Tag Archive for: To Kill a Mockingbird

The Novels Not Read

by Paula Gail Benson

I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged. No
book was off limits, although some with graphic battle photos were not placed
in my hands. However, they remained on the shelf where I had access, if I
wanted to look. If I had questions, I could ask my parents for an explanation.
Only twice did I make the decision not to read a book.
The first time, I was in the eighth grade and learned the students in another
class could only read To Kill a
with their parents’ permission. Approval to read a book was a
new concept for me and signaled that there must be reasons why books should not
be read. It gave me the impression that there was something wrong with the novel. For
years, that kept me from reading Harper Lee’s masterpiece. When I finally did
in college, I was upset with myself for having delayed.
The second book I put off reading was M.C. Beaton’s The Quiche of Death. It had been the
selection of a mystery book club prior to my joining. Several members I respected disliked
the novel and made disparaging comments about it, so I decided not to
read it.
Fast forward to the Agatha Raisin series being
produced on Netflix. I was visiting a friend and suggested we give it a try. The
stories completely surprised me. Agatha was an intriguing person, for her flaws
as much as her initiative, and the plots, based on Beaton novels and shorts,
had symmetry and logic.
I went to Barnes and Noble and found that The Quiche of Death had been reprinted
to coincide with the program’s debut. It contained a forward by Beaton. Reading
her background intrigued me. Here was a person who persisted to enter the business of writing
and let no obstacle stop her from reaching her goals. She had published 25 Agatha Raisin
books as well as another series about Hamish MacBeth.
Quiche of Death
was written in the 1990s. It opened with
Agatha’s retirement from a business she built. I was surprised how much of
Agatha’s backstory worked its way into the first chapter and wondered if it
might be rejected if submitted today. However, by the end of the first chapter,
the murder had occurred, and Agatha was poised to solve the mystery.

Now, I’m delighting
in reading the books in this series (as well as The Agatha Raisin Companion) and learning from Beaton’s story
structure and character development. It’s a great way to start the new

Go Set a Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel

Go Set A Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel by Debra H. Goldstein

Once upon a time, a book by Harper Lee titled To Kill a Mockingbird was published.  The book was tightly written, had beautiful descriptions of the people living in a small southern town, and provided a moral compass for generations of readers. Despite the awards the book won and the adoration of the public, Ms. Lee said she wouldn’t publish another book and she held true to her word until 2015 when, after the death of her sister, who also was her personal lawyer, a manuscript “discovered” in Harper Lee’s sister’s lockbox was published.

The found manuscript, Go Set A Watchman, was explained as being the original Harper Lee version that after a year of rewriting under the guidance of her editor became the To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960. Supposedly, her then editor felt the draft manuscript was flawed but believed the parts dealing with the main character as a child with the story told from the child’s perspective were strong enough to build a book around.

The editor was right.

My disclaimer at this point:  since I began writing novels and short stories, I read differently.  Rather than reading simply for enjoyment, I can’t help taking books apart structurally.  Although Go Set A Watchman deals with events and characters after the time of To Kill a Mockingbird with flashbacks to the main character’s childhood, it is not a sequel.  It is a draft.

Repetitive passages, instances of showing not telling, point of view shifts, and even a nickname reference without establishing a set-up for it are problematic – especially since readers are so familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird.  The book isn’t bad, but it isn’t the story or even the characters associated with Mockingbird unless it is a passage dealing with the children.  Those passages are engaging. A careful reader will find many full paragraphs and partial references made to events or actions that are fleshed out in the final To Kill a Mockingbird manuscript.  Some characters are left out, others added and there are major differences between the arthritic Atticus of Watchman and his dignified characterization in Mockingbird.  Most importantly, some of the points that Harper Lee subtlety made in lines readers recall after closing the last page of To Kill a Mockingbird can only be found in long speeches or between the lines in Go Set A Watchman.

If there had been no To Kill a Mockingbird, Watchman would have been read as a first novel with little to no lasting impact.  Although Scout is a young woman in this book, to call it a sequel is a shame.  It should be read and perhaps even taught in schools as what it is — a draft that with revision eventually became a masterpiece.

The Movie or the Book?

I’ve always been one to read the book before seeing the movie or television series spinoff; thus I’m usually disappointed in the movie. There have been exceptions of course. A good actor or actress can tip the scales.

