Sunday Salon: A Certain Slant of Light

Hope In A Prison of Despair

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
– Emily Dickinson


I started this essay a bit ago, but wanted the dust and my reaction to settle before posting it. What helped was understanding the origin and nature of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman (GSAW) which became, through the efforts of an excellent editor, To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM). The following facts also helped.

  • It is semi-autobiographical.
  • Atticus Finch is based upon Lee’s Father, Amasa Coleman Lee. (Finch is her mother’s maiden name)
  • Amasa Lee was a segregationist until later in life when he had a change of heart and spoke passionately about integration.
  • Harper Lee was raised in the same culture as her father, but in a “do as I say, not as I do” way that allowed her a clearer view of the world so she did not have those same prejudices that he did.

That last point is very important and one I have personal experience with. You see I’m only a first generation “Yankee”. My family comes from Arkansas, and from a segment of society somewhere just above the Ewell’s but below the Finch’s. I especially remember my grandmother telling me what it was like when she first came to California and when she met my grandfather. How he came from a family that considered her socially inferior. To make a long story short, after their marriage, my grandfather had little contact with his family. They could, and never would, accept my grandmother.

It’s just the way it was back then. To get a better idea of how Central California felt about “Okies” and “Arkies” like my grandmother, The Grapes of Wrath is a great primer.

Then, and even in some parts of the South now, there was a strict social structure as well as a racial one. This is why TKAM means so much to me – it’s a glimpse into a world that my family was once a part of.

It’s also why I’ve come to accept that Atticus Finch is more complex and flawed than previously believed. I admit, it was shocking at first, but eventually believable.

I also have to take into account that the narrator in TKAM is a six-year old girl who sees her father in a light that we all seem to have when it comes to beloved parents: not necessarily accurate and definitely touched by a little hero-worship.

GSAW is a raw, unedited story narrated by an adult woman who is looking back at a culture and a father in a way that pulls them out of a softened memory and shines a glaring and judgmental light on them.

I grew up seeing how difficult it is to integrate two different cultures. I’ve seen that it is possible to accept the negatives without detracting from the positives. One is not born a racist. Being raised by racists do not make you one. It is all about your choices, and more importantly, those choices are not permanent and disabling.

As much as Atticus/Amasa wanted his children to not judge people by their lot in life, he knew all too well this was how it worked. When Scout/Harper realized he was a more active member of a racist society than she had believed, she was confused and hurt. GSAW is her reaction. A letter to her past, her father, and her town. A letter she wanted at one time to be public; to shine a light on the good and the bad in the hopes that there would be some who saw the light and would change – much like her father did.

After the success of TKAM, seeing the effect Atticus had on readers, I believe Harper decided to shelve GSAW because she didn’t want those adoring fans to see Atticus in a way she had. That maybe in time, after her death, the public would be ready. That decision seems to have been taken away from her, but whatever the truth behind the release, it’s out and here to stay.

In real life, her father (and thus Atticus) was a man Scout/Harper grew to respect and love with all her heart. She accepted his change of heart, so If she can, then I can too.

The challenge is learning to accept the shadows of the past which are created when the light of maturity glows harshly and heavy upon it. But the light is fleeting and will change. Sometimes for the worse, but many times for the better.

This is how I will read Watchman: understanding that Atticus is a flawed creature who eventually changed for the better. In TKAM he taught me about moral rectitude. In GSAW, he will teach me how this lesson has a price and doesn’t always come swathed in a beautiful and perfect package.

PS – As an aside, the other shocking revelation in GSAW was handled badly, but it was based what happened to Harper’s real brother, so of course it happens to Jem. Another lesson in the realities of life and how quickly and shockingly it can change from one heartbeat to the next.






Sunday Salon: Quotas Shmotas

014.jpgHow much do you read?

How important is it to you that those closest to you are readers?

Or is it good enough that even though they may not read, they understand and support your love of reading?

Book Riot just had an interesting post about judging others who read – or don’t read.

As for myself, I always have goals and challenges I work on. However, I do not judge others by whether or not they read as much as I do or at all. I don’t even care what they read as long as they read.

