Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird, community style

These days, it takes a bit to drag me back to Bookshop Santa Cruz on my day off (it's kind of  a busman's holiday for me), but the fiftieth anniversary of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird tilted the balance. We have a monthly community book group facilitated by Julie Minnis, and though these groups have grown in size and popularity since inception, last night's draw of over 150 people was definitely a record.  Judge Ariadne Symons and public defender Larry Biggams graciously agreed to not only come and be part of the discussion but to read from the closing arguments of the trial scene. Symons said that she'd realized in the course of a reread that there was actually no place for her as a lawyer and a woman judge in the book. I suppose she could have played Scout, but she elected to come in the persona of Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch. She encouraged Biggam to do the same, but he advised her that he 'didn't do rumpled'. If you study the picture here, I think you'll agree.

It's very easy these days when you work in a bricks and mortar bookstore to lament the decline of the book and of bookstores as public spaces. So it was heartening to see a huge crowd turn out to talk about this novel, to hear heartfelt and intelligent comments, to see the public interact with their legal representatives in a way that must be rare enough for all parties. Such events, which celebrate the life of literature in a profound but not at all pretentious way, are the real reason to keep storefronts alive. At one point, Mr. Biggam said that in facing a recent confrontation with his teenager, he paused at the threshold and thought "What would Atticus do?"

The internet can do a lot of things well in terms of connecting people, but I still haven't heard 150 people laugh at the same moment on it.

It is, however, a pretty good place to say: Thank you, Harper Lee.


  1. There has been a surge of To Kill a Mockingbird buying at the vintage shop where I work, too! My mom just bought a little paperback copy, to have one, as, for some reason, she didn't. She had access to a zillion copies when she was an English teacher, and taught it!

  2. I guess the anniversary is making everyone remember it and value it just that little bit more.

    It's a bit like what happened with Catcher in the Rye when Salinger died.