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!

Halloween Howler to JKR

As a special Halloween treat, J.K. Rowling provided us with a biography of everyone’s least favorite Hogwarts professor. No, not John Granger (Trick, Headmaster, trick!). Dolores Umbridge.

On the one hand, I am, pun intended, tickled pink.  Recently I presented a paper at the Chestnut Hill conference on Harry Potter and Nature Deficit Disorder, arguing that the most oppressive characters and settings in Harry Potter are also the most removed from nature,  (See the Mugglenet academia podcast for a summary… my section begins about 1:13). While I didn’t address Umbridge in the talk, I added a section on her last night when writing up the paper for hopeful publication–before reading this latest edition, thankyouverymuch–describing the artifically frilly decor of Umbridge’s offices and the disconnect with the natural world (the flowers, foul porcelain kitten plates), and what that tells us about her (hint: it isn’t good).  I even remarked about that fact the she and McGonagall share the same cat patronus, but whereas Minerva embraces the actual animal to the extent of turning herself into one, we never even see Umbridge approach a real cat,  only her artificial ones.  JKR confirmed that she doesn’t like them. [Read more…]

New Insurgent Posters released today

New “interactive” Insurgent posters are being released on Lionsgate today.

Here is the first, of Caleb.

And the second, of Tori.