Just finish off that damned mockingbird, will ya?

A few sentences in this review by Meghan O'Rourke of a new Harper Lee biography really bothered LK, and it’s time for a pouncing:

Even so, Mockingbird fails to offer as nuanced a portrait of Lee as one would hope for or to cast much literary insight on To Kill a Mockingbird. In the absence of reliable data from which to forge a coherent narrative, Shields… (gives) short shrift to complicated questions: Is To Kill a Mockingbird a great novel or a sentimental, didactic one? Was Lee really a brilliant writer or an average one who, with great diligence and the support system of a talented editor and agent, was able to shape a highly autobiographical story that hit a cultural nerve in the years leading up to the civil rights movement?

This kind of criticism offers little in the way of discourse and dialogue, and much in the way of staking American literature through the heart. The so-called “complicated questions” she raises are masking her real intent; isn’t what she really asking is if “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” of its time? That is patently absurd (for one thing, “TKaM” is much better written, and for another, it did not inflame public sentiment the way “UTC” did) – and takes a short-view of literature, which so many critics (and writers) these days seem to do. The questions O'Rourke raises do not matter! What matters is the work, and what will count is how it stands the test of time. “TKaM” does not, in my view, work only as a commentary on mid-century American race relations; that is so reductive as to be provincial. A hundred years from now, readers will be able to take Scout’s journey and still relate to the grand themes of family and community, and the meaning of connection and honor and integrity. O'Rourke’s asking if the book is great or if Lee is a brilliant writer puts literature squarely into the marketplace as a mere product and authors centrally in the spotlight as sheer personality. (This is a parallel problem we had with Harper Lee contributing an essay to O Magazine recently; for an author who has remained shuttered, this was a brazen bow to the mass market.)

We will say it straight out: American literature is not a commodity.

LK, for one, is sick of critics and publishers alike reducing literature to a bear or bull market, to quarterly earnings and to trend. How much are we missing because editors, publishers and critics fail to see beyond the author’s bio, to read beyond potentially shocking subject matter, or to treat style as the literary equivalent of this season’s hemline length?

There, now, we can retract our claws.


Proust or Joyce: Who would be the better blogger?

I am inclined to imagine Marcel banging away at an iBook, with popcorn ceilings above and walls stapled with cardboard egg cartons. Somehow I feel Joyce would sneer at authoring a blog; too proletarian.

Any ideas on what Proust's blog would be called? Marcel More-So?

Thoughts for Thursday

And now, to elevate Thursday to the same status as other days of the week (many of which are featured in popular songs), LK continues to amuse the muse by musing.

What makes this Thursday different from any other Thursday?

Maybe if I was born on this date, or maybe if something traumatic happened, this day would snag in my memory.

I can’t remember details from any other particular Thursday from my past, which makes me very sad and a bit frightened at the ephemeral stuff of life.

I have gotten to wishing I could pluck one single Thursday, even the most boring one, from any of the Thursdays I lived when I was seven or 12 or 18. Such a revisit would hold such fascination, just by virtue of its being a past event. Maybe I could discover a key to how I have arrived at who I am at this point in my life.

I don’t care much about seeing into the future, a time when a sore ankle and bad back may very well be the least of my worries.


What do you do when you’re in the reading doldrums?

You know the feeling: You’re dying to get lost in a new read, have an author haul you by the roots of your hair into a universe far away from your own, find an un-put-downable tome that you keep at hand the way some people carry cell phones, lest you find yourself with a spare minute and nowhere in the vicinity of your dog-eared page-turner. But, lately, you pick up one book and it doesn’t quite grab you. You pick up another and lose interest after a few pages. You try another and the language or characters or plot don’t reel you in beyond page 3 or 4.

It seems a number of litbloggers are having a hard time focusing on or sustaining interest in what they’re reading. Maybe the heat wave is making bloggereaders sluggish. Maybe it’s midsummer burnout.

So I put it to you, readers: What do you do when you’re in the reading doldrums? Do you turn to a particular author or genre to gently jolt you back into a renewed passion for the written word? Do you switch media altogether, watching TV or movies for a while? What about pulling a beloved classic off the shelf? Maybe you grit your teeth and finish something, anything, just to keep going? Or do you simply put away books for a while?

Perfect summer reading

A few days in the High Sierra…peace, quiet, nature. And now back to more than a hundred hideous work-related e-mails. So we’re taking a few moments to preserve the vacation mentality a bit longer.

Found the perfect book to take on a hike to the high camps and read by flashlight: “The February House,” Sherrill Tippins. This book details how, around the beginning of WWII, artists shared a brief moment of communal creativity. Picture a shabby Brooklyn brownstone with W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Paul and Jane Bowles (possibly the most unpleasant couple in contemporary literary history) and Gypsy Rose Lee all composing various works, sharing meals and wine and prowling the rough city docks. Well-written, well-paced and a different take on the lives of these artists at a moment when the world went mad. Five out of five purrs from the Literate Kitten as the ideal summer read.

Yes, we finished “Swann’s Way,” and yes, we are preparing for “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.” We avoided reading critical essays for the most part (with the exception of dipping into Roger Shattuck’s Field Guide) because LK wanted to read Proust with virgin eyes. But with Volume 1 complete, we are reading “Recovering Your Story,” Arnold Weinstein, which we’ll comment on in a future entry.

For now, we will share with you, dear reader, some voluntary memories we gathered during our three-day trip to Yosemite:

Caught mid-trail in a hailstorm…a man with Tourette’s syndrome who raised pet chameleons…a couple with 8 children between them who met on eHarmony…a 72-year-old naturalist who knew all the Latin names for the blooming wildflowers…fending off cumulus clouds of mosquitoes…hiking an unmarked trail once used by the 24th Mounted Infantry and the 9th Cavalry (Buffalo soldiers)…singing the theme to “Gilligan’s Island” with 5 new friends from Santa Cruz…two beautiful sunsets from the high ridges…listening to raindrops scatter on the canvas tent during an evening rainstorm…two marmots and a deer…a group of six men who visit the High Camps every year (playing a golf game before and after their trip)…finding the back trail around Tenaya Lake…