This Article in today's New York Times online is about the quiet, unassuming author of possibly the most influential book of my childhood. Harper Lee, wrote only one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, which won the Pulitzer prize for literature in 1961, the year after I was born. I read it for the first time when I was in the second grade. (I was an early and voracious reader, long story)
My mother, the wise woman that she was, didn't worry about the adult themes in the book, because she realized that I would be able to be captivated by story of Scout because we had much in common in that we both read from such an early age. I too can barely remember when the letters above my parents fingers became connected with the words they were saying as they read to me (as Aticus does in the book).
Not only did I read it that once, but I have grown so devoted to that book that I read it every year or so. I love the story so much. I get lost in the details of a life that is so much not like mine. Scout lost her mother at an early age. My father died when I was 13. Scout lived in the south, I am from the north. Scout only had one brother. I come from a great noisy family of nine.
And yet, the book details an America that I have experienced. Men who stand up for what they believe in against great odds. My father was such a man. Children who made games out of the simplest of things, our childhood was like that. Neighbors who cared for one another, our town had neighborhoods like that.
I respect that Harper Lee has chosen to guard her privacy all these years. I was not amazed though that the essay contest about the book has so many deeply moving essays each year. I could have written one in high school.
I think I just did.
Thank you Harper Lee, for giving me a touchstone.