Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

Shields, Charles J. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. New York : Henry Holt and Company, 2006.

Plot Summary
As this is not really a fiction book, there's not a plot. The writer sets up a chronology of Harper Lee's life. He spends time in Harper's childhood, through the "assistantship" to Truman Capote in Kansas, writing Mockingbird, the filming of the novel and the aftermath of success.

My thoughts
I absolutely enjoyed reading this book! I've taught To Kill a Mockingbird a number of times, but reading this book helped me learn more about Harper and how Mockingbird is a reflection of her life, but it is also a stand alone reflection of life in the South during the 1930s.

In the opening pages, Harper is in New York writing. The author then sends the reader back to Alabama for the family history. Shields describes Harper Lee as "tall, with a long stride...the wind blew back her chestnut brown hair" (13). When I read that, I decided that I, too, wanted chestnut brown hair. (So, yes, I colored my hair brown).

I learned so many things reading this book. I took notes how Lee's life parallels the novel which I can use the next time I teach the novel. I marked pages that I want to refer to again when I teach the novel (how Capote felt about her Pulitzer, Harper's English teacher's "rules" for composition, the casting of the film). I feel like I know better the person Harper Lee now. I can understand her reluctance to publish anything else---everything will be compared to Mockingbird. I know how she helped Truman Capote access information to write his novel In Cold Blood. I see how family matters first to Harper and how she did not let fame and fortune ruin her friendships. She became a true benefactor to the town of Monroeville.

I have a feeling that Harper Lee has a storehouse full of writing that we will see long after she leaves this world. She just can't share with us while she's alive.

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