Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Mockingbird Songs

  Treasures in Earthen Vessels

A Review of Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee



Reading Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee, by southern historian Wayne Flynt, is a sheer delight. There is so much of a “Southern feel” about it that it gives me a greater appreciation for my own Alabama roots. Moreover, it provides a truly endearing image of Nelle Lee both in her own written correspondence and in the author’s reflections upon their friendship. Wayne Flynt’s work will give readers a better understanding of the world of Harper Lee from which her celebrated novel arose. A lady emerges from these pages who is quintessentially southern while forever chaffing at the confines of her South Alabama hometown.

Of course, the backdrop of any discussion of Harper Lee is her influential novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Having been translated into so many languages and made required reading in schools throughout the world, Ms. Lee’s impact upon our thinking and our living is without question.

Truman Capote, Harper Lee’s cousin, makes a “cameo appearance” in Mockingbird Songs as Dr. Flynt relates some of their conversations. Those conversations reminded me of a wonderful experience I had years ago. I went to a dramatic reading of “A Christmas Memory” at the Birmingham Unitarian Church. I had seen the film production with Geraldine Page on television, but hearing his words read aloud by just a few people that Sunday morning was incredibly moving. I had known of Capote primarily as that eccentric fellow who appeared now and then on TV talk shows. That morning, however, there were tears throughout the congregation. My thought at the time was that it is remarkable that such an odd little man could make me feel so good about growing up in Alabama. Maybe that is just another way of saying with St. Paul that “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels.”

Perhaps that is part of what Atticus Finch reminded us of as well, that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels. I was glad that Wayne Flynt included in his book the eulogy he delivered for Harper Lee at her funeral, “Atticus’s Vision of Ourselves.” It had been a speech that Dr. Flynt presented in 2006 when Harper Lee was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Birmingham Pledge Foundation. She told him at the time that she wanted him to give that same speech at her funeral.  “Atticus’ Vision of Ourselves” is certainly an important word for all of us, and needed now as much as any time before.

Mockingbird Songs is a loving “filling in of the blanks” of Nelle Harper Lee’s life, which we could not otherwise have known. 

Book Details:
Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee
Author: Wayne Flint
Publisher: Harper, May 2, 2017
Hardcover 240 pages
ISBN: 0062660101
List Price: $25.99

 

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