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Bye, Boo

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Thoughts on Harper Lee

'The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.' Atticus Finch, 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

My love for Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is well-documented. I consider it to be the greatest American novel of the 20th century. I also believe the 1962 film version to be one of the century's finest pieces of American cinema. In addition, the stage version provided me with one of the most rewarding performance experiences of my life.

I really like 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' is what I'm saying.

Harper Lee's recent passing presents an opportunity for us all to revisit her iconic work and consider just how much it has meant to the literary world and to the world in general.

'TKAM' is a quintessentially American work, one that combines the fertile power inherent to coming of age with a snapshot of a complicated time in our social history. Lee's portrait of the South manages to reconcile its idyllic aspects with the more unpleasant underpinnings of racial and class injustice. It is a vital part of our shared cultural consciousness.

To so many young readers, 'TKAM' served as a sort of gateway book, opening the eyes of generation after generation to the incredible possibilities presented by storytelling. To this day, thousands of classrooms devote time and energy to unpacking the power of Lee's story. The innocent Scout, the noble Atticus Finch, the damaged Boo Radley all of these characters have become ingrained into our culture, each representative of something beautifully simple, yet incredibly meaningful.

(For what it's worth, I love Scout and I believe Atticus to be one of the noblest characters in all of literature. Dill and Jem, Tom Robinsonso many memorable folks in Maycomb. Still, my favorite has always been and will always be Boo.)

Lee's notorious reclusiveness grew to become the stuff of legend over the years; she essentially removed herself from any direct involvement in the cultural conversation just a scant few years after the book's 1960 publication. And still, our affection for her masterpiece continued to grow.

Even now, the magnetic pull of the story continues to exert itself on the culture just a few days before Lee's passing, it was announced that a new stage version of the story would soon be heading to Broadway. It will be adapted to the stage by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher.

Of course, any conversation about Harper Lee also has to include last year's release of 'Go Set a Watchman,' a late-in-life offering whose path to publication is riddled with questions. The book was the best-selling book of 2015; for reasons of my own, I have not nor will I ever read it. Am I sticking my head in the sand? Perhaps, but I refuse to allow my connection to this work to Atticus, to Scout, to Boo to be altered by a book that may or may not have ever been intended to see the light of day.

There's so much that Harper Lee never felt the need to tell us over the past 50 years. Yes, she valued her privacy, but really, she told us everything we needed to know with a story about a small town in Alabama and the people who lived there.

All we can hope is that somewhere, Harper Lee is walking Boo Radley home one last time.

Last modified on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 16:28

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