Saturday, February 20, 2016

Goodbye Harper Lee

2016 seems fraught with celebrity deaths. This was followed earlier with the news that Harper Lee had passed away at the age of 89. She lived to a good age, nevertheless, the news was sad.

Personally, To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the few books that I would claim truly helped defined my life. I read it was I was a teenager, when it was assigned to us - not part of the curriculum, but extra reading to help encourage and improve our reading habit. I was one of the few amongst my friends who finished the book, and loved it - and went on to tell everyone who had not read it the synopsis. The book resonated with my sense of what's important in life, back when I was just a teenager, and even now: kindness, courage, justice and most of all - doing the right thing even if everything and everyone seems to be against you. Who can forget this quote from Atticus Finch to his children:

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what

I did not pick up the supposed sequel - partly because of the controversy that it might not have been the author's wish to publish the book in the first place. There were also people who read it and claimed it was somewhat disappointing; I decided I wasn't going to ruin my memory of the original by reading the Go Set a Watchman. Sometimes, we need to know when to step back and walk away.

Someone once said to me that she wasn't a great writer because she only wrote one book in her entire life. I replied, "But most writers never managed to write one great book; she wrote only one, but it was so great."

Charles J. Shields, who wrote the biography on Harper Lee, Mockingbird, said this of Lee: "She just wanted to be comfortable in her own skin". As a tom-boy growing up, I understood this desire to just be left alone to be my own person, to be comfortable in my own skin. It was one of those revelations that warmed me to the author beyond the book.

Rest in Peace, Miss Lee, and thank you for that one great book.

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