This summer bookstores and communities are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Next Sunday, Schuler Books in the Eastwood Towne Center will host more than 25 Lansing Michigan area authors, actors and community leaders in an all-day read of the seminal book. This Wednesday the Lansing City Pulse will carry an article I wrote about the criticism the book is drawing from writers such as Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point”).
Gladwell, writing in The New Yorker, weighed in about the book’s focus on what he called a “hearts and minds approach” which he says is about “accommodation not reform”. Most critics point to the book’s simplistic portrayal of race and right and wrong as flaws that can not be overlooked, regardless of the book’s popularity. One of the hallmarks of a great book is that it is still being debated long after it was first published. That seems to be the case with “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Read in the Pulse what three local authors and a librarian have to say about the book’s longevity. The Jim Crow situations and the moral ambiguities that Harper Lee wrote about are just as timely and pointed today as they were 50 years ago.
This past Sunday, writing in the New York Times, Op-Ed columnist Frank Rich brought this home in his editorial “Fourth of July 1776, 1964, 2010.” In it he points out numerous contemporary situations that could have been right out of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
First, he cites West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd who was one of the most vociferous anti-civil rights opponents as there could be. It was almost demanded for Byrd to be anti-civil rights since at one time he was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan, but Rich goes on to point out that Byrd spent the rest of his time in the Senate atoning for his “ugly past”. This past week an African American President ordered our nation’s flag flown at half mast in honor of Senator Byrd who had passed away.
And then there’s the case of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wh0 was frequently mentioned in last week’s hearing on Elena Kagan, nominee for Supreme Court. Rich pointed out that the language used to frame questions for Kagan was eerily similar to the language used during Marshall’s nomination hearings in 1967. Leading the attack on Marshall was Senator Strom Thurmond of North Carolina who after his death it was discovered he had fathered a child with a black maid in the 1920s. But probably in one of the most ironic turnarounds in history, Thurmond’s son was recently defeeated t in the South Carolina Senate primary by a black man.
It seems to me that Harper Lee’s novel might just ring as true today as it did during the 1960s. Read it and see and be sure to stop by Schuler’s for the readathon which is being held as a fundraiser for the Capital Area Literacy Foundation.