I know I’m not alone in this but To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all time favorite books and movies. Unusual kind of, usually if I really like the book I don’t like the movie that much and vice-versa But I love them both when it comes to TKAM. I have been reading a lot of blogs and other articles about the anniversary and about the book and movie. Most of the comments on these blogs are of the adoring fan type, how much they loved the book, how it affected the reader as a child growing up in the south, or in the north, what it taught them about racism in America. And then there have been the other type, those who complain that the book hardly showed the true face of racism, that it didn’t have enough of an effect on the American culture, that it didn’t change anything. Some people even get really angry and rude and make personal attacks against other commenters.
Harper Lee, the author of TKAM has said almost nothing about it; she lives in seclusion in her hometown. I quite some time ago read a book called Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields. Shields wrote the biography without the support or assistance of Nelle Harper Lee, but he wrote it based upon his interviews with family and friends including Truman Capote. Capote and Lee had grown up together in Monroeville Alabama and many believe that the character of Dill Harris in TKAM is fashioned after Capote. The two remained friends for many years, Capote was one who encouraged Lee to write. Lee also worked as Capote’s research assistant for In Cold Blood, although he did very little to acknowledge her help on the book.
Reading all the comments, thinking about the book and about Shields’ book as well I began to think, if there were one person I would like to just sit down and talk to, about her life, about writing, about all of it, it is Harper Lee. The woman fascinates me. I wonder if for her, as she wrote the book, if she realized the long-term affect it would have on people, or how people would use her book as a hallmark of the state of racism in this country. Or, did she really write a fictionalized account of what was really a memoir. Lee’s father, like Scout’s father was a small town southern lawyer and many believe Atticus is based upon her father. Was she trying to make a statement about racism or was she trying to write about her life and those core values her own father instilled in her about right and wrong.
One of NPR’s most e-mailed stories over this last week was one about To Kill a Mockingbird and the 50th anniversary. There was a serious argument between about three of the commenters about the book and racism. One commenter wrote:
I still contend that a fictionalized account, if it makes people start the discussion, or think about things in a new way, is better than never raising the consciousness at all. We've a long way to go, and I'm in favor of things that move the conversation along-even if it doesn't happen at the pace at which I think it needs to do.
No matter what Harper Lee’s intent might have been, we can be thankful that she at least continues to make people start the discussion or think about things in a new way.
I would like to read the book again, with my over 50 year old eyes and my over 50 year old experiences. I still wonder what a second book from Lee would have been like. Or did she write the perfect first book?
But as I thought about it, I thought of a few others I would love to sit and talk to, to talk about writing, and success and failures and life in general. Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor come to mind immediately, can you imagine sitting at that table? Wow. I began to ask myself, are there any contemporary writers that I would also invite to my imaginary round table? Absolutely, Anne Lamott and Alice Sebold.
So whom would you love to sit and talk to if you could pick any five people? Are there people who have influenced your own writing (if you write) or your way of thinking? I’d love to hear other people’s “fantasy 5”.