The news in the book world this week, of course, is about an intensely private woman who for most of her adult life maintained that she said all she wanted to say, and she wasn't going to publicly say any more.
Now, she will “speak” on the pages again. Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has a second book coming out.
Actually a first book, apparently. According to news stories, Lee had penned “Go Set a Watchman” first. It’s a story written and set in the 1950s, when a 29-year-old woman from New York returns home to Alabama to visit her aging father. His name is Atticus Finch. You know her as Scout.
|Cover of recent paperback edition.|
I don’t know what a 29-year-old Scout will be like, and maybe Harper was right to think she had said it all in “Mockingbird.” The story goes that she showed her first novel, “Watchman,” to some editors way back when. They liked it, but even more they liked some flashback scenes which were set in the Depression era South. Those became “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Will I read a second Harper Lee book? Oh, sure. I loved the first one. It’s one of those books that is worth rereading—encounter it when you’re young, and read it again as an adult.
I would be interested in whatever else Ms. Lee had written. But there are some questions—she clearly had refused to submit this other book for publication for most of her life, and it only surfaced after the death of her sister, apparently a lifelong ally in Ms. Lee’s quest to be left alone. Coming out now when she is old, frail and without her sister’s protection raises some questions: Mostly, why now?
Then again, Ms. Lee has followed her own drummer for many years. Maybe she just decided it’s time. I hope so.
Anyway, while it’s controversial to some, with its themes of race, sex and rape, I put “To Kill a Mockingbird” among the you-really-should-read-it list of books for any American youth. And it makes me think of what other books I consider key in my own young journey to some level of literacy. What else made Young Joe want to read and to write?
- “Half Magic” by Edward Eager. And the rest of his light, whimsical books, including “Magic by the Lake” and “The Well Wishers.” I think I would call “Half Magic” the better book now, but I would say “The Well Wishers” was by far the most enchanting Edward Eager book to 11-year-old Joe. I don’t know if there’s a tie there for a white Midwestern boy, but “The Well Wishers,” like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has a racial undertone.
- “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. The main character saves someone’s life through creativity and writing, and then herself dies in a heart-wrenching chapter, that, honestly, makes me choke up a bit even today just typing this sentence. Well, at least Charlotte’s daughters hang around. If you read “Charlotte’s Web” and didn’t love it, I don’t want to talk to you.
- “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. It was important to me, because around the age of 9 or so it was the very first “chapter book” that I struggled through on my own. Of the Narnia books, I actually eventually grew more fond of “The Horse and His Boy,” but LW and W still has a special place in my heart.
- “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Not as full of boring elf hotels as “The Lord of the Rings,” the story of Bilbo’s quest to find a dragon without any clear notion of what he was going to do with the dragon when it was found was just too much fun. My father read it aloud to us as children, but I was still fairly green when I read it for myself.
- “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert A. Heinlein. I read it when I was young, and didn't pick up its rather dour libertarian political overtones, which I strenuously disagree with today. But it was still a good book to read as a youth just to open my eyes to lots of different ways to view the political world. And I didn't notice, at the time of my youthful reading of the book, that the narrator was black, so this is again a book with racial overtones, although I didn't find that out until I was well into adulthood. Like “Charlotte’s Web,” I think the fact that it grapples with death is part of its appeal, too. Bog, is a computer one of your creatures?
|Granddaughter "reading." She will learn to turn the book over.|
Well, students, we’ll see what our text author says about books in general. For you personally, what are books that have meant something to you, particularly books that you were not forced to read but rather chose to read in your younger days? And, blog universe in general, same question, but also how do you feel about Harper Lee’s new book?
Me, I’ll probably be in line the first day it’s available.
I can’t help myself. Atticus was a nice guy, but frankly I didn't really fall that hard for him. A saint is difficult to love. Jean Louise, on the other hand—baby, Scout, where have you been?