I am fascinated with works that hit the nail on the head the first time out: scientific investigators awarded on their first R01 or novelist who win the Pulitzer on their debut novels. Harper Lee comes to mind (not as a scientist) but as a novelist who poured so much of her experience into a topic she tackled with great mastery. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD touches on race relations in the Deep South. Being a southerner, it is a topic I can identify with though it seems that these things stretch even to Missouri and as far west as Cali. Folks are seen differently based on the tone of their skin. However, Harper Lee looks not only at the dynamic between black and white; she also looks at caste differences—people who Aunt Alexandria would tell Scout Finch were beneath their family and it didn’t matter that they were white. The Ewells and Cunninghams were not to be mingled with. The Negroes should stay in their place and be thankful for the scraps they receive. And if change was in the air, then it would come with great debate and challenge. But there was also an undertone in the novel that not all affluent people held those beliefs. Some believed that change would come, only at the hands of the very brave and dedicated and only at the risk of tarnishing their social standing.
I believe I read this novel in school. If I did, it was probably with the aid of Cliff Notes. To my shame, I was never a big reader in grade school. Loved taking short cuts. Yes, the Cliffs told you what the book was about. And they even touched on themes; however, the Cliffs did not—could not—tell me how to feel about the words that were painstakingly written over the course of years. The notes could not bring out inspiration. There was no voice in them. No reason sought through them. But as I actually read Harper Lee’s timeless classic, the emotions and direction abounded as I paired this work against our current position in the world, not just in the Southern United States. At this point in time as an avid reader and author, I delve into the heart of books to find out how I feel, what moves me to act, what fascinates me. I enjoy, now, looking into the history of the author, as is the case with Harper (the recluse who hasn’t released a work since MOCKINGBIRD, though GO SET A WATCHMAN is on the horizon). Delving into the meat of a work to go far beyond the words and into the very spirit of what inspired those words. It is indeed fascinating.