Saturday, February 20, 2016

Me and Harper Lee

I wrote this a few years ago, but, To Kill a Mockingbird -- well, as Dill said about something else entirely -- "oh yes, it's in my blood."

IThere’s an axiom that’s been floated for a long time (how long? A century or two?), that the act of reading, in and of itself, is somehow intellectually nutritious. A noble pursuit.

I wonder how many books I’ve read. How many I’ve cracked for a one-night stand, with plots hell bent for leather, salivating to a destination.

I’ve read many books, not beginning to end, but beginning and end, skipping over the middle. From the here to the  there.

I’ve bought books based on the covers alone. Pretty, pretty faces. I’ve read parts of books that have been passed along, for my consideration. Just to get them off the shelf.

I’ve read cereal boxes, comic books, toilet paper wrappers, junk mail, license plates, the labels on my fruit.

Not instructional manuals, I never read instructions. I feel I’m the only one who can write them well. I could be wrong, since I never read instructions.

But I read and re-read stories. For their incidental music.

Miss Maudie, Miss Maudie, in your flower print dress. Eternally watering the roses. Atticus will never notice, I can tell you that now, as I told you ten years ago, and twenty.

But you still call out to him – it is to him, isn’t it? “Your father can make a will so airtight no one can break it!” He doesn’t turn around. He never will. He’ll just raise a hand and say, “You be good, children.”

Maudie will dress up again tomorrow, and fill her pitcher with water. The plants won’t wilt and flowers will bloom.

26 comments:

  1. I was sorry to hear of her passing. I guess if one book is an author's total body of work, it should be something like To Kill a Mocking Bird. Sometimes things just stick with us. I've read a boat load of books also. There are a few lines that have stuck with me also. The first one was written by Stephen King (of all people) in his short story, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

    “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.”

    I loved that line from the first time I read it. A decade late when Morgan Freeman delivered the line in Shawshank Redemption, I was hooked for life.

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  2. The film adaptation of "To Kill A Mockingbird" left some things out, as is always necessary for a film adapted from a novel. But they got the book's voice, and that is its essence. One of the most perfect film adaptations of a novel, maybe THE most perfect one, that I've ever seen.

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  3. Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7CX_5D6y6E

    Tears dripping even now as I write this.

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  4. I was sorry to see on tv news of Harper Lee's passing.
    I must read the book, I only watched the movie. In Brazil the translation of "To Kill A Mockingbird" is "O Sol É Para Todos", that means in English "The Sun is For Everyone". Thanks, Karin!

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    1. That's an interesting translation of the title. Translations always fascinate me. The meaning in the title has always meant to me something very different from that. The mockingbird immitates other birds, reflecting them sometimes. To kill one would put an end to reflection... perhaps keep us from looking at ourselves. And, they can be annoyingly loud and repetitive. A constant reminder of vulnerability and victimization perhaps?

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    2. I wonder if anyone has ever taken a translation and then translated the translation back to the original language. Because when you read a translation, what you're getting is an interpretation of the text.

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    3. And just to wax on and on, I think humor must be the most difficult to translate, because humor is often language- and culture-specific. Jorge Amado is one of my favorite writers -- but who is primarily responsible for what I read -- Amado or the translator?

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    4. I went to an Aloud reading at the LA Central Library last year. It was three interpreters reading Walt Whitman texts they themselves had translated. Each read in a different language. The Persian sounded very lyrical and the Spanish was almost comedic. Then they talked about how they formulated their interpretations. So glad I went.

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    5. There is or was a translator responsible for most of the Russian Lit we all read in high school, name Sonia something. I didn't love Chekov and Dos' C&P until years later when I read far better translations.

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  5. I love Pat Tillett's quote.

    I was sorry to learn of Harper Lee's passing, but I think it was time. With such a perfect book, I'm not sure she should have allowed the publication of Go Set A Watchman. Some things shouldn't be messed with.

    I was touched by Edith's speech to Mary last night in Downton, about them being sisters, and some day being the only people left who will remember Sibyl and the people who shaped their youth at Downton, including Carson. Nice speech.

    (And I always had to credit Miss Maudie for trying, despite the fact that Atticus would never notice.)

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  6. I've never read TKMB and only recently saw the movie. I'm kind of stubborn that way. When something is so raved upon, made Oprah cry, sound bitten to death etc, I have a hard time finding the enthusiasm to pick up the book. And I know that your endorsement should be the proper encouragement. Your reading advise has been pretty good so far. So I'm thinking, if it makes any sense, that I might be the right kind of person to read 'Go Set a Watchman.'

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    1. I kind of envy you, PA. I finally read TKMB for the first time about two years ago, and I realized I could never again read it for the first time. I'll probably skip the Watchman book. Don't want to ruin my Mockingbird experience.

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  7. I didn't know she passed. I'm not on cable TV anymore so not getting news. I haven't been on the net that much either. I feel in the dark. I loved that movie and in fact, watched it again awhile back when I first got Netflix or Amazon Prime - whichever one it was that i could stream. Like you I've read everything - labels and anything handy.

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  8. I was googling some information on Harper Lee and somehow landed here, and I'm glad I did. This is beautiful.

    Cheers.

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  9. I read it as a child. One of the first whole books that I didn't start from the back. I read it straight through and became so angry at the injustice it revealed that I cried and argued with my dad. I wanted him to be more like Addicus and less like a despairing lost soul who had given up on life.

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    1. I read everything Truman Capote wrote after that, too. It is possible that he ghost wrote TKAM, as a way to take care of his best childhood friend for life.

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    2. I rather think not, though his early writing was similar to hers -- so clean and pure. But he ended up bitter and jealous and surely would have shown some proof -- drafts and stuff -- to take credit for a Pulitzer he never won himself.

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  10. Another interesting question is who really authorized the publication of Go Set a Watchman. As a nursing home resident with diminished hearing and vision, she surely didn't need the money. She must have kept it from publication for good reason all those years. So who benefited? An interesting article from Bloomberg Business offers some insight: http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-harper-lee-go-set-a-watchman/

    Sadly, the second book casts a gloomy shadow over the beloved character of Atticus, defender of fairness, civility, and justice, even when he had no chance of winning.

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  11. Well-written and great discussion, as always. I don't have anything to add, but learned from all of you.

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  12. Are you a fan of the Writer's Almanac? Jes wondering...

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    1. It's the only thing by GK that I do like.

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  13. Good morning Karin!
    Thank you for your nice comments on Leaves.
    Have a nice week!

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