Mayor Jenny Durkan on the Book that Made the Difference

This past November, Seattle swore in a new Mayor and City Councilmember, and we here at ShelfTalk thought this would be a great opportunity to continue our series of posts in which we invited your representatives to share books that have meant a lot to them. This time, we asked them “What book was most influential in your life or career and why?” Mayor Jenny Durkan reflects on a book that has had a powerful influence on so many readers, herself included.

“What book was most influential in your life or career and why?”

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I have read this book many times, and each time I am struck by something new.  Two scenes were particularly influential on my career. The most significant is Atticus’ closing arguments, in which he refers to the courts as the “great leveler”. To him this means every person has a right to justice, regardless of race, personal circumstances, station in life, or background. This view of justice has inspired me to work on issues of inequality and discrimination. While we have not achieved Atticus’ vision of universal justice, I have fought to realize this goal for my whole career.

The other scene that always struck a chord with me was when the community mob goes to the jail with the intention of lynching Tom. Scout appears and does not seem to recognize the gravity of the situation. She calls out innocently to someone in the mob (Mr. Cunningham) by name, asking after his son. She simply asks him to tell his son “hey.” The tension is broken, and the man feels ashamed. He then calls for everyone in the mob to leave. This reminds us that people’s individual humanity is the best weapon against injustice.

I have also always liked the quote: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Editor’s note: If you’ve never read Lee’s brilliant novel, or if you’d like to revisit an old friend, you can find the print book and ebook, as well as the excellent audiobook narrated by Sissy Spacek on CD and MP3, at your Library.

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