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Nelle Harper Lee is known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, her only major work. In 1999, it was voted "Best Novel of the Century" in a poll by Library Journal. Ms. Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature in 2007. Her father was a lawyer who served in the Alabama state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate, Truman Capote. After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching his bestselling book, In Cold Blood. Since publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee has granted very few requests for interviews or public appearances. Her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is scheduled to be released in July, 2015.
It hardly seems like 50 years since I picked up this book late one rainy night when it was first published, after my mom had been raving about the book for weeks, trying to get me to read it. Well, what the heck, the late movie was boring that evening and there was nothing else on the TV... next thing I knew, it was two o'clock in the morning and I had just turned the final page on what was the most magical reading experience of my entire life.
From the opening line, "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow..." Lee hooks the reader with a deceptively simple story of a Southern family and a Southern town caught up in a cataclysmic moral crisis, and keeps us enthralled till the very last word. Lee's writing style is that of the storyteller who mesmerizes her audience telling a tale so simple, yet so compelling, that you never want it to end. Her narrator is Scout Finch, a delightfully devilish little tomboy who sees her world through the all-observant eyes of childhood. Scout is one of the most enchanting characters in modern American fiction. She's bright, funny, totally real; there's nothing contrived about her. She's someone we all knew in first or second grade, or wished we'd known. Scout lives with her brother Jem, four years her senior, her lawyer father Atticus, and their housekeeper Calpurnia, in a sleepy Alabama town where everybody knows or is related to everybody else. Lee spends the first half of the book drawing us into the life of the town and the Finch family, Scout's hilarious and problematic adjustment to first grade, and brings us into the mystery surrounding the notorious-yet-never-seen Boo Radley. The second half of the book is about the moral crisis that tears the town apart.Read more ›
Oddly, I'd never read To Kill a Mockingbird as a high school student. Nor had I ever seen the famous film with Gregory Peck. Fortunately, I also avoided learning the entire plot through cultural osmosis. Sure, I knew who Boo Radley was-- didn't I? Atticus Finch... yeah, I know who that is... right? Boy, was I wrong. Last week I finally decided it'd been long enough, and I sank into Harper Lee's only novel with high expectations. And I was certainly not disappointed. With its slow, warm and evocative opening chapters, Mockingbird starts off like a sulty summer day in the South. Lee depicts a South of "whistling bob white," biscuits and warm milk, and ladies who on the hottest days bathe twice by noon and then douse themselves in lavender-smelling powder. Jean-Louise Finch, better known as Scout, narrates the story with the keen eye of an adult looking back on a childhood rich with incidents that shaped who she has become. Scout reminded me of some of Carson McCullers's heroines (Member of the Wedding, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter), but without the morbid loneliness and heartbreak. Scout might be described as a tomboy, but that would be doing her a disservice. Her adventures with her older brother Jem, and their dimunitive friend Dill (real name: Charles Baker Harris. "Your name's longer'n you are," Jem points out) evoke the timeless place of childhood. As for Atticus Finch, what can one say about a father who seems to embody the greatest of virtues? He is tolerant, patient, kind, and understanding. He does not meddle with his children's affairs, he speaks to them as fellow adults (he allows them to call him "Atticus"), and his skill as a lawyer is legendary. Lee presents Atticus in a tough and sensitive manner, so that his believability is paramount.Read more ›
I just finished this book a few moments ago, and I am completely awed by this story. Harper Lee has done an excellent job bringing this 1930s Alabama childhood to life. I can see why To Kill a Mockingbird has won the Pulitzer Prize, garnered an Academy Award for the movie version, and ultimately become a timely classic enjoyed by many generations. To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of two children, sister Scout and brother Jem, and their childhood during three years in the midst of the Great Depression. Scout and Jem spend most of their summers with their summer-neighbor, Dill, making up plays and spying on the town recluse, Boo Radley. During the school year (minus Dill, who goes back home to Mississippi), Scout finds herself in trouble one too many times and struggles with the concept of being a lady, especially when all she wants to do is wear overalls and beat up her classmates. Then everything changes one fall.... Scout and Jem's father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer in their town of Maycomb, Alabama, is appointed to the defense of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman (although not of the highest caliber), Mayella Ewell. The fact of this case rocks the town of Maycomb, and with Scout and Jem feeling the brunt of their classmates ridicule when they realize Atticus is on Tom's side. I was simply floored while reading this novel. I wasn't expecting a "classic" to be so readable. Now I know what I've been missing! To Kill a Mockingbird is a piece of our American history that depicts racism and prejudice, childhood innocence, and the perseverence of a man who risked it all to stand up for what he believed in. Wonderful portrayal and one I will read again.