by Mary McDonagh Murphy
rating: 3 out of 5
As most of you in the book blogging world know, July 11th marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, arguably one of the best-loved novels in American literature. All across this great country of ours celebrations and festivals have been planned in honor of this momentous event. Dawn of She Is Too Fond of Books organized a read-along of the classic to coordinate with its birthday month. And Scout, Atticus, and Boo was released in June that pays tribute to the endearing characters, as well as their reclusive author, Nelle Harper Lee.
The book is divided in two parts. In the first section, Ms. Murphy gives us a brief background of Harper Lee, life in small-town Alabama in the 1950s, and the subsequent reaction to her masterpiece once it was released. She also gives the reader some behind-the-scenes details of the making of the movie and how Monroeville has adapted to the onslaught of tourists over the past 50 years. Now I thoroughly love any kind of background information – especially when it relates to the writing of an All-American classic, but as Nise mentioned in her review of this same book, I was somewhat disappointed that the author used so many quotes from the interviews in the second half of the book. In my opinion, this weakened the interview section (I had already read this information before) as well as this historical perspective (this portion of the book could have been considerably shorter had the quotes been eliminated – which would have tightened up the narrative and made it more compelling to the reader).
The second portion of the book centered on the 25 or so interviews of various people regarding their impressions of To Kill a Mockingbird. The collection of interviewers is vast – from the child actor who played Scout in the movie, to a teacher in Monroeville in the 1950s, to Harper Lee’s older sister, to various well-known personalities of our day. I thoroughly enjoyed the content of each interview – and the different perspectives that they had while reading the book for the first time, and how those perspectives changed with each subsequent reading (I believe every person claimed to have the read the book more than once). I often felt, however, that the editing processed was rushed, as the writing is often disjointed and bounces from one idea to another. I am not sure if the purpose was to present a stream-of-consciousness feeling (when I say To Kill a Mockingbird, what thoughts come into your mind) or if the rush to publish the book prior to the July 11th deadline loomed overhead. Ms. Murphy obviously did her research, and as I said, I really enjoyed what was said — I just grappled a bit with the written presentation.
I also had a difficult time with the order in which the interviews were presented: I am not sure there was an order. My spatially organized brain would have preferred that the interviews be sub-categorized — perhaps natives of Monroeville, those involved with the movie adaptation, authors who have been influenced by this book, and other celebrities. I would finish one interview by a current best selling author (Adriana Trigiani) and then immediately have to switch mental gears to read an interview by an African American teacher living in Monroeville in the 1950s (Mary Tucker). Both points of view were fascinating and worthwhile reading, but the juxtaposition of their perspectives was jarring for me: it detracted from the reading experience rather than enhance it.
Having said all that I have decided to purchase the book for my own collection (I read a library copy for this review). In the end, there were enough worthwhile quotes that I wanted to share with my class when I teach this book (for the sixth time) in January. I think that students today need to realize that while the book is not a fast-paced action adventure story, it is one that allows the reader to be swept into another place and time, to become acquainted with characters that take hold of our consciousness and never let go, that shows that injustice does exist in our justice system, and while we may (and should) become angry and frustrated with small-minded thinking, tolerance and love as evidenced by Atticus are the characteristics worth striving for.