Connecting to the Past by Picking up a Book

to kill a mockingbird

Until earlier this week, Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird was not available electronically. Readers had to discover Lee’s story of young Scout Finch growing up in a small Alabama town the old-fashioned way, by cracking open a book. (Or by seeing the acclaimed 1962 film version. But a student assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school would certainly never just watch the movie, right? Right?) But now, Lee, who just last year sued for control of the copyright of her work, has agreed to let her book be published electronically, for reading on computers and e-readers.

In a statement, Lee said: “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long. This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”

As many more people acquire e-readers and read their books online, this was undoubtedly a smart choice for Lee and her publishers, who surely want to give people the option of reading her classic novel for as long as possible, in whatever format is the most popular. E-books and electronic publishing certainly seem to be the way of the future right now, and it’s good to know that whatever the future will bring, people will still be able to read To Kill A Mockingbird.

A different question raised by this news, though, is if the experience of reading a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, which is so tied to a specific time and place in the past (Alabama in the 1930s) will be affected by reading on a digital platform. For a young person reading To Kill a Mockingbird today, they are looking at a world very different from their own. Could reading about it on an e-reader create an even bigger sense of disconnect?

Books, physically, are a spectacular and lasting connection we have to the past. Our lifestyles and hobbies and distractions may change, but reading a book is reading a book, no matter when you do it. A book printed today is not fundamentally different from a book printed one-hundred years ago (or two or three hundred years or more, for that matter). Little technical things may change, but it’s still pieces of paper with printing on them, bound in a particular order to convey a story or inf0rmation. When someone today reads about Scout Finch picking up a book, they are able to connect with that moment. No matter how different their life and situation may be from Scout’s, they understand what a book feels like.

But for people who have no real conception of what a physical book is, this moment of connection with the character and story will be lost. They may recognize what a book is intellectually, but have no understanding how it feels. It’ll just be another thing making Scout’s world alien from their own.

Listen, I’m not a Luddite. I love books, but have no problems with technology. I’ve read books on computers and iPads, and it’s pretty nice. Plus, here at Morgan Reynolds, we release all our books electronically as well as physically and even have some e-book exclusives that not only tell great stories but will also look spectacular on your digital screen of choice. And when you get down to it, the important thing is that people read at all- what they read on is a minor issue.

Furthermore, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic novel for a reason- it tells a great story filled with memorable characters, and features themes that resonate beyond any particular time or place.

But it is interesting to think that for centuries, the physical act of reading a book has remained largely unchanged, and very soon, it may be completely altered. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing- it just is. Still, even though To Kill a Mockingbird may now be accessible with just a quick click on your Kindle, it may be worth holding onto the old, dusty, dog-eared paperback on your shelf. The future is coming no matter what. It can spare a few moments to be wistful about the past.

To learn more about Harper Lee, and how her life inspired her classic novel, please check out Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee by Katherine Don (ISBN# 978-1-59935-348-7) from your local library or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Updates on Past Topics

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Time passes, and things happen. Here’s some updates on past blog and book topics that continue to make news around the world:

-A recent report in the New York Times depicts Nelson Mandela, the  former leader of South Africa and anti-apartheid figurehead struggling with his health, surrounded by family and friends who wish the aging activist would be granted some peace and quiet in what may well be his final days. As a symbol of the fight against oppression in South Africa, Mandela remains significant though he’s retired. Now, as he potentially nears the end of his life, it seems as though a new struggle will be fought over his legacy.

-On this day (May 28)  in 1936, Alan Turing invented his famous Turing Machine, a device that helps in understanding and explaining computer functions. This invention was vital in the development of the computer and computer science, and to honor Turing’s accomplishment, every year the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) gives out the A.M. Turing Award to scientists who make major advances in the world of computing. This year, the award was given to MIT professors Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali, who did work in the fields of cryptography and complexity theory. Some of their work focuses on increasing security in various online interactions, such as internet purchases and cloud computing. These issues are far beyond anything Turing could have imagined for computers when he invented his machine, but the bestowal of the award with his name on it affirms his vital role in the advancement of this technology that has come to define the century.

