Though it's part of high school curriculum across the country, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee is much more than a reading list requirement.
"I definitely think it has a lot more appeal than people think," said Cathy Power. She teaches classes in language arts, American literature and newspaper at North Gwinnett High School.
The book is often stereotyped as a young adult novel, but Power believes that it can be read and appreciated by adults as well.
The Gwinnett County Public Library has selected "Mockingbird" for Gwinnett Reads, its community reading initiative. During the next month, the library will host events ranging from book discussions to theatrical performances as part of the program.
Power has studied Lee's work in depth. She based her 1996 doctoral dissertation on the novel, writing 13 essays looking at the book from a variety of perspectives.
For Power, who grew up in Alabama, the "Mockingbird" project went beyond the academic. "It was kind of a personal journey for me," Power said.
While growing up, Power loved British literature and couldn't wait to leave the South. But while studying at Georgia State University, she rediscovered the power of Southern storytelling in a class about regional folklore.
"It really opened my eyes to my own life," she said.
The divide between the races in "Mockingbird" is familiar to Power. As a child, she remembers going to a movie theater where blacks and whites sat in different sections. At the doctor's office, there were separate waiting rooms. In second grade, she was pulled out of public school after the school system was integrated.
"It's really interesting because I consider myself a modern woman, but I witnessed all these things," she said.
A personal connection
Author Jack Riggs, who is writer-in-residence at Georgia Perimeter College in Lawrenceville, also has a personal connection to Harper Lee's novel. When his first book was published in 2003, it was compared to "Mockingbird," Riggs said.
He reread "To Kill a Mockingbird" after his "When the Finch Rises" was published. He thinks the novels were compared because both stories are told from a child's point of view.
His book is narrated by Raybert Williams, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a small town in North Carolina. The story, set in 1968, focuses on the hard lives of Raybert and his best friend Palmer Conroy. The innocence of the children is corrupted by the world of adults in his book, Riggs said.
"Mockingbird" deals with the same themes, he said. "For me, there is a melancholy in that loss of innocence," Riggs said.
"Mockingbird" is Lee's only published novel. "Literary lore has it that it's the perfectly written book and that's why she never wrote anything else," Riggs said.
Though authors have visited the library as part of past Gwinnett Reads programs, the author of "Mockingbird" will not be coming to Gwinnett to talk about her work.
"Harper Lee does not travel. She's very reclusive," said Cindy Murphy, marketing director of the Gwinnett County Public Library. "She wrote us a nice letter and said she couldn't come."
Gwinnett Reads Schedule
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is this year's Gwinnett Reads pick. The Gwinnett County Public Library will host a number of events as part of the county reading initiative. Call 770-978-5154 or visit www.gwinnettreads.org.
•Tuesday: A "More on Mockingbird: Beyond Boo" discussion will be held at 7 p.m. at Gwinnett University Center, 1000 University Center Parkway in Lawrenceville.
•Wednesday: A book discussion will be held at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at The Mall of Georgia, 3333 Buford Drive in Buford.
•March 3: Students will perform a reenactment of the novel's pivotal courtroom scene at 7 p.m. at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse, 185 Crogan St. in Lawrenceville.
•March 4: Mary Badham, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Scout in the film adaptation of the book, will speak at 7:30 p.m. at the Gwinnett University Center, 1000 University Center Parkway in Lawrenceville. Tickets are sold out.
•March 7: Actors from the New London Theatre will perform scenes from the novel at 4 p.m. at the Lawrenceville library branch, 1001 Lawrenceville Highway.
•March 8: A group discussion of the book will be held at 7 p.m. at Starbucks, 4825 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville.
•March 14: A movie screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be held at 7 p.m. at the Suwanee library branch, 361 Main St.
•March 15: A group discussion of the book will be held at 7 p.m. at Starbucks, 4615 U.S. Highway 78 in Lilburn.
•March 16: Actors from the New London Theatre will perform at 4 p.m. at the Peachtree Corners library branch, 5570 Spalding Drive in Norcross.
•March 17: A movie screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" in Spanish will be held at 7 p.m. at the Norcross library branch, 6025 Buford Highway.
•March 18: Actors from the New London Theatre will perform at 2 p.m. at the Buford library branch, 2100 Buford Highway in Norcross.
•March 18: Children can make a keepsake treasure box at 10:30 a.m. during a craft program at The Children's Arts Museum, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth.
About the book
"To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee, is set in the South in the 1930s and told through the eyes of young "Scout" Finch. The book reveals lessons learned when Scout's father, Atticus, is picked to defend an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman.