101 best books: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Dana Thompson

I’m a list person. You know the type: those slightly uptight hyper-organizers with categorized Moleskines and Evernote synced to both their laptop and their smartphone. People to whom sticky notes are tiny, multi-colored deities and whiteboards are the altars upon which they are worshipped. People who actually got a little misty-eyed at the sheer number of books in the “Listography” series (Film Listography. Love Listography. Music Listography).

I identify myself with these people. That fact, combined with my love of reading, makes any reading list a dangerous black hole that can be printed out and meticulously notated with which ones I have read and which I have still to conquer. They’re all the same: an enthralling, lovely time-suck.

Except the ones that have deadlines. That’s right. Collegeboard.com’s “101 Books to Read Before College”.

Aha! says my neurotic list maker. A challenge! I will rise to the occasion! (Three years later and I’m a sophomore with less than half the list checked off…) But really, who has the authority to tell us what to read? What makes these 101 books so vital to a successful college career? LET’S FIND OUT.

Going in no particular order, I’m going to start with a favorite of mine and one of the few on the list that I had already read: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” My dad read this to my sister and me when we were eight and twelve, entirely forgetting that an essential theme of the book deals with the rather confusing issue of rape.

“What’s rape?” asked my sister.

I, the seasoned twelve-year-old, looked away in mortification of her ignorance.

My dad stumbled over some obscure definition that neither of us understood and closed the book, muttering, “How did I forget about that?” to himself. Little did we know that we were pretty much acting out a scene in the book in which Scout asks Atticus the same thing and he responds in a similar way.

But now that I’ve gone back and read “Mockingbird,” I don’t blame my dad for forgetting. It’s a disjointed book, written in a very choppy, episodic manner. Like “The Jungle Book,” every chapter is its own separate entity. It’s like a photo album: a collection of snapshots. And, like all great books, it has the ability to keep growing and leaping out of the pages even when you close it.

Rape, racism, murder and lies viewed through the equalizing eyes of children: definitely a good book to read for people transitioning from youth to adulthood but inheriting what (sadly) appears to be the same world. If we don’t have Atticus to protect us anymore, the book asks, what do we do?