I came to Mockingbird only recently, thanks to a wonderful documentary about the ongoing inspiration that many readers of TKAM still have to this day, yet I do feel that we have lost a national treasure. Harper Lee's output as a writer may be small in number but it's the power of her words that makes it a true force to be reckoned with. It's influence among readers of more than one generation is astounding to behold.
One of the best ways to truly judge an author's impact is by seeing what their writing has inspired in other writers, so as my best attempt at a tribute, here are three book recommendations along the lines of "If You Like Harper Lee, Try This..."
For one, the story gives us the viewpoint of two African-American characters Aibileen and Minny, maids in Southern households during the early part of the 1960s, who are encouraged to share their work experiences with Skeeter, the young white back-home-from-college girl who feels out of place in her own section of that society.
That's something that TKAM wasn't able to do and understandably so, yet if not for that novel, The Help might not have created. Stockett's book brought up a lot of discussion both pro and con about it's depictions of those characters and that time period and yet, it also brought a lot of people closer by reading it. This is a book that I shared with my mother(who reminds me a lot of the outspoken Minny) and I know we're not the only mother-daughter to make this thoughtful novel our special book club for two selection.
The Help reawakened a look at race relations right in our homes, from all directions in America, and even it's author learned a few things about herself along the way. That alone make it worth taking up either for the first time or the second:
Lily hopes to learn more about her mother's past, particularly since she herself bears an extra sense of guilt regarding her mother's death. Since the label on the jars of honey that the Boatwrights sell is similar to a picture found in her mother's things, she hopes that the sisters will have some of the answers that she seeks.
Monk Kidd has gone on to write other books such as The Invention of Wings, a historical fiction that was a headliner for Oprah's latest book club, yet this heartfelt tale that weaves in tragedy,love, race and regret is still a solid hallmark of her art. Like The Help, The Secret Lives of Bees was made into a movie but I still haven't seen it yet. Well, it's never too late to catch up on the good stuff and it'll give me another reason to enjoy the book again:
FOUR SPIRITS: The title spirits of Sena Jeter Naslund's novel set in the sixties refers to the four girls who died in the infamous church bombing in Birmingham and while story follows several characters, it's center is Stella Silver, a college student awakened by that tragedy to take part in the growing civil rights movement.
I haven't read this one yet but it's been sitting on my shelf long enough and I intend to add it to my active reading list this year. Naslund grew up in Birmingham, which gives her look at this moment in time a personal connection and having read a couple of her other books, I think this one should be interesting to explore.
In 2001, Sena Jeter Naslund won the Harper Lee Award from the University of Alabama's writing program for her body of work up to that point, which was two years before Four Spirits came out. That's more than enough reason to suggest this book but considering the current sociopolitical struggles that we're dealing with these days that hearken back to that particular decade of social change, Four Spirits may have found it's right place in literary time to be discovered:
Well, that's my list of Harper Lee-esque selections and I hope that at least one of them is new to you. I would also suggest that if you haven't read Go Set a Watchman yet, this might be a good time to do so.
If not, that's okay but if you are curious about what the fuss was all about, I do promise you an interesting read. You may not like it, for many reasons, but the book certainly offers a good amount of food for thought.
Something to keep in mind about Go Set a Watchman is that it was the starting point for Scout and Atticus, so perhaps if it were not for GSAW, TKAM might not have been written and that would have been an enormously great loss to us all, as much as the loss of Harper Lee feels to many of us right now: