NOVEL: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, American (1926 – Present)
“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. ‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
Imagine my surprise to learn that Harper Lee, the author of one of the greatest 20th century American classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, is to publish a new book, Go Set a Watchman, on July 14th, 2015. It has been 55 years since Lee wrote a novel about the racism she observed as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nelle Harper Lee was the youngest of four children. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a lawyer with the Alabama State Legislature. Lee’s father once defended two African-American men (a father and son) accused of killing a storekeeper: they were tried by a jury, found guilty, and hanged. Clearly, this event had an impact on Harper Lee, for she followed in her father’s footsteps, studying law at The University of Alabama. However, she did not complete her law degree but moved to New York, obtained a job with an airline, and started writing fiction in her spare time. She published To Kill a Mockingbird in July 1960. It became an immediate bestseller, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. After her success as a writer, she assisted Truman Capote, her childhood friend (whom she based the character Dill on in Mockingbird), in researching material for his book In Cold Blood. Lee never published another book, making the upcoming publication of Go Set a Watchman next Tuesday very exciting. Continue reading
“Travel” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, American (1892-1950)
Summer is here again! – a time to visit the seaside, the mountains, or some exotic location. Wherever the destination, for me, departure day is always a joyful time. As I close my front door, I know that whatever adventures I experience, they will change me in some small, positive way. Perhaps, by the time I return home, I will have made a new friend, sampled a new food, or learned how to say, “Where is the nearest train station?” in another language. I repeat to myself: lights-off, mail-stopped, windows-locked, and train tickets in my jeans pocket. Yes, train tickets! Like Edna St. Vincent Millay, I love traveling by train “no matter where it’s going.”
In her poem “Travel,” Millay tells us that though she hears loud voices, or lies dreaming during a still night, she is always conscious of a passing train. She hears the “engine steaming” and the “whistle shrieking.” She sees “its cinders red on the sky” (here, she refers to the old steam trains, fueled by coal). By the end of her poem, Millay admits she would take a train, regardless of its destination. I love Millay’s use of simple words and vivid imagery–the sights, the sounds of a train–as though a train were a living, breathing thing, not just carriages of cold, unfeeling metal. Millay did not call her poem “Train.” She named it “Travel,” implying that a train, for her, is a means of escape–both physical, and mental.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Irish (1854-1900)
ABOUT OSCAR WILDE
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, the son of Sir William Wilde, an ear and eye surgeon, and Lady Jane Wilde, an Irish Nationalist, was the second of three children, born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854. Oscar attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied Greek literature, joined the University Philosophical Society, and won the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek studies. He then attended Magdalen College, Oxford, England, where he developed a refined sensibility for beauty, wearing his hair long, and decorating his room with blue china and flowers–especially lilies and sunflowers. He said, “I find it harder every day to live up to my blue china.” Oscar believed in the aesthetic movement of the late 19th century: Art for Art’s sake. He had a wonderful sense of humor, becoming very famous–and infamous–during his glorious Oxford years for his satirical wit and wisdom. Wilde’s strong classical education paved the way for his successful career as an editor, writer, poet, and playwright.
NOVEL: Persuasion by Jane Austen, English, (1775-1817)
I have been a fervent Jane Austen fan since I was thirteen years old. By eighteen, I had read all of Austen’s novels, her juvenilia, published letters, and even some biographies. Then came the decades of rereading Jane’s works with relish, exploring the many prequels, sequels, and variations by modern authors, and watching every movie adaptation of Austen’s novels.
Persuasion is one of my three favorite Austen novels. Although I consider Emma her masterpiece for its maturity and complex plot, and love Pride & Prejudice for its sparkling wit and intelligence, Persuasion is, for me, Jane Austen’s most authentically romantic novel. With its theme of renewal, it is a story of second chances – love lost, and love regained: Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s love story is one for the ages. Continue reading
SHORT STORY: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, American (1860-1935)
There are no monsters or ghosts in this story, but it is a horrifying tale nonetheless. “The Yellow Wallpaper” describes the psychological deterioration of an upper-middle-class lady–l will call her Marianne. Marianne relates her story in her secret diary. We discover she has a vivid imagination: Her doctors describe her as having a “slight hysterical tendency.”
Marianne’s physician husband, John, “practical in the extreme,” rents a summer vacation house and installs his wife in a large attic. Marianne says, “It was a nursery first and then a playroom and gymnasium,…for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the wall.” Did Gilman have Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in mind where Mr. Rochester “hides” his mad wife, Bertha Mason, in the attic at Thornfield Hall? Apparently, Marianne is not vacationing in “a colonial mansion.” It is a secluded house–perhaps an old sanitarium–rented by John to hide her “temporary nervous depression” from relatives. Marianne writes, “So I take phosphates and tonics…and air, and exercise, and I am absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until I am well again.” John’s opposition to “more society and stimulus” contributes to Marianne’s mental unrest, loneliness, and final deterioration. She begins her secret diary to “relieve her mind.” What does she write about?: Her husband, her illness, and her room–specifically, the yellow wallpaper. Continue reading
“My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, Scottish (1759-1796)
Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet, was educated by his father, an Ayrshire farmer. Although Burns was not fond of farming, it was his closeness to nature that enabled him to depict the hardships of Scottish rural life and the beauty of the landscape in his poems. Two such poems are “To a Mouse” and “To a Mountain Daisy.” His approach was opposite to that of the English Romantic poets who depicted rustic life as idyllic. I love Burns’ use of the Scottish dialect, the freshness of simple, everyday language. There is nothing abstract or ambiguous in his poetry. Continue reading
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, American (1930-1965)
I have just finished reading one of the most poignant, heartrending, and honest plays ever written by an American playwright: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. It is the story of an American family’s courageous struggle against racial discrimination in post-World War II Chicago.
When the play opens, we meet the Younger family: the elderly Lena Younger, her daughter Beneatha, son Walter Lee, Walter Lee’s wife Ruth, and their young son Travis. They all share a clean but cramped apartment, filled with worn-out furniture. We learn that Lena, a widow in her 60’s, is waiting for her husband’s $10,000 life insurance check. The excitement builds as each family member tries to influence Lena on how to spend her money. Continue reading