On February 19, 2016, the world learned of the passing of Harper Lee and Umberto Eco. Lee was 89 and Eco was 84.
As with many others I am a big fan of To Kill a Mockingbird although having been too young when it was originally published, I did not read the book until I was an adult. Up until I was about thirteen my mother, a grammar school teacher, despaired off my ever picking up a book. Once I did begin to read though, she couldn’t get me to stop and then despaired of getting me out of the house. :-) What I still cherish today from my initial reading was ‘hearing’ the Southern accents come alive in the dialogue. Then came the story itself with all those lovely characters. Atticus Finch and his defense of Tom Robinson. The Finch children, Scout and Jem along with their friend Dill. And their mysterious neighbor Boo Radley. Oh my, how that book got to me!
Being an Alabama girl, I am also a huge fan of the movie based on Lee's novel. While I did not realize it at the time, I have a small personal connection to the motion picture. Along with hundreds of other mother’s and their young daughters, my Mother took me to an open casting call for the role of Scout. I was just a kid with no interest in acting so had no clue what was going on. And perhaps to keep me from being nervous my Mother did not appraise me of the situation either, which is probably just as well. Suffice it to say I did not get the part, it went to a Birmingham girl by the name of Mary Badham. :-)
Another personal connection I have is with Umberto Eco's debut novel. The Name of the Rose is my favorite mystery title and another of my all time favorite books. The novel appeals to me on many levels. The history major in me is drawn to the time period -- 14th Century Italy during the political and religious conflict of the Papal Schism, when three men simultaneously claimed to be Pope. Then there is the setting, a Benedictine abbey renowned for it’s library. The librarian in me is always in heaven at just the thought of visiting such a place! Then there is the protagonist, William of Baskerville, Eco’s tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Due to it’s setting, most of the characters are Catholic monks who tend to speak in Latin, a language in which I am poorly versed. While entire passages of dialogue are in Latin, this did not deter me from reading the book. I just went with the flow and skimmed those portions of dialogue, gleaning what I could from base words. Another fan of the book who does read Latin, later informed me that many of the red herrings common place in mystery novels appeared in those segments! Imagine my surprise. In the long run though, it did not make any difference to my enjoyment of the story and may have enhanced it because I didn’t have all the clues to help me solve the mystery before the climax. :-)
In honor of their passing I have pulled my copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Name of the Rose off the shelves to re-read and treasure once again.
If you are likewise inclined to explore these author’s and their works, here are some suggestions for consideration:
- I am Scout: A Biography of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields (2008) – Young Adult
- The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee by Maria Mills (2014)
- Criticism and Related Works:
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries by Claudia Durst Johnson (1994)
- Readings on To Kill a Mockingbird edited by Terry O’Neill (2000)
- Scout Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird by Mary McDonagh Murphy (2010)
- The Name of the Rose (1983)
- Foucault’s Pendulum (1989)
- Baudolino (2002)
- The Prague Cemetery (2011)
- Numero Zero (2015)
- The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (1988)
- Belief or Nonbelief?: A confrontation (2000)
- Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition (2000)
- Five Moral Pieces (2001)
- A History of Beauty edited by Umberto Eco (2004)
- On Literature (2004)
- On Ugliness edited by Umberto Eco (2007)
- Turning Back the Clock:Hot Wars and Media Populism (2007)
- Inventing the Enemy and Other Occasional Writings (2012)
- The Name of the Rose (starring Sean Connery, 1986)