Thoughts on Harper Lee’s “new” book

Mockingbird bookYou’ve probably heard the news:  Harper Lee is finally publishing a “long-lost sequel” to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Some consider Mockingbird one of the best young adult novels of all time—even though it was published before that genre was recognized—others argue it is not a YA work at all, and many think it doesn’t matter. But few would hesitate to classify it as one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century, and, as I have argued before the movie probably came the closest as anything in recent times to an authentic capture of the book’s magic. The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch its top movie hero of the last 100 years and even the current Superman says it’s his favorite.
Mockingbird boxOf course, once you read beyond the headlines, it becomes clear that the word “sequel” is a bit inaccurate. Apparently, this book was Ms. Lee’s original novel, depicting the adult Scout returning to Maycomb to visit her father, and looking back at the events of that summer with twenty years’ hindsight. She was advised to re-write the story from the child Scout’s point of view, though true book and movie fans will remember that the original book and movie still opened and closed with narration by clearly a grown-up Jean Louise Finch.

No doubt many are delighted to hear this news, but, in today’s world of Big Business Young Adult fiction, what will readers, old and (hopefully) young think of the different point of view? My two favorite Tweets on the matter:

Kaylee Webster: Is there going to be a midnight releasing? If so, I’m totally wearing a ham costume.
Kelly Lawler: If they make a movie out of this Mockingbird sequel, it’s totally going to be split into 2 parts.

atticusPersonally, I can’t help but hope that the book proves un-marketable to Hollywood, just because I can’t see anyone but Gregory Peck doing justice to Atticus.
The news of the release is also marred by suspicions about the text, and how it just happened to be “rediscovered” three short months after the death of Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s older sister and lawyer who staunchly protected her sister’s interests and privacy for decades, until she retired from her law practice at the tender age of 100. News stories about how Lee may have been cheated out of her Mockingbird copyright and about a recent maybe-authorized-maybe-not biography harper leehave re-surfaced and have raised questions over whether the 88-year-old author is in any shape to give informed consent to the publication of this material. Certainly she has a long-standing pattern of avoiding publicity and it seems odd for her to change her mind at her age. I sincerely hope there is a way of having someone with no financial stake in the matter look into the arrangement and confirm that everything is happening with kill a mockingbirdMs. Lee’s full understanding and in accordance with her wishes. As much as I’d like to revisit Maycomb, I would never want anyone to take Miss Maudie’s snow without her permission, even to build a rare and wonderful snowman for the neighborhood’s enjoyment.

If this story teaches us anything, it is that we need more Atticuses (or is that Attici?) to shield the Boo Radleys who prefer to stay indoors, advocate for the voiceless Tom Robinsons, and recognize the dignity of those as old and frail as the Mrs. Duboses. But then, we learned that back in 1960, didn’t we?

‘Insurgent’ Movie Previews: This is Making Me Nervous!

Another Insurgent trailer released today, along with a “Sneak Peak” that includes commentary from the actors, director and Veronica Roth herself. As much as I am looking forward to the film and want it to succeed, there are more than a couple of elements that are making me a bit wary about getting my hopes up for something that was as good an adaptation as the first movie. [Read more…]

Call for Papers: New Young Adult Literature Journal

Good news, YA scholars!  Study and Scrutiny: Research in Young Adult Literature, a new peer-reviewed journal on young adult literature is being launched!  Please consider submissions of scholarly work!

MuggleNet Academia at Chestnut Hill College’s Harry Potter Conference: Two Hogwarts Professors in a Rousing Round Table

Louise Freeman and I meet with Karen Wendling, Patrick McCauley, Keith Hawk and Natasha Lei to discuss everything from Hons and Rebels to Aeschylus, Cormoran Strike to Nature Deficit Disorder, and a review of what is fast becoming the best annual gathering of Potter Pundits anywhere, the Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Conference.

It was simultaneously delightful and intellectually challenging like the most wonderful of books. Every talk was a twist and a treat, the old school Hogwartsian campus (with Griffin flags everywhere), and the congenial company — quite a few friends from this site, I’m happy to say, as well as Potterdelphians — was equal to the head-spinning content of the conversations.

Anyway, click here to listen to the MuggleNet Academia live podcast recorded Friday night. I’m already excited about next year’s gathering — with hopes of seeing even more of you there!

The Living, Post 1: Names Do Have Meaning Out Here.

I’ve been wanting for some time to start a series of posts on Matt de la Pena’s The Living, and in light of the increasing concern about ebola– specifically, the sluggish response of a wealthier nations to diseases afflicting poor people of color, not to mention the conspiracy theories already cropping up– the book should attract even more interest.  With the sequel coming out on May 15th, we should have time to discuss the book fully before then.  But, rather than start with the germ class warfare angle, I am going to start with a look at the possible significance of some of the names of the key characters. The title of Chapter 11 is a line the mysterious Shoeshine tells Shy on the Paradise ship, “Names have no meaning out here.”  I am going to argue that they do.

Spoilers ahead!

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