Bett Norris


Things I Didn’t Know

I didn’t realize that 2010 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird.

There are events and parties and readings from the book planned all over the country. The New York Times article here:

Since I was born and raised a few short miles down the road from the setting of this novel, of which I own several copies, you’d think I would know all this. The small city of Monroeville, Alabama, where the author still lives, has big plans.

I suppose I will buy a fiftieth edition copy to go along with my 1963 paperback and my forthieth edition.

Miss Lee, they say, is a very private person. She does not do interviews, does not make public appearances. She never published another book. She is eighty four years old.

To Kill a Mockingbird is the best selling book of the twentieth century. Right now, it is still selling.

I have climbed to the top of the clock tower in the Monroe County courthouse. That is illegal, so don’t you do it.

I am from Jackson, Alabama. So I know people who know people who know Harper Lee, I am sure.

I copy here the review I posted on of the book:

When did ISBN’s come into use? The 1962 Popluar Library paperback edition (price: 60 cents) that I own has a Library of Congress card catalogue number. I also have the fortieth anniversary edition.
I grew up about forty miles from Miss Lee’s hometown. I graduated from Miss Lee’s alma mater, the University of Alabama. I have climbed to the top of the clock tower of the courthouse made famous in this book.

I grew up a couple of decades after Scout, a couple of dozen miles down the road, in another small Alabama town. I read To Kill a Mockingbird as a child, and reread it every year or so. My paperback copy is held together with Scotch tape. My anniversary edition is a treasure I do not lend out.

As a child who lived pretty much the same childhood as Scout and Jem, I identified heavily with them, and like most who have read and loved this American Classic, I have longed for a father like Atticus.

It is no exaggeration to state that this novel, more than any other, influenced my thinking, and shaped my life. I am a writer, you see. It is certainly no surprise to me that readers tell me they see similarities between my first novel and the one that told the story of my own childhood better than I ever could, the one that certainly influenced both my desire to write and the topics I choose to write about.

Whenever I think that I might write a memoir of growing up in Alabama, I read this book again, and know that I don’t need to. Miss Lee told my own story, those long, dusty summers filled with friends and playing outdoors, the neighborhoods where everyone knew all the children and generally, what they were doing, the lurid rumors and legends constructed of gossip and cautionary tales, secret pacts and promises, moss-covered trees hanging over slow muddy rivers, the far-off rumblings of trouble and upsets as the civil rights movement marched inexorably closer to us, and the quiet in which it finally came to face us. I remember the silence in which they marched, and I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird again, lying on my bed, windows open to non-existent breezes, wondering. Was Tom Robinson real? Did that really happen? What is happening now? Can I stop it? Can I do something? With all the restless yearning inside me, at ten years old, I reached for something, reading that book, lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, trying to see clearly what was coming.

When I read this book, I remember Scout, the little girl who fought against change, who didn’t quite understand the changes that happened despite her best efforts, and I see the girl that I was, straining to see, to understand. I wanted Scout to be my best friend, and you know what? She was. I have always liked books better than people. Some books are better friends than many people I know. Some books have helped me more, sustained me, taught me, kept me entertained, and led me closer to the person I want to be, than any person ever could. Like Scout, I am too stubborn to be told what to do and what to think. But books, that’s something else.

To Kill a Mockingbird will remain a treasured, dear old friend.

Happy birthday to you, old friend.


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