I awoke in the predawn hours today to hear the news on TV…Harper Lee had died at the age of 89. That’s a good age. It was said that she had been deaf and blind for at least the last five years. It was a matter of time. Hopefully, now no one will take advantage of her again. She wrote my all-time favorite novel. Next to To Kill A Mockingbird, nothing stands any here as good. If I had been given the choice to read only one book my entire life, it would be To Kill A Mockingbird. It is that good.
It’s a day to think about her and her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s a time to celebrate her work and the mark she has left on every person that has ever read her book. It’s a day to ask some questions. Why didn’t she ever write another novel? How close to autobiographical elements in her life were the events in the novel? What about Go Set A Watchman? Which Atticus was the true one? Does GSAW invalidate TKAM?
I won’t try to answer all of those questions here. I have my opinions and I’ve read a lot about her life and those around her, both in her childhood years and in her adulthood. As far as Go Set A Watchman, my worry is that it will influence people, especially schools, to not read To Kill A Mockingbird. That would be a crime, at least in my opinion. I will say that I’ve read that she was so traumatized by all of the publicity and criticism she got after TKAM that she didn’t ever want to put herself through that again.
I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.— Harper Lee, quoted in Newquist, 1964
I’ve also read that she was a perfectionist and had begun a couple of novels, including at least one non fiction book but put never finished them any of them because she was unhappy with her writing. That sounds like a perfectionist to me; like a writer, always second guessing herself.
Tonight, I will stream To Kill A Mockingbird and perhaps I will begin re-reading it and Go Set A Watchman. And I will think of that timid, talented woman that kept so many words inside of her…so many words that we would all love to have read. I will celebrate that she lived and wrote and left us Scout and Atticus and all those other people of Maycomb.