The Real Boo Radley Leaves A Present In the Tree

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Harper Lee, who has the honor of being Saddam Hussein's favorite author, breaks her silence to do a good deed. The beloved one-hit wonder has signed a copy of her sole novel to raise money for the brain-damaged son of the police chief in Cookeville, Tenn.

"Try Swann," Lee writes in an enclosed note to her beneficiaries. "Some friends put their first edition up for auction with them and the book went for $18,000, and was in fairly tattered shape. Your copy is pristine by comparison… (If you don't have success with the first edition, sell this!)"

Clearly, Lee has some understanding of the power of her mystique, which raises the question of why she doesn't get more props as a literary recluse than J.D. Salinger, whose low profile always seems so narcissistic. Could it be that everybody suspects she's not really the author of To Kill A Mockingbird?

NEXT: Cruelty and Silence

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  1. Our class read To Kill a Mockingbird in the sixth grade. It has been one of my favorite novels ever since. Had to buy another copy a coule years ago when my copy from the 6th grade finally distintegrated.

  2. I read it for the first time when I was 41. Sorry I didn’t read it sooner, and I don’t really care who wrote it.

  3. When I read it in high school I wasn’t impressed. I’m open to the possibility that I was reading far too much sci-fi and fantasy to appreciate it. I didn’t like Shakespeare then as well, but I do now. Could it be that I just couldn’t enjoy anything I was forced to read? Anyone else have this experience?

  4. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite novel. I can’t convey how brilliant I think it is without gushing, so I’ll just say that Atticus Finch is among the most heroic characters I’ve ever come across.

    As far as why Lee never wrote another novel-I saw an interview in which she said she still wrote. But really, how do you follow a book like that? Better to be quiet then to be another Kessey, putting out novels that are good, but nowhere near the level of the first.

  5. I read To Kill A Mocking Bird in my Sophmore year in High School. I found it to be a very good read, and it’s on my list of best books ever.

  6. I’m convinced I must read it again.

  7. Bill-assigning a book is the surest way to ensure that no one will enjoy it. Give it a whirl now that the read will be voluntary.

  8. Will do, #6!

  9. I think it might be worth noting that her decision to stop publishing might have come down to the fact that a lot of people stop working once they’ve already made themselves extremely wealthy.

  10. I find it hard to believe that Truman Capote could have written something as successful as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and keep it quiet–especially in his later years. I find that much harder to swallow than the idea that Harper Lee wrote one wildly successful novel and then hung the quill up for good.

    …I know that doesn’t prove anything.

    “Could it be that I just couldn’t enjoy anything I was forced to read? Anyone else have this experience?”

    I did the experiment with “The Red Badge of Courage”, and I hated it the second time even more. I swear, I hate that book!

  11. I did the experiment with “The Red Badge of Courage”, and I hated it the second time even more. I swear, I hate that book!

    You’re not the only one. His other works are even worse.

  12. The Real Bill — When I read fiction, it’s almost almost exclusively (90%+) science fiction. But To Kill a MOckingbird is probably my favorite non-SF novel.

    I have found that when forced to read something for school, or often even just because someone else recommended it, I find a book harder to enjoy than when I discover and read a book on my own. I’ve skimmed some of my old English lit books and found some enjoyment that was totally lacking when I was forced to cram them for school. Heck, maybe I’ll even reread Beowulf for fun someday!

    I just hope we haven’t overhyped TKAM for you now.

  13. In high school, I had to pick a book from a list, read it and report on it. I read lots of sci-fi, so I was happy to see “Invisible Man” on the list.

    Well, you can imagine my surprise! Fortunately, it was a pleasant one.

    Is this relevant to the discussion? No, but what are you going to do?

  14. Science Fiction nerds will be interested to know (or already know) that the SF one-hit wonder, Alexei Panshin, was strongly influenced by To Kill A Mockingbird, when writing his novel, Rite of Passage, which also has a young female first person narrator.

  15. Everyone knows that Francis Bacon wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.

  16. Speaking of crap you were forced to read in hs that wasn’t enjoyable: J.D. Salinger. Ugh. Or is it possible it doesn’t suck as bad as I remember?

