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A Second Gift from Harper Lee?

February 11, 2015

 

A Second Gift from Harper Lee?

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

On February 14, 1963, the movie version of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird opened in New York City.  In that late winter of 1963, when I was twelve, I do not remember seeing the famous movie at the Palace Theatre in Clinton, Indiana, nor at the Indiana Theatre, in Terre Haute.  I really only remember seeing Scout, Atticus Finch, and all the other memorable characters on the small screen of a television, yet there was absolutely nothing small about the impact of the writing of Harper Lee.

 

A few years earlier–July 12, 1960–To Kill a Mockingbird debuted on bookstands  and in libraries for readers.  However, I did not read the novel until years later.  At my high school, students were given a list of books from which one could select a book for the semester’s book report.  In 1964, when I was a freshman, I distinctly remember that Harper Lee’s novel was not on the reading list.  Nevertheless, To Kill a Mockingbird intrigued me because a young teacher of English at my high school was allowing her students to read Harper Lee’s novel.  The older teacher whom I had for freshman literature did not make such an exception.  Thus, with my diminishing vision, I selected a novel of the fewest number of pages–either Goodbye, Mr. Chips (by James Hilton, copyright 1935) or Lilies of the Field (by William E. Barrett, copyright 1962).  While I still love both of these shorter novels, I do wish I had first read the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel while I was in high school and before I saw the classic movie.

 

Some years later, I did read Ms. Lee’s novel and thought then, as I do now, that the novel is even much better than the superb movie.  Eventually, I decided that I should re-read To Kill a Mockingbird each summer not only because the book is an excellent read, but because the tome is a writing lesson.  I recall reading that a budding writer once typed the entire text of To Kill a Mockingbird to learn better the craft of novel writing.  In one book jacket, Ms. Lee gave us the gift of both a compassionate and compelling story, as well as  a textbook for writers and students of the craft.

 

Now, we hear that Harper Lee has another gift for readers to be presented to an eager public in July.  After waiting fifty-five years for another novel by Ms. Lee, can we wait five months more?  Go Set a Watchman, written before her famous novel, is described as a sequel in which Scout will no longer be a child.

 

In July, will we be peering into pages that will satisfy our curiosity, will we relish the second gift from the pen of Ms. Lee, or will we wish we could keep the image of Scout only as a child?  At age 88, Does Harper Lee want to tease us or really give us–her devoted readers–a second gift?  I can hardly wait.  Oh, just another reason to wish away the winter months and run toward summer!

 

 

BOOKNOTE:  Last July, I read the nonfiction book Mockingbird:  A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields, copyright 2006.  While you are awaiting the publishing of Harper Lee’s second novel, I highly recommend that you read Shields’ thorough and totally interesting biography of Ms. Lee and her To Kill a Mockingbird.  You will learn the background in which Ms. Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman and her classic novel, the importance of Miss Alice (Harper Lee’s older sister who was an attorney), and Ms. Lee’s friendship with Truman Capote.  Additionally, you will discover that Ms. Lee gave to Gregory Peck, who won the Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the gift of her father’s pocket watch.  (For those who are eligible to request or download books from the National Library Service Talking Book Program, Shields’ book is DB 64071.)

 

 

Happy reading!  Happy Valentine’s Day!  Happy Presidents’ Day!

Alice and Zoe

 

February 11, 2015, Wednesday

 

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5 Comments
  1. Fascinating. This must be one of the most anticipated books ever. I will make an effort to have at it. Thanks for a most informative post Alice. dp

  2. Fran Rayce permalink

    I must have had the same sequence of teachers at good old CHS as you, all be it a few years earlier, as I don’t think I had the choice of To Kill A Mockingbird either. I suppose it was still too new.
    I have however, read it a number of times since then and enjoyed it each time not only for the story and it’s lessons and also, as you mentioned, for the exquisite craft throughout the work.

    This past summer I read The Mockingbird Next Door, purportedly an inside story of Harper Lee and her sister. In contrast to your hardy recommendation of Mr. Shields biography, I would strongly suggest that one not waste their time on this repetitious tome with few insights. No one in my book club enjoyed it or found it worthwhile either.

    • Hi, Fran–How nice to find a comment from you! When the book you mentioned was not yet available through the NLS Talking Book Program, I turned to the Shields book. Through your comments, I have learned how our paths in going to Harris’ Christms display and in attending the same CHS classes (although three years apart) have coincided. So much of life is pleasantly shared in small towns. Thanks–Alice

  3. Alice, this is interesting. I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird so will check that out and possibly the biography you mentioned.

  4. In addition to reading the book and seeing the movie, I also attended a very moving and memorable stage production of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Arvada Center for the Performing Arts in Colorado. I’m looking forward to rereading the book before July.
    Love, Mary

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