Saturday, October 11, 2014
Thinking About to Kill a Mockingbird Karla Stover
To Kill a Mockingbird is approaching its 45th birthday and the movie its 43rd. I love both the book and the movie and, like many other people, am curious about Harper Lee. I read Charles Shields’ biography, I am Scout and just this past week, Marja Mills’ book, The Mockingbird Next Door. Mills’ book was on the best seller list for a few weeks. Perhaps other readers discovered, as I did, that as writer, Harper Lee wasn’t a very interesting person. Granted she is older now, but her post-Mockingbird life, seemed to be spent fishing for catfish, feeding ducks, having coffee with friends, and reading. According to Mills, she became friendly with Harper’s sister, Alice, during a routine newspaper retrospective; Alice talked a lot about the Lee family and through her Mills met Harper. Harper, in turn, introduced her friends to Mills, and paved the way for people Mills could interview. The book about Mills and her friendship with both women came out and Harper immediately denied approving it—even though she saw the tape recorder running during get-togethers. I say, Pish Tosh to Harper Lee.
Shields’ biography was more interesting, but here’s what he left me thinking about: In its initial state, Mockingbird was said to resemble a string of short stories. Tay Hohoff, an editor at J. B. Lippincott & Co., spent two-and-a-half years helping Harper rewrite the stories to turn them into a book. Mockingbird came out and was a huge success. Harper has said she started another book, but then her literary agent died and Hohoff retired. I think she knew that without their help she couldn’t write anything else as good as her first book. Perhaps she saw what happened to F. Scott Fitzgerald. His first book, This Side of Paradise, published in 1920, made him famous. He only wrote four more books (plus some short stories and novellas) and died at age 44 after years of alcoholism, not to mentioning plagiarizing some of his wife’s stories.
Maybe none of this matters. We have a book to read and re-read and a movie with what Gregory Peck called his “roll of a lifetime.”