Monday, October 4, 2010

Citywide Read Book Discussion

The Bookenders Book Group met to talk about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee on Wednesday, September 29 for the citywide read. We had a great time. The interesting and insightful discussion led by Carl Sederholm was enjoyed by all who attended. We discussed many things such as Scout's perspective and what that meant for the story, racial relations, why this beloved classic is on the banned books list, the shooting of the rabid dog, small town life, why most children have a Boo Radley, if Tom Robinson was doomed no matter what choice he made and so much more.  At one point Katie Marsh wondered about Atticus telling his son to shoot the blue jays and not the mockingbirds.  She was confused by this because everything else in Atticus's wisdom and character would not have been ok with shooting the blue jays. That led to more interesting insights into the story and why Atticus would say such a thing.


We also discussed the life of Harper Lee and the information found in the book Mockingbird:  A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields.  We talked about her relationship with Truman Capote and how she helped him with research of his book In Cold Blood.  We speculated on why she never wrote another book and wondered if maybe she has written one to be published after her death.  Linda Butler pointed out that there is nothing wrong with writing just one really great American novel and that Harper Lee deserves to be proud of that.

One of the very few pictures of Harper Lee and Truman Capote together
After the discussion we served pound cake with mixed berries and whipped topping.


One last thought -

Harper Lee has been very reclusive for years.  However, in July 2006 she wrote a letter to Oprah Winfrey which was published in the Oprah magazine.  It is a rare published item by her that tells how she became a reader as a child in Depression-era Alabama. This sweet essay shows how much we are missing when we read and discuss biographies written about her.  Ultimately we can hope that someday there might be one written in her own words that can tell us of her own thoughts and feelings without speculation. 

This is the letter she wrote:

Dear Oprah,

Do you remember when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn't know how? I must have learned from having been read to by my family. My sisters and brother, much older, read aloud to keep me from pestering them; my mother read me a story every day, usually a children's classic, and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening. Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime.

So I arrived in the first grade, literate, with a curious cultural assimilation of American history, romance, the Rover Boys, Rapunzel, and The Mobile Press. Early signs of genius? Far from it. Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. Why this endemic precocity? Because in my hometown, a remote village in the early 1930s, youngsters had little to do but read. A movie? Not often--movies weren't for small children. A park for games? Not a hope. We're talking unpaved streets here, and the Depression.

Books were scarce. There was nothing you could call a public library, we were a hundred miles away from a department store's books section, so we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another's entire stock. There were long dry spells broken by the new Christmas books, which started the rounds again.

As we grew older, we began to realize what our books were worth: Anne of Green Gables was worth two Bobbsey Twins; two Rover Boys were an even swap for two Tom Swifts. Aesthetic frissons ran a poor second to the thrills of acquisition. The goal, a full set of a series, was attained only once by an individual of exceptional greed--he swapped his sister's doll buggy.

We were privileged. There were children, mostly from rural areas, who had never looked into a book until they went to school. They had to be taught to read in the first grade, and we were impatient with them for having to catch up. We ignored them.

And it wasn't until we were grown, some of us, that we discovered what had befallen the children of our African-American servants. In some of their schools, pupils learned to read three-to-one--three children to one book, which was more than likely a cast-off primer from a white grammar school. We seldom saw them until, older, they came to work for us.

Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.

And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up--some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.

The village of my childhood is gone, with it most of the book collectors, including the dodgy one who swapped his complete set of Seckatary Hawkinses for a shotgun and kept it until it was retrieved by an irate parent.

Now we are three in number and live hundreds of miles away from each other. We still keep in touch by telephone conversations of recurrent theme: "What is your name again?" followed by "What are you reading?" We don't always remember.

Much love,


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this! Harper still has that amazing talent to write doesn't she?