  17. T js — no it is not possible. that stuff sucks.

    T Ken Schultz, Sarnath — Crane’s poems were gorgeous, in an angst-ridden way. Stephen Crane was the first punk. I never read Red Badge of Courage, but wow those poems really made my last junior year of college.

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir, I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

    http://www.linguatech.com/scrane/

  18. Speaking of crap you were forced to read in hs that wasn’t enjoyable: J.D. Salinger. Ugh. Or is it possible it doesn’t suck as bad as I remember?

    I actually liked Catcher in the Rye very much.

    Of course, his style is pretty easy to parody. I once read something called the JDSAT (J.D. Salinger Aptitude Test) and it had questions something like this (paraphrasing from memory):
    ————

    Question 1: A train full of crumby rich bastards with expensive cottages in the ol’ Hamptons and all leaves Buffalo for Los Angeles. It’s traveling at about 35 miles per hour, I suppose. At the same time, another train full of big Hollywood phoneys pulls out of Los Angeles for Buffalo. This train is going about 80 miles an hour. It’s speeding like a madman. How long before the two trains collide head-on with each other in a big wreck, with twisted train cars and the bodies of rich, crumby phoneys lying all over the place, with blood all over their expensive three-piece suits and all? I mean, who the hell knows? I don’t. That sort of stuff doesn’t interest me very much, if you want to know the truth.

  19. I liked Catcher in the Rye, but I found Salinger’s other works less than enthralling; I never warmed up to the Glass family saga that much.

    To Kill A Mockingbird was a wonderful book, perfectly capturing the atmosphere and tensions of the early 30’s South. I’m also pleased that Hollywood did the novel justice – it’s not often that one can say that, but the film version was very faithful to the novel, as well as being superbly cast and directed.

  20. Totally agree with Mark, both about Salinger and about To Kill a Mockingbird.

    I first read Mockingbird in Russia, at the age of 14 or so in a Russian translation (which was very good but, as I eventually realized, missed a lot of important nuances — for instance, when the prosecutor at the trial addresses the black defendant as “boy,” the translation rendered this as something like “fellow”). I thought it was an amazing book, both in terms of recreating the world of a small town in the deep South in the 1930s and in terms of recreating the inner (and outer) world of childhood.

    I re-read it a number of years later in English, when living in the U.S. and with a much stronger grasp of the period and the setting. If anything, my opinion of the book was much higher this time. I suspect that it suffers somewhat from being “one of those books they make you read in school.” This one fully deserves its status as a classic.

    Thanks for posting the story. I’ve often wondered what Harper Lee was doing now.

  21. I happen to know that Harpee Lee has been writing another novel, under the working title To Kill a Critic. I once asked her what it was about but all I can remember is her mumbling something that sounded like ‘the anti-Christ.’

  22. Harper Lee, sorry

  23. I really should wear my glasses when I do this

  24. the catcher in the rye was the worst book ever assigned our dear high school, including being forced to read evelyn waugh at gunpoint.

  25. forced to read evelyn waugh at gunpoint

    Damn, tough high school.

  26. damn straight. we did get to read portrait of the artist in the same class, for which i am forever grateful. but it was hell to go from swift and joyce to fucking jd fucking overrated fucking annoying rich kid story blah blah blah blah blah goddamn i still hate that book.

    HC was the first fictional character i ever wanted to beat up.

  27. Well, if you really want to know about it, I didn’t even want to be in the crumby book. Old Salinger got ahold of my therapist’s notes. It was pretty goddamn unethical, if you ask me. So he decided to write a book about me, or some goddamn thing. Now a whole bunch of these snot-nose brat high school kids all hate me. I didn’t even write the book. Who decided it was great literature? Who the hell knows? I don’t. Now I’m going to go out in the rain and cry. I’m blubbering like a madman. Old dhex. Goddamn it.

    That’s the funny thing, though. Everytime you get on the Internet and read a blog, and you read about yourself, and it starts raining, it always makes you cry.

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