San Rafael Public Library

Mockingbird and More: Experience the South

Posted by diane on

harper leeOn the wait list for Harper Lee’s newest book, Go Set a Watchman? The library can help you find a book or two to keep you busy and satisfied.

You can always start by re-reading her Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, or watching the stellar movie adaptation. Also don’t miss Hey Boo, a documentary about Harper Lee, the context in which she wrote her novel, and the great impact of both the novel and the movie.

capoteOne of Harper Lee’s close friends was Truman Capote. Check out The Grass Harp, a novel published in 1951 inspired by his memories of growing up in Alabama. Another take on childhood in the South is The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. Published in 1946, it features a 12-year old girl, Frankie Addams.

To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. A few years earlier, in 1958, James Agee won the Pulitzer for his autobiographical novel A Death in the Family. This story is set in Knoxville, Tennessee and describes the effect of a man’s unexpected death on the rest of his family, particularly his young son, Rufus.

Eudora Welty wrote a number of books about the South, but you should also try her collection of autobiographical essays, One Writer’s Beginnings. It gives insight into how growing up in Mississippi impacted her later writings.

In Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster, a young girl in the rural South flees an abusive relationship and reconciles the racist views of her upbringing with the reality of the kind treatment she receives from her black best friend and her friend’s family.

mudboundTold from various points of view, Mudbound by Hilary Jordan, provides a view of race relations in the pre-Civil Rights South. It is 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, and two men, one black and one white, return from fighting in the war only to face a different tragedy.

Another powerful novel on race relations is Ernest Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men, set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970’s. It’s a searing portrayal of racial tensions in which a group of elderly black men stand up to a posse of white men seeking vengeance.

Go Set a Watchman portrays the adult “Scout” (Jean Louise) Finch’s coming to terms with her previously idealized father’s viewpoints on race and society. It’s somewhat of a stretch, but you may also like Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. In this gritty yet lyrical novel, sixteen-year old Ree Dolly searches for her father who has skipped bail on charges of running a meth lab. Like Jean Louise, Ree is both strong yet vulnerable.

Lastly, for something entirely different, try some Southern Gothic. Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood is both bizarre and riveting in its portrayal of a returning WWII vet, false prophets, faith, and redemption.

None of these tickle your fancy? Contact the library with a description of the type of book you are looking for or come in and ask one our trusty librarians for a suggestion!

Books and movies mentioned in this post:

A Death in the Family by James Agee

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The Grass Harp by Truman Capote

Hey Boo (documentary)

One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty

The Member of the Wedding by Caron McCullers

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird (the movie)

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

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