Reading Harper Lee in February

boo's house

My experience reading To Kill A Mockingbird was colored by the headlines that I read first. I was reading Harper Lee’s sole written work for the first time when news of her publishing a sequel to her To Kill A Mockingbird hit the headlines in February. Before I had even dug into the book I read an article where she compared herself to Arthur “Boo” Radley, the town recluse, more than the story’s outspoken tomboy protagonist, Scout. According to recent news, after Lee gained international praise and the Pulitzer for her only book the world wanted more, but she shied away from the attention and her sister, whom recently passed, protected her from a lot of the unwanted attention of publishers seeking her out for new work. Strangely, soon after her sister’s passing, Lee announced that she would be publishing a sequel to Mockingbird, insisting that it was her intention and that she had not been taken advantage of.

To Kill a Mockingbird is already so famous among my peers that I virtually knew the story before I even picked it up. To me the trial was not unique to other novels that tell stories about blacks being wronged by whites in the South and neither was the town, Maycomb. What was unique was the texture of Lee’s language which I found so rich and comforting, and Boo whose ethereal presence lingered on every page. Even if I wasn’t reading about him in the moment, I wondered where he went or when he would show up again.

So when I remember the story I mostly think of Boo and how much like him Lee really was in real life. In the midst of it all – the trial, Atticus’ humble acceptance of humans as they are, the constant play on morals and sin, the untainted innocence of kids witnessing brutal injustice for the first time – is Boo. Like the oak tree that Scout and Jem walk by each day which sometimes harbors the intentional gifts of their hermit friend, Boo is ever present, even from afar, and comes out unexpectedly but precisely when he is needed. I wonder if Lee is coming out because she feels precisely that Mockingbird needs a sequel?

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