One of my goals every single year is to read more. I read a lot of books and short stories and student writing for work, and because of that, I have kind of fallen out of love with reading and rarely read for pleasure anymore. I figured quarantine would be a good time to work on my To Be Read pile, and I have finished two books in the last two weeks!
I have been a fan of Harper Lee ever since my 7th grade English teacher handed me a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I actually signed up for the preorder of Go Set a Watchman when it came out, and went the day it was released to pick up my copy. But I never read it. I heard so many bad reviews and people saying that Atticus was not the hero we saw him as in Mockingbird, and I just didn’t want to ruin what was the perfect book and perfect character.
Last summer, I found the book Furious Hours, which is a nonfiction account of how Lee spent years working on a crime novel. She did all the research, took all the notes, and spent tons of time writing, but the manuscript was never finished. I was fascinated by Lee anyway, and knew she had helped Truman Capote research his book, In Cold Blood, so I was curious to learn more.
I’m almost ashamed to say that I started reading Furious Hours LAST summer on our trip to Arkansas. The book is fascinating, and I devoured pages as we drove during that trip, but I was about halfway through it when we got home and life got busy again and I never finished it. I finally picked it back up last weekend, reread a few sections to refresh my memory, and finished it. I came away with a new appreciation for one of my favorite authors and learned a lot about her writing process and the life that she worked so hard to keep private.
Reading this book gave me a new interest in Go Set a Watchman and In Cold Blood, which are the next two books on my list. I don’t think this book is for everyone – it is long, extremely detailed, and unless you are already interested in stories of the South or Lee, you probably won’t be as fascinated by it as I was. I was gripped from the very first page (which I know sounds crazy, since I put it down for so many months, but it was always waiting on my nightstand and I was always just too exhausted to dive back in – those final months of pregnancy and the newborn phase are rough).
I did have a moment when I realized the author, Casey Cep, is from up north. For some reason, it would seem more fitting for someone from the South to write about Lee, but Cep’s writing is great and you can tell she did her research on both the person and the place. In fact, it was probably good that a Southern writer didn’t pen this book, as we Southerners are prone to tall tales and exaggeration (something Lee notes and is frustrated by during her research), and as an outsider, Cep was able to write the facts without feeling the need to insert herself into the story.
The book looks closely at correspondences between Lee and her friends and family to fill in the gaps in her life after Mockingbird was published, and I loved getting to read snippets from her letters.
This book gave me two major realizations:
1. Letter writing is a lost art, and we need to bring it back.
2. Writing is a little about talent and a lot about hard work and dedication. Even someone as brilliant as Lee struggled with the latter.
This book gets 5 stars from me.
Next on my reading list:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee