Fiction Friday, Writing

Dusty Old Books

        This week on Fiction Friday I wanted to mention a story about Harper Lee I had been hearing. It wasn’t until I thought about her and looked into her more that I learned some really fascinating facts I did not know before.

        Nelle Harper Lee turned eighty-eight just the other day and she used her birthday to announce that finally, after all this time, she has decided to catch up with the rest of the world.

        The Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction has, up until now, kept a pretty tight hold on the rights for To Kill A Mockingbird. She finally agreed to release it as an E-book.

        Lee has said: “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries.

        This I can totally relate to. I feel the exact same way. There’s just something not quite right about some of the greatest stories of all-time displayed on screens. Where did all the books go? I know they are still everywhere, but sometimes it feels like they are slipping through our fingers.

        Harper Lee wrote an open letter to Oprah Winfrey and inside she is candid about how times have changed.

        I read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was in high school. She writes it as if it were a series of short stories, of life in a southern US town, during the Depression. Wasn’t I surprised when I read she had started it out that way, before it became the novel we know it as today.

        I must admit I found parts of it boring and slow-paced, as if the lazy humid days in the story, based in Alabama, were bleeding out onto the pages. I felt parts of it drew on and on, away from the story at its heart, the part I loved and which has stayed with me ever since.

        Lee’s main character, the narrator, the young girl Finch Scout is loveable and maddening and full of adventure and life. She ties the whole story together. I have come to love her so much by the end that I couldn’t help worrying about her and fearing for her safety, not only physically, but emotionally as a young and impressionable girl at such a turbulent time of injustice. It is clear by the end of the story that she has grown up and her character has been developed through all she has seen.

        The father and lawyer for the side of good, Atticus Finch, is quite possibly the best character in literature. He is a man and only human, but he is pretty close to perfect. He is calm and gentle. HE is a symbol for justice and decency. I learned a lot about humanity from him and from Lee’s story.

        His closing arguments during the trial of Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman, touched me and shook me to my core. Fictional though it is, I compare it to real life speeches such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech for it’s power and impact.

        I feel unfit to make this sweeping judgement, but I must say that in my opinion, this is one of those rare occasions where the movie could top the book. It is a rare thing, but the movie takes all the best parts of the novel and pulls them together perfectly. The actors cast for the roles were magic. Gregory Peck is Atticus and always will be.

        I did not know that Nelle Harper Lee was good childhood friends with a young Truman Capote. It is clear they both influenced one another’s writing: supposedly he was the basis for the Finch’s neighbour boy Dill and it’s said that Capote writes from his relationship with Lee and uses her for a character for In Cold Blood.

        As I strive to become a writer, I love learning the most interesting things about the writers I look up to. Harper Lee always was and remains a reclusive person. She had something to say and she said it through To Kill A Mockingbird and then, other than a few essays and rumoured attempts at other novels, she basically never published anything again. Most writers, once they get a taste of life as an author, want to keep writing and putting out more and more books. Not her. I want to know how she could resist.

        She is now in an assisted living facility, after suffering a stroke; she is in a wheelchair and going deaf and blind. I hope, wherever she is, that she realizes the impact that story has had on the world. As far as books about race and prejudice go, hers is at the top of the list. It is the perfect snapshot of a moment in history, a moment in time.

        Hers is one of my all-time favourite book titles. As someone who loves to explore the symbolism writers layer throughout their stories, TKAM is filled with lots of it. The Boo Radleys’ of the world need to be recognized and valued. The sweetest most gentle souls in the world are constantly at risk of being walked all over. It seems Harper Lee had something to say, a message which she gave to us all and then was satisfied with that, glad to fade away into the background. She has made this most recent decision after hoping the pages and cover of a book never will.