Sunday, July 4, 2010

To kill a blood OR In cold mockingbird

I am one of those that reads To Kill a Mockingbird two or three times a decade.  There are legion of us.

This year is, of course, the 50th anniversary of its publication.  I say "of course" because I really truly do not know what you do with your time if you managed to miss this.  Either that or you live on an atoll (either virtually or actually) with no NPR & no public libraries, in which case I am very sorry for you.   Please accept my humblest apologies & consider getting out more.

Every Mockingbird landmark (anniversaries, movies based on the book, plays about the book, the decision by British librarians to list it as more vital reading than the Bible -go librarians!), someone always wanders back to Monroeville, Alabama to ask that slacker Harper Lee when she is going to get around to writing her second book.  There are only so many ways a southern woman can say "bite me" or "listen asshole, call me once your first book reaches half that acclaim & ask that question & then I will tell you to BITE ME"  so she more or less stopped talking about it in 1964.  Can you blame her, really?

I once heard Harper Lee described as a recluse & a modern Emily Dickinson & asked a friend of mine (who teaches Mockingbird year in, year out & still loves it) about that.  She said if Emily Dickinson managed to stay in college through that first semester, then went on to law school, lived & worked in NYC for a period, actively sought publication, I think you can see where this is going, only then could Harper Lee be said to be anything like Emily Dickinson.  I shared with her one of my favorite quotes (James Thurber, of course) in which Thurber compared himself to Salvador Dali.  He said his artwork had as much in common with Dali as on old ukulele in an attic has with a piano in a tree, & even then the piano would have to have breasts.  We laughed, we are pretentious literary types & that is the kind of thing we laugh at.

Back to the book:  ten or so years ago I thought I should maybe expand a bit & when I felt like reading Mockingbird (& sometimes I just DO) I should try try try to read something else first.  The natural choice was Truman Capote who, of course, appears in Mockingbird kinda-sorta (again, if you did not know this I am begging you please rethink your day, maybe even just run your errands in a different order).  It took a while but I finally worked my way to In Cold Blood.

I know there was recently a movie made about the writing of In Cold Blood (also called In Cold Blood, not to be confused with the 1967 movie called In Cold Blood based on the book In Cold Blood) which I did not see.  I planned to see it, at the theater even but a letter from the Shawn brothers in the New Yorker regarding the characterization of their father, who was Truman Capote's editor at the New Yorker made me decide to read the book first.  & I did.  & maybe you should, too.  Because Harper Lee went from writing To Kill a Mockingbird & expecting it to be quite small, to researching this book with her childhood friend & being quite overwhelmed by the impact of her not-so-small book.

1 comment:

  1. This took me back many years. I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" when it first came out and ran around telling everyone how remarkable it was.

    An acquaintance scoffed at me in front of several people. He hadn't read it, just the sort of person who was born knowing everything. "It's written in the persona of a child," he said scoffing, dismissing me entirely.

    Pulitzer prize anyone?

    Don't think I didn't exact revenge.

    I wonder if he ever read it...