Now there's this review from The Weekly Standard of Murphy's book. I don't wholly disagree with some of these conclusions. Reviewer Philip Terzian is less than impressed with Murphy's book and came to basically the same conclusion I did: Who cares what a bunch of celebs think of this novel?
Of course, it is altogether too tempting to recount, ad infinitum, the wisdom of celebrities as they seek to find meaning in life. But it is worth noting that their flattery of To Kill a Mockingbird is sincere, in such peoples’ fashion: This is an important novel because it helped to make them what they are today, and gave them a career boost at some strategic moment on the journey. Not a word about the language of the novel, or its structural qualities, or whether or not it is a work of consequence. Indeed, most reflections seem to come from the movie, not the written version, which tells us something about the witnesses and, of course, about Miss Lee’s bestseller.
But oh! The painful derision of Miss Lee's book is more than I can bear.
Not only does Terzian call the novel - gasp - "mediocre," but he also criticizes the 1962 film and calls Gregory Peck's performance his "lugubrious worst." Great Scott!
As if that weren't enough, Terzian links to a Wall Street Journal article from June of this year which, thankfully, I had missed. There was much fanfare this summer about the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Lee's novel, and I missed this one. Not so, now.
In this WSJ piece, Allen Barra (who writes about sports and arts for the Journal) takes the classic novel to task in eviscerating form:
It's time to stop pretending that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature. Its bloodless liberal humanism is sadly dated, as pristinely preserved in its pages as the dinosaur DNA in "Jurassic Park."
What? What?! Are you kidding me? Good grief, Mr. Barra! Have you no sense of the real beauty of the novel? Has all the symbolism totally escaped you? The beauty of the southern language? Why, Atticus's closing argument at the end of Tom Robinson's trial is one of the most beautifully written passages I've ever read! Harper Lee brings her novel full circle and thoroughly captures the innocence of childhood in her youthful characters while in the end revealing the painful reality of growing up in a world where people aren't really very nice to each other.
My sophomores love the novel and many totally "get" the themes of not fitting in (Boo, Mayella, even Tom, for that matter) or being unfairly judged. The symbolism of the snowman is the first time that "lightbulb" goes off over their heads and many begin to understand what symbolism even IS for the first time; when the rabid dog, Tim Johnson, comes along, they get that one without my telling them.
Harper Lee may not have written War and Peace, but who reads War and Peace anymore? She won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel and the adoration of so many readers can't be that far off base, even if some are a bunch of airheaded celebrities, as Murphy's book indicates. When my students close the book after the last page and say to me with satisfaction, "I loved that book!", that's all I need.
No, I don't care what Mr. Barra says. I will continue to teach and adore To Kill a Mockingbird and it will always have a prized spot on my shelf and in my heart. If it's meant to be "a children's book" or for adults, I don't care. Every time I read the novel I discover something new and to me, that's a sign of a great book.