Thursday, February 25, 2016

I have found one or two people I consider friends who don't like the Beatles and about the same number who don't love To Kill a Mockingbird. I love them anyway, but I don't exactly understand. I got my first word of Harper Lee's death last week from a former student's text. Over the next day or two, I noticed how many other messages I heard from friends, former students, colleagues, and kin, all wanting to react to the news.

I couldn't help wondering if everyone's Facebook carried the same quantity of information on Lee's death or did the algorithms load other people's feed with sports, politics, or the Kardashians?

I read the book first in high school, maybe junior high.  I taught it for many years of my high school teaching career--before the ninth grade teachers claimed it as their own.  I remember hearing Kylene Beers telling that her daughter was assigned the book three years in a row, as a result of school changes, loving it each time.  The third year, she told her mom, "I think the version we're reading this year is better."

"No," Kylene said she told her. "The book is the same. You're a better version of yourself now."

One of the charms of this book is that it stands up to multiple reading. Even as it grows more familiar, it moves readers. Scout makes me laugh sometimes. She makes me cry. I love Atticus and respect him, while recognizing that he's not a perfect father. His own integrity puts his children in danger.

When the stage version of the novel was performed at the Zodiac Theatre in Florence, Alabama, my hometown, I remember hearing that Miss Lee--Nelle to her family and friends--had written part of the book in our town, where her college roommate lived.  Some said she might attend the play, but would keep a low profile.

Part of her charm was her avoidance of the spotlight. Had she been born later, I still doubt she would have tweeted. The stories about her, as a result, developed legendary status.

I never got to meet her. I covet a signed copy of the book, but I'm content with my paperback copy held together by rubber bands. From what I'm hearing from friends over the last several days, others still hold on to their own school copies.  I wonder how many other books from my required reading lists gain a permanent place on bookshelves instead of being traded to the used bookstore for soft drink money.

I might add, too, that while my mantra "The movie was better" holds true, the film of To Kill a Mockingbird is rightfully a classic itself, perfectly cast, perfectly executed. The pieces I would add to the collection are the documentary Hey Boo! and the companion volume Scout, Atticus, and Boo, both the result of a project by Mary McDonah Murphy.  I have my own collection. In my literature teaching files, I probably have as much material on Lee and her novel than any other work. I have a videotape made from a reel-to-reel tape from the thirties, made my a gentleman who moved to Monroeville from New Jersey, showing the downtown that served as the model for Maycomb. I have more activities to use with the novel in the classroom than time could every allow. All this for a book I haven't taught in more than 20 years.

But I've read it over and over, something I rarely do with so many books still unread. All that's left to do is to take a pilgrimage to Maycomb, to see the play performed in the former courthouse. I'll keep an ear perked for the footfalls of ghosts of Scout and Jem, Calpurnia, Dill. Maybe even Boo Radley will come out.

1 comment:

Cerrillos Sandy said...

I haven't read TKAM, as we called it at Woodham High School, in about 40 years. It's time to read it again, don't you think, Cuz?