To quote Jill Guccini’s article: “If someone reads fewer books than you do, it does not make them less intelligent than you. It does not even make them a worse reader. If someone reads different types of books than you do, it doesn’t make them a bad reader, either. It just means they are a different human being than you.”


If I judge at all, it’s not on those who don’t read, but those who make themselves a hindrance to those who do; the ones who challenge books and try to ban them from schools and public libraries; who say stupid crap such as, “Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books . . . I am a proud non-reader of books.”

Snobs and haters exist and in the case of that last statement, narcissistic idiots. They always will. Our society seems to have a very strong superiority complex and seems to revel in it any way it can.

Some may think I’m being harsh on Mr. West. But it’s not him as much as his reasoning. If he just came out with, “I don’t like to read.” I’d be okay with it. However, his reasoning is [expletive deleted] vacuous.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see things as they are by turning up your nose at them. From that position, one completely loses perspective.

It doesn’t matter whether they buy books, borrow books, read them on the iPad, Laptop, or eReader – what matters is that books get read; that the opportunity is always there for any person in any way possible to read what they want, when they want, and how they want.

This is a freedom we must protect at all cost no matter how much or how little your friends and neighbors enjoy this freedom. It is ours to cherish and share, not to belittle and judge.




Sunday Salon: Books I Recommend Regularly

toptentuesday.jpgI know it’s Sunday Salon time, but I figure I’d kill two birds with one post.

Over at Top Ten Tuesday this last week, we were allowed to re-visit a topic. Since I never did this one, and it’s something I do a lot of, I thought I’d make it easy on myself and pick the week when they asked us about the Top Ten Books We Recommend.

Easy? Yeah, right.

The hard part isn’t about the recommending, but keeping it to a list of ten, which I didn’t, but what else is new?

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    If you’ve only seen the movie, the book is better in that some of the characters you only see briefly in the movie have a more important role in the book, especially in supporting the moral and ethical themes of the story.
  2. Shel Silverstein Books
    It’d be easy to say Where The Sidewalk Ends or The Giving Tree, but all his books are worth recommending.
  3. Watership Down by Richard Adams
    This story began as one the author told to his daughters on long car drives. It is a hero’s journey told in a form that anyone can read and follow.
  4. Harry Potter Books
    Magical and fantastical, yet like Watership Down it has themes that go way beyond a simple children’s book. Kids of all ages will love this series.
  5. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
    Besides Shogun, this novel helped in cementing my love for historical fiction. The detail is dazzling but not overdone, showcasing how valuable good research is in telling a fictional story based on real events.
  6. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
    Another historical fiction based on excellent research as well as a personal connection to the Chinese culture. At it’s core is a story about a complicated relationship that spans a lifetime and how it survives through tragedy and hardship.
  7. A. Lee Martinez books
    He writes fantastical stories with a comic flair. I don’t think I’ve ever read a horror novel that made me laugh out loud as much as his do. His characters are ones you will immediately like and the narrative very entertaining.
  8. Belgarion series by David Eddings
    Other than Mary Stewart’s books, this series will lure the reader in and never let them go until they finish. Just have some tissues handy. The story will take you places emotionally as well as imaginatively.
  9. Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy
    (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment)
    Long before Merlin was a TV series and the Arthurian legend a box office boon, Stewart was bringing these mythological characters to life, giving me (and I’m sure many other readers) a glimpse of a legend we couldn’t get enough of.
  10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
    (My World Book Night choice this year)
    A modern fairy tale that has a universal appeal. It’s easier to read for those who like Lewis Carroll but are unsure it’s appropriate for youngsters that won’t understand all the nuances. They may not in this book too, but that just makes it a book that should be read more than once – even by adults.
  11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    (My World Book Night choice last year)
    You’d think that a book narrated by Death would be morose – and being set in Nazi Germany, it could be. But it isn’t  Amid tragedy, especially war, life still goes on and in many ways still carries hope and love.
  12. The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
    It’s easy to recognize the Dickensian theme running throughout this novel, but The Good Thief has excellent merits all its own. This is a book where I recommend the reader have time set aside, because once they start, it will be a hard task to walk away from it for very long.

Have you read any of these? Would you recommend them, or are there others you’d add or change on this list?