I’ve been a school marm longer than I’d care to recall, teaching literature to young’uns in the Deep South. So, what I’m about to say is definitely about to ruffle a few feathers, especially amongst my English teacher friends. I have a confession to make, and since The Great American Read just declared its winner, this seems like the right time to commit what amounts to literary heresy.
Okay…here it comes…I don’t love To Kill a Mockingbird.
Breathe, Gentle Reader. Yes, I’ve read it…multiple times. Yes, I’ve taught it…multiple times. The way I see it, it’s kind of like Great Aunt Ida May’s Jello salad at Thanksgiving. Everybody expects it to be there because it’s been there since Granny was a girl. Its recipe has been passed down from mother to daughter and the whole family takes a spoonful, whether they like it or not. It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.
Saying I don’t think To Kill a Mockingbird is the greatest thing since Scout went to the fall carnival as a ham is tantamount to the time my mama added pastel marshmallows to Great Aunt Ida May’s Jello salad. It just ain’t fittin’.
When I teach the novel, I can’t help but identify with Dolphus Raymond, pretending to sip whiskey from a brown paper bag while it’s really an ice cold Co-cola. I fulfill the role I’m expected to fulfill just like I choke down that gelatinous mess with a smile on my face. I’m a snake oil salesman just prepping those sweet babies for the hell of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter heading their way.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I totally get why this is a beloved novel as well as why it would be the pick for the Great American Read. Like that Jello salad, there’s a lot going on in it that helps hold it—and us—together. It provides a kind of nostalgic redemption that many readers find appealing, if not endearing.
I’d like to kindly suggest a few other “Great Alabama Reads” to tickle your literary fancy. Alabama has a rich literary history that reaches well beyond Maycomb County. These are some of the books that I hope you haven’t missed. Each one has affected my outlook in some manner. These are in no particular order.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: No one captures the ennui and disillusionment of 1920s America better.
Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress: Great coming of age story in the Civil Rights Era. Peejoe may just steal your heart.
Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund: Melville meets his match in this flipped perspective which jumps from the classic.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café by Fannie Flagg: The movie was just a’ight compared to this book.
Do pick up one or more of these novels and get yourself another helping of Alabama literature. They may not be as iconic as Mockingbird, but I can guarantee you they’ll be at least as interesting as Great Aunt Ida May’s Jello salad.