How long has it been since you read/re-read/or watched the movie To Kill a Mockingbird? Too long, probably. It’s something we all ought to re-visit periodically, in whatever form suits you best. I’ve just finished listening to a recorded version, on CD, read by none-other than Sissy Spacek. What a treat! I was prompted to read (listen to) it because it was this month’s book for my book club (the venerable Book and Tea Leaf Club). I chose to listen to it because I had been given the book on CD by a dear friend. When I first received it, I recorded it onto my iPod, but I always got frustrated when I stopped (or fell asleep) in the middle of a chapter and had to go back to the start of the chapter or onto the next without finishing the previous. That’s the problem with audio books on iPods.
This time I listened directly from the CD, and what a pleasure it was. Needless to say, Sissy Spacek did a fantastic job. The pleasure, however, is in the book itself. Besides being a fun–and at times funny–story, it also resonates as an account of American History that we all need to be reminded of regularly. Not that it is all history; plenty of what is there would be far too current. But I’m of an age that the description of childhood activity was easy to visualise. It was a time when kids really did roam the neighborhood and get up to whatever mischief occurred to them (us).
For those of you who are much younger than I (just about everybody, I’d guess), the picture painted of life in a small southern town is very realistic. I grew up in a semi-rural area of Kansas City, Missouri, so it wasn’t deep south, as in the book. Nor was there racial tension in the area where I lived. There were only whites living in the neighborhood. But, of course, we heard stories… I knew about such racial incidents: the KKK, the cross burnings, the lynchings, and was deeply offended by it, even as a child. I can relate to Scout.
If you have seen the movie, you know that Atticus is Gregory Peck. Or, Gregory Peck was Atticus. It was his definitive role. And you can’t now read the book without seeing Atticus as Gregory Peck; hear him speak Atticus’ words; and that’s not a bad thing. I think I’ll be getting a copy of the video very soon…
After re-visiting the book, my friend–the one who gave me the CD set–referred me to the biography of Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. I don’t propose to write a book review here (thank heavens, I hear you sigh) but I wish to call your attention to it. For several reasons. It’s well written, interesting, and surprising in a number of ways. I’ll allude to a few, and leave you to find out more…
The book is called Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields. You may already know that To Kill A Mockingbird was the only book written by Harper Lee. You may not be aware of her role in researching the Clutter family murders with Truman Capote for his book In Cold Blood. I haven’t yet read far into the last half of the biography, which seems to deal mainly with Capote’s book and Nelle Lee’s role in it, but I will tell you that Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote were lifelong friends. Indeed, Capote was Dill in the book. There! Tell me you already knew that!
As I said, I’m not here to write a review of either Mockingbird book, but just to nudge you into reading/watching/listening to it again, and to recommend the fascinating biography. Meanwhile, I’ve gotta run. My Kindle is calling me. MM