Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hey Boo: A Lovely Sunday With Atticus, Jem, and Scout

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Those are Atticus Finch's resounding words to his children, Jem and Scout, as he defends in court the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel—a black man charged with the rape of a white girl in the 1930s American Deep South. 
I first read this book as a dreamy, wide-eyed 14-year old teenager with cow-licked hair inside an empty library, which would eventually become one of my many safe places of refuge during high school. My love for this book made a good campaign speech when I was forced to run for president of the Book Lovers Club a.k.a. "The Geeky-Looking-But-Not-Geek-At-All Students Who Lunch At The School Library While Reading Books." Oh, the good old days! And yes, I won. There were only 13 of us and all of us were club officers. 
Throughout the years, I've re-read the book countless times and it has become a must-bring whenever I'm traveling on a train or during long flights. I even got myself a 40th Anniversary Edition a few years back. Suffice to say, this Harper Lee masterpiece, her first and only novel, left an indelible mark in my literary consciousness and gave me a hero that I consider a great role model and moral compass, the lawyer Atticus Finch. 
I have many favorite quotes from the novel but one part from Chapter 22 really makes me laugh every time I am reminded of it or every time I read it again. It never grows old. Here's the part:           
1962 Hollywood movie version
"I think I'll be a clown when I get grown," said Dill.  "Yes, sir, a clown.... There ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off."  "You got it backwards, Dill," said Jem.  "Clowns are sad, it's folks that laugh at them."  "Well, I'm gonna be a new kind of clown.  I'm gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks."  
Since she published "To Kill A Mockingbird" on July 1960, Harper Lee never wrote any significant works except for some essays, articles, and of course that momentous Open Letter to Oprah published in her O Magazine on July 2006 sharing her love for books. She also had a major falling out with her close friend and sometime neighbor during her childhood, Truman Capote. Lee's inspiration for Dill was Capote. According to the their close common friends, Capote was jealous of Lee when she got a Pulitzer and he didn't.    
How come she hasn't published any novel or any works of fiction after "To Kill A Mockingbird"? I don't know. Only Lee knows. I say "publish" because who knows she has stacks of finished writings at home or somewhere in her desk drawer in an undisclosed location. You see, a writer never stops writing even to his or her waning days. 
Harper Lee at the court house. 
Since she dropped off the limelight and refused to give any interviews from the after years of the book's publication up to recent years, Lee's reasons are still a mystery. And now, a new documentary by Mary McDonagh Murphy explores that question and in attempt to somehow demystify the seemingly off-the-radar Lee. In “Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird,” Murphy talks to different famous personalities and authors about how Lee's book changed their lives and influenced them.
According to one of her cousins, Lee hasn't published any novel after 1960 or as of late because she knew it would be hard to follow up a well-received and acclaimed novel and she knew for a fact that there was no other way but down from thereon. In short, she was afraid. She was hesitant. But who knows, Lee is still alive and well. She might just surprise us and launch a new work of fiction directly through e-book form! I just wish!
The "Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird" documentary was shown at the Paley Center in New York over the weekend.   

Here's the complete trailer:

Here's a snippet from the same documentary:

In this video tribute, several well-known authors recount their first experience reading the book and how it influenced their lives and even their families to this day. 

Authors Speak About To Kill A Mockingbird from Clyde Tressler on Vimeo.


My Hero

Each of us has his or her own hero and even heroes in life. When a Pittsburgh high school student was asked by her English teacher to make a piece about her inspiration and her all-time hero, the student chose somebody whom she hasn't even met. 

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