Saturday, 10 June 2006

A Portrait of Harper Lee.

My introduction to To Kill a Mockingbird was in an English Literature class I took in university. Most people come to hate the books they had to read in class (I had started to hate a Roald Dahl short story in a class discussion once, and he's my favourite author!), but that certainly didn't happen with me and To Kill a Mockingbird. And how could I not? It was brilliant.

Now I'm toying around with the idea of buying the recently released Mockingbird : A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields, but it's only available in hard cover for now, and I can't afford to buy hard covers nowadays. (And besides, I love paperbacks, they're much easier to transport.) The book promises a glimpse into the life of Nelle Harper Lee and her family, and how her life and experiences led to her writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Information in the book was compiled from interviews with over 500 people who knew Harper Lee. In fact, there were so much information, Shields says he had to cut out a lot of stuff from his book, something very painful he had to do:
As I worked on Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, I had to be merciless about self-editing. There was so much that was colorful about the South in the 1930s, I could have included dozens of anecdotes about Harper Lee’s upbringing in Monroeville, Alabama. Especially when an incident would be otherwise lost to the historical record, I dreaded drawing my pen like a scalpel across a passage and excising it from the narrative.
From the reviews I've read, the book doesn't reveal why Harper Lee didn't write more novels (and how could it, Harper Lee didn't grant the author an interview), but it does shed some insight on why she keeps herself away from the limelight. Certainly one to add to the bookshelf. Just have to wait for the paperback version first.

Additional reading:


  1. Hi Ted,

    Yvonne Lee asked me to write to you to li nk my new blog, just created this morning, to your Malaysian Lit scene. I hope you will. It's at .

    I will link you too :)

    I have to warn you though, I'm NOT technically a literary writer so I'm not sure I qualify for being under your banner of the Malaysian lit scene. More a popular fiction writer.


  2. Hi!

    It's great you've decided to set up a blog. I personally believe that every modern writer should have a web presence that the writer him/herself is involved in, if not with a blog, then at least a simple website.

    It's okay if you're not a literary writer, I'll link you anyway. By lit, I meant the general meaning of literature.

    Anyway, what a wonderful coincidence you decided to message me today!--I was in Borders today, and I had a short read through your book. (It wasn't sealwrapped, like in other bookstores.) It looks really interesting, I shall pick it up next month. (I would have done it this month, but the Payless Warehouse Sale this month has brought me to a dire cash situation... hehe...)

    I hope you continue to blog constantly, your first post is very insightful.

  3. Mockingbird Briliant? Readable, yes. Brilliant, mmmmaybe not.

  4. Thanks Ted :) I've linked you already too. I was in Borders today too....yes, they never seal wrap their books.

    One of my stories in Dark City is actually quite literary, as pointed out by the Sun's review the other day. It's called 'Monster,' but only because there are subtexts upon subtexts in that. That's as close as I'll come to in being literary! And 'The Scarlet Woman' is also a coming of age story, with subtexts from the very beginning - semi literary too.

    Oh well, you be the judge of that!

    If you like, I can comment on your 'Water Tower'. Though I'm not a very good judge of literary stories.

  5. Sufian: It's just a matter of opinion ;) I stand by mine. I suppose the racial tension in the book hit close to home. I, however, don't think much of that other great literary work, Catcher in the Rye. Now, that, was annoying.

    Xeus: Sure, I'd love you to comment on it, though, I have to admit, I myself don't think too highly of it... it was my first seriously written story, and I think I've improved lots since then.

  6. Yes Catcher in the Rye (not salinger though) sucks sucks sucks.

  7. i love 'to kill a mockingbird" and have read it a couple of times, the second time because i had to teach it

    This from an article about blocked writers i linked to in the sydney morning herald:

    In a rare interview in 1964, she said: "I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected." In the same interview, she said she was working on another novel; we do not know what happened to it.

  8. I think I read somewhere that she just gave up on her second novel. She tried again in the 80s and gave up on that too. Ah well.


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