man accused in that time frame of a charge of rape.  It also shows how a small town, through this case, begins to have a struggle of conscience as it is growing and beginning to move beyond some of the prejudices.  For just as hate and prejudice don’t emerge overnight, they also do not go away overnight.  And that is one of the shining lights of the book.  To see how the community begins to mature and take a few more baby steps to being a bit more enlightened.

I hope we never see the banning of books such as this.  They are a slipping back into time, where many things were much simpler, where people took the time to swim in a creek and believe in ghosts in the neighbor house.  That the people often acted only as they had been taught how. And even the darker things such as rape and the treatment of blacks, it offers a treatise on how far we have come.  We should never erase or forget the words of our past.  For if we do, we are doomed to repeat them.

I don’t know that I agree in having To Kill a Mockingbird as a student requited reading.  I don’t think the young people will understand it the way that it should be understood.  Or if they are, they should be given it in a way that they are given the history and lessons of the book in a way for them to truly experience what it meant to live in that time, that place.  In a way that it is more than just words on paper.

Harper Lee has recreated life in the south in a way that only someone from there can.  If you are like me and have never read it, do yourself a favor and change that.  Read it, breath it, then close your eyes and dream it.

SephiPiderWitch

November 2015 

 

Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Ruby by Cynthia BondWow does not even begin to cover this book!  Cynthia Bond is a Storyteller of the highest degree.  She softly invites you to take a seat next to her so she can tell you something and gives you a taste of her tale.  You sit down and she slowly wraps a blanket of words about your shoulders, the sounds entering your flesh and mixing with your blood to travel to your heart.   Her lips busy speaking the words to guide more threads into the pattern.  She is not just telling you the story, she is making the story a part of your very soul.  The primal word thoughts of Ruby draw forth forgotten memories that live in all of us.  Magical words, desperate words, joyful words and painful words.

Ruby is the story of a young woman, a victim of abuse her entire life, given over to a brothel where the black girls are sold and rented for the men to do any dark intents to.  She learns to survive by internally fracturing, leaving her body to be used in whatever way their sick desires lead while she lets her mind wander.  When the men take her in the streets or gutters or behind the store counters, she retreats, merging with her environment, the nearby trees, rocks, streams.  She speaks with the ghosts of the children lost to abuse, drawing them to her and inside her to protect them.

Ephram sees her in a way no one else ever has.  He is untroubled by her past, understands the things she does are the only way she has ever known how to survive.  Ephram’s father was the Reverend, a harsh cruel and abusive man that had dark secrets.  Found hanging from a tree when Ephram was still young, Ephram was raised by his sister Celia.  He is docile and obedient to Celia until he meets Ruby again.

Ruby is told in scattered time frames.  The memories of the past merging into the events of the present.  Ephram and Ruby are introduced as children when they visit a Voodooein who sends them both off with poppets.  They don’t meet again till years later when Ephram sees Ruby laying in a puddle of mud in the gutter in town as the townspeople make fun of her.  He becomes enraptured with her and follows her quietly home where he begins to care for her as no one ever has, beginning with cleaning the filth and squalor of her home as well as her body, restoring her to the beauty that she is.

Ruby is a hard book to categorize.  Its a love story, sort of. Its a ghost story, but not like most ghost stories.  Its about the supernatural, magic, religions, superstitions, family, prejudice, abuse.  Its about just about everything that is ugly in humanity and everything that is beautiful in it.  Its about how nothing and no one are how they really appear to be, how things are more complex than they seem at the surface and how the complex can be viewed in simpler terms as well.  Its the paradox that life is, was and probably always will be told in imagery that emblazons your mind, words that ring through your ears and invades every sense with its magnificence and subtleties.

I keep very few novels on my shelves after reading them nowadays.   Only those whose words I know I want to revisit again and again.  There are not many that I feel that way about.   Cynthia Bond has become one of those few authors whose pages will find a permanent place on a shelf.  Her book, I doled out in small doses, savoring the words, for she is a master with them.  This is a book where you wish there were extra credit stars or some way to mark it as a truly exceptional work.  Alas, you are left with only giving it the highest marks that are in a standard rating.

The book jacket says Ms. Bond teaches writing to street people.  That is enough to make you want to pack up and move out into her streets to beg to sit for her classes.

SephiPiderWitch
June 15, 2015