Tuesday, July 13, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird – 50 Years Later

The very special independent book store, Vroman’s in Pasadena, always puts on excellent author events, and Sunday night’s was no exception. Kerry Madden, YA novelist of the Maggie Valley series and author of Up Close: Harper Lee, was there in honor of To Kill a Mockingbird’s 50th Anniversary. Kerry presented a great talk and a slide show, followed by a book signing and refreshments: hoop cheese (a wagon wheel of cheese) and coca cola, the Alabama snacks of Harper Lee and Truman Capote.

I first heard Kerry, a wonderfully entertaining speaker, last year at a meeting of the Writer to Writer group. She spoke then of working on Harper Lee’s story, and her enthusiasm and the wonderful stories of her research with Harper Lee’s school friends and neighbors have not waned. She gathered so much information on her subject that her editor had to say ‘no more!’ there wasn’t room. She hopes to put the rest in a second book. Kerry’s article On the Trail of Harper Lee appeared in the July 11 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

So many people cite Mockingbird as one of their all-time favorite books. I know I do. I first read it in high school and found it, and the excellent movie made from it, inspiring and amazing. The characterization and movie depiction of young Scout reminded me of a picture I have of my mother as a child in rural Arkansas. (Someone – my young-artist mother? – appears to have added birds to the photo!) Apparently my mother had been a feisty, sassy child and she related some decidedly Scout-like memories.

As many others apparently did, I named my pet Scout.

I was so taken with To Kill a Mockingbird that I spent a great deal of time going through the book page by page, simplifying and translating some very-American phrases and slang, so I could send the book to my pen pal boyfriend in Germany. I am sure there was a German translation he could have read, but he liked to work on his English and we often wrote about books we read. As a future writer, I think the exercise served me well. Such a deep study and analysis of Lee’s work was valuable for me, and such was the excellence of the writing that I never grew tired of the process. It served to turn the book even more into the old-and-specially-treasured friend I still find it to be.

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