Harper Lee and O

Harper Lee will have a letter in an upcoming issue of O. Here’s the story from the wire:

Harper Lee, author of the novel To Kill A Mockingbird, has written a rare published item — a letter for Oprah Winfrey’s magazine on how she became a reader as a child in a rural, Depression-era Alabama town.

The 80-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner quit giving interviews about 40 years ago and, other than a 1983 review of an Alabama history book, has published nothing of significance in some four decades. That makes her article for O, The Oprah Magazine, something of a literary coup for the television talk show celebrity.

In a letter for the magazine’s July "special summer reading issue," Lee tells of becoming a reader before first grade: She was read to by her older sisters and brother, a story a day by her mother, newspaper articles by her father. "Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggly at bedtime."

She also writes about the scarcity of books in the 1930s in Monroeville, where she grew up and where she lives part of each year. That deficit, combined with a lack of anything else to do — no movies for kids, no parks for games — made books especially treasured, she writes.

"Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books," she writes.

 

 

New books, new readings

Books bought:

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

Books read:

The Borderland by Edwin Shrake

The verdict: A historical novel blended with myth and fantasy set in the early days of the Republic of Texas. I’ve never read anything of Shrake’s before, despite his prominence in Texas literature. In this novel, though, he slips some with his overwrought exposition of minor characters, such as Mr. Maurice, the manager of the Fincus Hotel in San Antonio. There are several points of plot: There is Romulus and Cullasaja Swift, brother and sister, on a quest to find a legendary ape creature in the hills near what will be Austin. There is the movement of the capital from Houston to Austin. There is the pending marriage of Texas Ranger Capt. Matthew Caldwell, and his patrol of borders of the Republic. The stories merge as the novel wraps up in the battle of Plum Creek, when a band of betrayed Comanches tries to take revenge by attacking Austin. Throughout the novel Shrake blends in historical figures such as Caldwell and Sam Houston with fictional characters such as the Swifts (or I take the Swifts to be fictional). As far as the historical personages, I was told that Shrake takes much liberty, especially with Caldwell. From what I gather, Sam Houston gets used liberally, too. I think Stephen Harrigan’s potrayal of Houston in The Gates of the Alamo, portrays Houston better, scraping away more of the legend than Shrake does. Shrake seems to work with the legendary Old Chief, playing up the wild drunk and womanizer who evades family and seems to lead by default, his leadership accepted as a cult of personality develops around him.

Spree update

In the time I’ve been away, I’ve finished two books, started two and bought two, adding to my May purchase count.

The two books I finished reading were Nick Hornby’s Polysyllabic Spree and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Hornby’s book was great. It launched my own Polysyllabic project and I learned that Hornby has an austistic boy, as I do. He noted several books–personal narratives–that I may want to look up. I don’t know much about my son’s autism and I’d like to learn more.

Cuckoo’s Nest was OK. Given that the narrator is Chief Bromden, who is probably schizophrenic or some form of parnoid-delusional, makes the story difficult to trust. However, it’s a novel about power and the abuses of power. When Randle McMurphy comes to the institution, he tries his best to disrupt it, and succeeds fairly well. But, Nurse Ratched, representing the powerful, waits him out until he falls well beyond his boundaries. I can see how this novel (one of the 100 novels I’ve chosen for my 100 novels reading project) was important to the Sixties generation; it checks injustices and offers wildness. McMurphy is sort of a prototype of a combination hippie and biker, the rebel with a vague cause of seeing that the patients get somewhat better treatment, but even more that they subject themselves to his charismatic ego, which Ratched catches as his weakness. She thoroughly undoes him and subjects him to lobotomy (sorry for the spoiler), while at the same time, she gets comeuppance. In the end there is no real victory for either of them. Bromden escapes, but what does he have to look forward to? More paranoia? A life on the streets? 

The two books I’ve started are Edwin Shrake’s The Borderlands and Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream. Shrake is a Texas novelist and this is a historical novel set in the early days of the Republic. My colleague Clay recommended the novel, and I’ve been catching up on my Texas literature. This will be part of my 100-novels reading project.

Books bought:

WLT: A Radio Romance by Garrison Keillor

From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler