Monday, August 4, 2008

I am Scout by Charles J Shields

I Am Scout is Charles Shields’ adaptation of his adult biography of Harper Lee entitled Mockingbird. I have not read his adult version and so can’t compare the two, but I do feel that perhaps he left out all the juicy bits in this younger version. Shields does a good job creating the setting and exploring her family dynamics before turning his eye to Harper herself.

Unfortunately, besides telling us that she’s a private person and a firecracker, there isn’t much else that Shields seems to be able to tell us about her personal life. There is absolutely no mention at all of a romantic life. Harper is, apparently, completely asexual. No girlfriends, no boyfriends, not a date to be seen in her entire life, no romance, no sordid affairs, not even any tasteful ones, absolutely nada. Surely that can’t be true?

There were interesting parts. I did enjoy learning much of To Kill a Mockingbird was clearly autobiographical. It was insightful to discover that characters in the story were based on herself, her father, Truman Capote, and various neighbors. I enjoyed learning about her and Capote’s friendship – but even that seemed sanitized. Capote is a fascinating person, and though I realize this wasn’t the place to explore him fully, it seemed as though the author cleaned him up. Left out the messy bits that he didn’t think were appropriate for younger readers.

Truthfully, I felt as though I Am Scout read a bit like someone’s college paper. All the foot notes, references, quotes to back up points that are perhaps (ok totally) superfluous as they’ve been already backed up several times before (honestly how many quotes do we need to understand that Harper was a tomboy?). There is no speculation either. Shields doesn’t seem to be willing to editorialize at all. Which is probably a good thing, but I still want more than he gave me.

If you’re looking to find out more about Harper Lee you won’t find out much personal information here. I’m sure much of the problem lies with just how private a person Harper is and has always been. Regrettably, this does make the book less dynamic - it’s just not as much of a page turner without any juicy tidbits thrown in. However, if you’re looking to learn about how To Kill a Mockingbird came to fruition this might be a book that you should pick up.

Jenn reviewed this earlier and seemed to like it more than me as well.


Jenn H. said...

I can see what you mean, though. He definitely cleaned up Capote, and I was wondering about Lee's personal relationships, too. I think much of it was because she is still living and the bio was unauthorized. I might check out the adult one to compare...

Anonymous said...

You have no idea how bone-crushingly boring it was to write about a provincial woman with a handful of non-literary friends who managed to write a famous book with the help of an experienced editor.

Never again....

Charles J. Shields

Patti said...