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The Case of the Missing Author

To the fans who waited for me at the Barnes & Noble White Marsh on Wednesday, July 26th -- it's actually pretty easy to solve the mystery of my non-appearance. No one told me I was supposed to be there. I was all of fifteen miles away, making five-spice turkey wraps (delicious and nutritious) and watching a Project Runway rerun (Delicious in its own way).

We're working on setting up a return engagement, perhaps as early as next week. I've been told that people were extremely kind and courteous, which affirms my belief in Baltimoreans' basic niceness. Please know that no one's really at fault. The flub can be traced to a computer error.

I'll post the new info as soon as I have it. And maybe I'll even bring some home-baked goods. Or, better yet, Otterbein cookies, which are mentioned in NO GOOD DEEDS. As are the limitations of technology, come to think of it.

July 2006

Boo Radley's Porch

Click here for the NO GOOD DEEDS tour info The recent publication of Mockingbird, Harper Lee's unauthorized biography has led to several pieces re-examining To Kill a Mockingbird. Thomas Mallon, one of my favorite novelists and critics, found it wanting, which was distressing to me; Stephen Metcalf of Slate mounted a lively defense.

At this point, I don't think I can form a dispassionate, analytical view of Scout any more than I could clinically assess a family member or an old friend. I love To Kill a Mockingbird. I appreciate the fact that it's one of the rare "classics" told from a girl's point of view. A tomboy, to be sure, and the book is as much about Jem as it is about Scout, but she's a girl nevertheless. I still laugh when Scout misses her cue to parade as a ham, her teacher calling in vain: "Po-ork? Po-ork?" And while its advice to walk in another man's moccasins is now at once banal and politically incorrect, it remains pretty good advice. Do you remember what Scout saw from Boo Radley's porch at the end of the book?
   "I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle. There were Miss Maudie's, Miss Stephanie's -- there was our house, I could see the porch swing -- Miss Rachel's house was beyond us, plainly visible. I could even see Mrs. Dubose's . . . .
   It was summertime, and two children scampered down the sidewalk toward a man approaching in the distance. The man waved, and the children raced each other to him.
   It was still summertime, and the children came closer. A boy trudged down the sidewalk dragging a fishing-pole behind him. A man stood waiting with his hands on his hips. Summertime, and his children played in the front yard with their friend, enacting a strange little drama of their own invention.
    . . . . Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog.
   Summer, and he watched his children's heart break. Autumn again, and Boo's children needed him."
© Harper Lee
No Good Deeds Boo Radley's porch is a good thing to shoot for as a novelist, as a person. I'm not so sure I'd go as far as Atticus Finch, who assures his daughter that most people are nice "when you finally see them." But I will say that it's hard to know if people are nice or not until you do see them. Summer is a good time for hanging out on porches; why not try Boo's? Read something that you don't normally read, reconsider some truth you hold to be self-evident. Coke versus Pepsi, the National League versus the American League, Thomas Mallon versus Harper Lee. And if you're one of those odd people who doesn't get Johnny Cash, then try again for the love of God.

Harper Lee's biography has also prompted some discussion about her inherent dignity."That's the way to do it," one writer friend said, referring to her steadfast silence, her refusal to do interviews or participate in her biography. (Although she did write a short piece for O magazine.) When I've sold 30 million copies of one title, I'll stop touring, too. This summer, however, I'm on the road. Stop by. Be kind. Think of what it's like to walk a mile in my Cole Haans, which I'm constantly removing for airport security - and which, according to the official website, are properly called moccasins.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished - but Some are Rewarded:

A gentleman from Texas wrote to say he loves the Tess books, but his wife doesn't want to visit Baltimore. I had hoped to send them a copy of Digging to America to persuade her of Charm City's innate niceness, but he's yet to provide his address. Other books looking for a good home include Wendy Wasserstein's Elements of Style. Look, it's not eHarmony, but it's free!

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