My top ten for where the movie or television series was better than the book:
1. Jaws – the cast, the visuals, the music. That was some movie!
2. Lonesome Dove – loved the movie, never made it all the way through the book.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird – the movie was beyond wonderful; the book was merely fantastic. Okay so I love both but I’ve seen the movie more times than I’ve read the book.
4. The Client (the movie was one of Susan Sarandon’s best roles. Loved the banter between her and Tommy Lee Jones) – The book was good but I didn’t care for the television series
5. A Time for Killing – (the movie was better than the book.) The book was one of my least favorite of John Grisham’s list. I didn’t care for The Firm in either the book or movie version.
6. The Awakening Land (loved the miniseries although Conrad Richter novels are very good)
7. The Hunt for Red October – excellent movie, good book
8. Silence of the Lambs – Jodie Foster is and always will be “Clarice.”
9. The Shining (although that’s a close call, Jack Nicholson makes the movie stand out.)
10. The Godfather – the cast was perfect.

My top ten for where the book was far better than the movie or tv series:
1. Patriot Games – the plot in the book was much more exciting
2. The Kathy Reich novels – I just can’t get into the Bones tv series
3. Jeffery Deaver’s Bone Collector series – the books are excellent, the movies are exciting, but not nearly as interesting as the books.
4. In Cold Blood – the book was much scarier than the movie. The book Helter Skelter was also scarier than the mini-series.
5. The Little House On the Prairie books – when the tv series aired I couldn’t get over the fact that Mary wasn’t blind. Even at ten or eleven I was comparing the show to the books and finding the show lacking.
6. Da Vinci Code – I know some people don’t like the book but I enjoyed reading it – the movie not so much. Tom Hanks seemed totally miscast.
7. Contact – I had such high hopes for the Jodie Foster movie and was so disappointed.
8. Cold Mountain – the book was much better than the movie.
9. Jurassic Park – I liked the intricacies of the book’s plot best, but I have to admit the movie was exciting. I’ll call that one a toss-up.
10. The Stand – couldn’t make it all the way through the mini-series. The book was very good.

If you’ve seen the movie and read the book, which do you prefer? Do you think it makes a difference if you read the book before seeing the movie?

I’ve always hoped for a movie or tv series from Nevada Barr’s books. I can’t understand why some producer doesn’t see the potential.

Do you have a favorite book you’d like to see made into a movie or tv series? Of course my first choice is Murder Off the Books. My co-author and I would love to see “Mac and Rachel” on the small screen every week. We’re just not sure who we’d want to play “Whiskey.” Suggestions?

Evelyn David

Are You Kidding Me?

There are some books that are sacred. I’m not talking about the Bible or the Koran. I’m referring to those classic mysteries that I believe it’s damn near sacrilege to change so much as a comma, let alone the storyline. But that’s exactly what happened a few days ago. There I was, comfortably ensconced on the sofa, Diet Coke in hand, popcorn at the ready, all set to watch one of my favorites: Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.

Of course, I’d read the book. Of course, I’d seen Joan Hickson’s 1984 version. So I was psyched to see a remake, this time with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. But suddenly Ms. Marple, who has been transformed into a 21st century feminist sleuth, appears to have been dropped into a very dumb episode of All My Children, except in this version Susan Lucci has a British accent. I mean the tele-movie used all the names of Christie’s characters, but somebody, and I’m looking at you screenwriter Kevin Elyot, had the gall to change everything else. Somehow Ms. Marple found herself in the midst of a lesbian triangle. Hell, even the murderer had been changed.

Have you no shame Mr. Elyot? What’s next? You’ve decided to rewrite Gone With the Wind? Scarlett O’Hara undergoes a sex-change operation and become Sam O’Hara, owner of Tara, a tranny bar in Greenwich Village?

J. W. Eagan, and try as I might I can’t find out who this pundit is, once said: Never judge a book by its movie. More power to the screenwriter who succeeds in preserving the essence of a beloved book while transforming it to the big (or small) screen. All hail Horton Foote who took Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and wrote a screenplay worthy of that powerful novel.

I confess. Both halves of Evelyn David regularly play the casting game for Murder Off the Books. I’m envisioning a 30-years younger James Garner as Mac, and maybe Karen Allen for Rachel. My Irish Terrier Clio thinks she has the style and wit to play Whiskey and no one will notice that she’s 80 pounds lighter and five feet shorter. Dreams were made of lesser things. The Southern half has her own casting choices. Should we ever be lucky enough to sell the book (we’re looking at you Hallmark Channel) – well, I hope that our literary integrity would withstand any financial incentives (but I’m not putting all my money on it).

But Dame Agatha? Maybe the executors of her estate are laughing all the way to the bank and aren’t offended at all by the changes in her immortal plots and words. But this fan is “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” You don’t mess with my Aggie.

Evelyn David