Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Time-Life encapsulates Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Go Set a Watchman"

Life Books has a legal-sized heavily illustrated paperback (96 pages) “The Enduring Power of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird”, an anthology about the hugely popular novel by Nelle Harper Lee. The authors of the anthology appear to be Daniel S. Levy and Amy Lennard Goehner, as employees of Time-Life.  It made good reading on the plane.
I recall showing the 1962 film “To Kill a Mockingbird” at least once (from VHS) to a ninth grade English class when working as a substitute teacher in the middle 2000s.

It’s quite an honor to have one’s novel so dissected that detailed study notes are written about them, and students have to write final exam (or SAT free response) answers on the novel.

In fact, on page 10, the booklet gives some sample essay questions, and they’re pretty specific.  You have to know what is “Maycomb’s usual disease” (racism, with qualifications).  One question asks the student to write newspaper stories about characters or events in the novel. You can be asked to explain “why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird”.  In fact, around 1992, I was befriended by a wild male mockingbird that followed me to and from my car at work every day, and would chase starlings and fly back to me to impress me. Since then, a crow has actually befriended me, warning me by chasing me inside the day of Hurricane Sandy.

A lot has been said lately about Harper Lee’s pseudo-sequel “Go Set a Watchman”, which follows Scout’s life and her relationship with her father years later.  There was an outcry over the fact that Atticus was revealed himself to be capable of racism, as Alexandra Altar reported July 11 in the New York Times here. More interesting is the fact that it was an editor who encouraged Lee to change the focus of her book (as “Watchman” had been sketched first), resulting in what we know today as the modern Mockingbird novel.  Also interesting is the story over the publication of this sequel, and Lee’s own feelings about publishing it.

CNN has a lot of stories about Lee's writing, saying she may have up to two other unpublished novels. (How many do I have?)  The biggest story is by Jay Parini on July 13 "Harper Lee's bombshell of a book", here, noting that the Watchman sequel is in third person, and that Atticus really has become bigoted.   Some commentators note Scout's tomboy personality, which stays within bounds when "Mockingbird" is taught in school.  
I worked with a literary agent on my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book in 1996 a lot, and that did result in its current (1997) format;  there had been two other radically different organizations (one like an “Op. 111”). 

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