This week is traditionally vacation week around this part of North Carolina. Lots of plants close for the week of the Fourth of July, so everyone seems to head to the beach. This year, though, my grandchildren are here for a few days and then we are heading to Alabama for reunions with several generations of both sides of the family and with friends from the late sixties and early seventies.
If I didn't have a week planned out for me, I would have wanted to head to Monroeville, Alabama, for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of what I (and many others) consider one of the best books ever written, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. From what I know of her reputation, Lee (Nelle, not Harper, to those who really know her) would prefer to let the date pass without hoopla, but I've been pleased to read articles in Smithsonian magazine, Garden and Gun, Southern Living and more acknowledging the importance of the novel on this anniversary.
For those of us who can't get enough, Mary McDonagh Murphy has published Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, including material from interviews with other authors and public figures about the impact of the novel on their lives. While most of us would love to be able to lay claim to discovering just such a masterpiece, to be the first in our circle to have read it, there is a much stronger urge to share the experience.
In a book I'm reading now, Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves, one of the narrators mentions loving the work of Monet, even when it has become so commonplace, the images on wall calendars and thank you notes. Maybe visual masterpieces run that risk, but great literature never does, in my opinion. Atticus's advice about walking in someone else's shoes is timelessly true. Scout and Jem and even Boo and Dill will always remain real to me, even when I know the rest of the reading world feels much the same.
I'd love to go to Monroeville. It would be a pilgrimage for me. Several years ago, I struck up a friendship through correspondence with a local teacher there who shared images from the 1930s of the town that became the model for Maycomb. Honestly, though, the town is planted in my consciousness as firmly as Andy Griffith's Mayberry. I've been there many times, and I always love to make that journey back.