Harper Lee has returned to the headlines: the author of To Kill a Mockingbird has sued the son-in-law of her former literary agent, alleging that he took advantage of her age and failing health to convince her to sign over rights to the book, and that he has cheated her out of proceeds for many years. The case has not yet been decided; hopefully it will not be a sad final chapter for the author of one of America’s most beloved novels.

-More news from North Korea. Kim Jong-un has apparently not taken to heart the request of his friend Dennis Rodman, and will not be releasing American citizen Kenneth Bae, sentenced to 15 years in prison for vaguely defined crimes against the North Korean state. Bae just began serving his sentence, in a “special prison” that is largely a mystery to outsiders. North Korea also reignited tensions and fears about nuclear threats when the country fired four short range missiles into Sea of Japan. Though the launches were only tests, and no one was hurt, the missiles refocused attention on the small country, and its repeated promises to build nuclear weapons. Or perhaps the launch was just some stealth advertising for the country’s new ski resort

Reportedly, director Steven Spielberg’s next project will be a film adaptation of American Sniper, the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle was killed in February, while trying to help another soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder at a gun range. Kyle is one of the many soldiers documented in The Military Experience. Special Operations: Snipers from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

These are just a few of things happening in the world. They remind us that just because the book is over, the story is not at an end, and that to fully understand what is happening in the world right now, we must have an understanding of the past.

To learn more about Champion of Freedom: Nelson Mandela, Profiles in Mathematics: Alan TuringReal Courage: The Story of Harper LeeThe Military Experience. Special Operations: Snipers, or our Ebook exclusive, Modern American Conflicts: The Korean War, please visit morganreynolds.com.

-Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

 

 

 

 

In Cold Blood, Part Two?

  

Harper LeeOn November 15, 1959, two men, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, entered the Clutter home in Holcomb, Kansas, and murdered the entire family. After the men’s arrest the writer Truman Capote accepted a magazine assignment to travel to Kansas and write an article about the murders. Smith and Hickock were eventually hung for the crimes. Capote’s assignment eventually led to his famous book, In Cold Blood. His account became a national bestseller, was made into at least four movies, a dozen related books, and gave birth to the genre of fictional crime novel.

 Capote and Harper Lee, the subject of a recent biography published by Morgan Reynolds entitled Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee, were longtime friends. They had spent part of their childhoods as neighbors in Monroeville, Alabama, as children in the 1930s and reconnected as friends in the late 1950s. Lee traveled to Kansas with Capote and helped research the book as well as interview neighbors and friends of the Clutter family. Capote dedicated In Cold Blood to Lee and another friend but never gave her credit for her help in the writing of the book. Lee was disappointed in her friend, but the two remained in contact until Capote’s death in 1986.

Now Perry Smith and Richard Hickock are suspected of the murder of another family, this time in Osprey, Florida, which took place a few days after the Clutter murders. It is known the two men fled to Florida from Kansas and were in the Osprey area. The gruesome murders resemble the Clutter murders. In both cases the entire family, including the young children, were killed. Most intriguing is that the Florida victims had a car for sale and there is some evidence Smith and Hickock came in contact with the family through the car.

Now the police detective in charge of investigating the Osprey murders has asked the Kansas authorities to exhume the bodies of Smith and Hickock so DNA samples can be taken and compared to evidence gathered in Florida. The two men are buried in a cemetery in Lansing, Kansas. If Kansas cooperates it may finally bring to rest a case that has haunted the town of Osprey for more than half a century.

 We don’t know if Capote or Lee ever suspected the two men they spent so much time investigating in Kansas may have been responsible for the murder of another family. We do know that from their diligent investigative work and Capote’s skill as a writer the murder of the Clutter family received a level of recognition that kept the Kansas case alive for anyone who has seen the movies or read the book, which remains in print. It will be further testament to the quality of their work if the authorities in Florida and Kansas are able to put to rest yet another unsolved crime.

John Riley

Publisher

 To learn more about Harper Lee check out Morgan Reynolds’ biography of Lee, Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee by Katherine Don (ISBN: 978-1-59935-348-7).

Published in: on December 17, 2012 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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