Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields

This biography is awesome.  It intrigues me that a woman who defined her existence by writing (even as a child) could turn out To Kill a Mockingbird then not publish another piece of text for the next 47 years.

In keeping with the preceeding post (From the Walls of John Wooden) I steal this excerpt from Shields’s portrait of Harper Lee to share with you:

“…Lee went to New York in 1949 to become a writer.  She spent eight years at odd jobs until friends loaned her enough money to live on for a year so that she could write full-time.  Even so, the manuscript she showed Tay Hohoff, an editor at J.B. Lippincott, resembled a string of stories instead of a novel.  Two and a half years of rewriting followed, under Hohoff’s guidance.  At last, To Kill a Mockingbird was completed and slated for publication in July 1960.”

So, I suppose those us on the cusp of publication shouldn’t feel weakened by that status, but informed by the lives of people like Lee.  Put this one on your TBR list.  It’ll be worth your time.

Because I love history, I read a lot of books that walk me back through the past.  One thing I’ve noticed about these books and their authors is they dredge up the most obscure vocabulary words that it makes me wonder if historians and biographers inhabit a completely different world.  Maybe they just don’t get enough Us magazine and American Idol in their daily diet. 

I don’t have a bad vocabulary.  As a matter of fact I scored 9/10 on the AOL vocabulary test with the word Pheolm or something like that that relates to plants being the only word that tripped me up.  But who needs that word for the perusing of Us Magazine or Mockingbird?  Let’s be honest, here.

But Mockingbird has presented me with a rats nest of words I’ve never heard of.  Much like when I read the book The Mellon Family, a few years ago, I got a bit into Mockingbird and found a plethora of unfamiliar words.  So as per The Mellon Family, I started circling the words I didn’t know to go back to later.  At the risk of being viewed as dumber than I might already be seen, but in the spirit of Wooden and Lee I’m going to list some of the words in Mockingbird I didn’t know.  Tell me if you know them.  Don’t worry.  I can use the humbling.

Vocab Lesson 1 

(click on pulchritude if you want access to the online dictionary.  I’m sure you won’t need it.)








Now that I know what they mean, I’m going to slip them into my WIP and whomever finds them when it’s published will get five cents and an extra mention at the housewifecafe. 

So, how did you do?  How dumb do you make me look?

12 thoughts on “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields

  1. Fun post, Kathie! I had to laugh at seeing “somnolent” and “somnambulant” because I learned the word “somnambulist” as a kid and used to try to figure ways to work it into a conversation.

    New word for me: bumptious. I absolutely love it — a scrumptious way to describe all the bumptious people I know! Perfect for a rhyming picture book! Maybe I’ll write one!

  2. Thanks Judy! I never learned these words and never saw them in print that I remember. I think it’s interesting most of them are words that start with letters at the end of the alphabet, as though my teachers didn’t get past the letter K in the dictionary–and I was clearly sleeping or swooning over some lad when bumptious came around…

  3. I feel awful. I read TKAMB for my English lit exam, buggered if I can remember much about it. Age 15, I found it tedious and boring. Wonder what I’d think of it now? Mind you, I got an A in Eng Lit so must have done something right hahaha.

    Hope you’re well!


  4. M.E,
    I think that’s typical of most high school kids, isn’t it? I’ve been slowlyreading all the stuff I either didn’t read or didn’t pay attention to the first time. Some of it’s better than I remember or imagined, but some is deadly. Oh well, that’s the wayit is with literature, right?

  5. I thought I was good at vocabulary until I saw your list….thanks for humbling me. 😉 I kinda knew two of them, but not well enough to EXPLAIN them to anyone — wow, do I suck.

    Your previous post was awesome — good refrigerator material!

  6. Thanks, CC, that’s sweet of you. I’m glad you appreciated the last post!!! I had a sense of what the words meant and not knowing them didn’t hinder my comprehension of what I was reading, but when three unknown words on two pages show up and several fast, following, I start to get interested in what I don’t know. If it was one of those testing situations with four words and a definition, I think I’d be close, but with no hint–the context wasn’t helpful in being specific–I was 0 fer!

  7. I watch Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and Survivor…I knew none of the words. When I see words I don’t know I tend to skip them. Even though my book group always encourages marking them. Our book group starts off with a vocab. quiz each month – only our token Harvard grad ever gets them! Cute post…it made me want to expand a bit! Kathy

  8. Thanks, Kathy I’m laughing at your monthy vocab quiz–that must be fun. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only commercial TV junkie!

  9. Cool post Kathie. I love that book, and have always been intrigued by its singularity. It sort of lends fodder to the rumor that it was co-written by her childhood pal, Truman Capote.

  10. Hi Jamie, glad to see you back! Hope the revisions are finished as good as you want them to be! I agree, there’s a lot of interesting stuff regarding Capote and Lee’s friendship. Apparently, he never gave her credit for the mountainous work she did on his behalf for In Cold Blood…oh the saga continues.

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