Happy birthday, Harper Lee!

This is from The Writer’s Almanac, which is produced by Prairie Home Productions and presented by American Public Media:

It’s the birthday of (Nelle) Harper Lee, (books by this author) the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), born in Monroeville, Alabama (1926), the daughter of a local newspaper editor and lawyer. She was a friend from childhood of Truman Capote, and she later traveled to Kansas with him to help with the research of his work for In Cold Blood (1966). In college, she worked on the humor magazine Ramma-Jamma. She attended law school at the University of Alabama, but dropped out before earning a degree, moving to New York to pursue a writing career. She later said that her years in law school were “good training for a writer.”

To support herself while writing, she worked for several years as a reservation clerk at British Overseas Airline Corporation and at Eastern Air Lines. In December of 1956, some of her New York friends gave her a year’s salary along with a note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” She decided to devote herself to writing and moved into an apartment with only cold water and improvised furniture.

Lee wrote very slowly, extensively revising for two and a half years on the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird (which she had called at different times “Go Set a Watchman” and “Atticus”). She called herself “more a rewriter than writer,” and on a winter night in 1958, she was so frustrated with the progress of her novel and its many drafts that she threw the manuscripts out the window of her New York apartment into the deep snow below. She called her editor to tell him, and he convinced her to go outside and collect the papers.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1960 and was immediately a popular and critical success. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. A review in The Washington Post read, “A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Lee later said, “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

Amazon.com: Best of 2007: Books

Amazon.com: Best of 2007: Books

Sorry to be so late with this, but here’s one of those year-end lists that I missed.  In fact, there are several lists here, broken down by subject matter. There are readers’ favorites as well as editors’ picks included, so you can get a feel for what books other ordinary readers (not just editors or critics) liked best from last year.

Dorothy Sayers and British Detective Fiction

NPR : A Brutal, British Mystery Novel for Boxing Day

Jonathan Hayes, a New York City forensic pathologist, describes how a BBC broadcast of Dorothy Sayers’s novel The Nine Tailors made him appreciate Sayers’s influence on the mystery genre:

In Nine Tailors, the violence is not bloodless, but brutal, and the characters are made of flesh and blood — even Whimsey, the hero, is struggling with the emotional aftermath of the Great War. Sayers helped nudge the English mystery novel out of the drawing room and into the real world, particularly in her later novels. Of course, in the 1930s, the real world in crime fiction was increasingly a modern American world, with hard-boiled writers like Chandler and Hammet rising to prominence, but I think Sayers does deserve real credit for toughening up and broadening the reach of the British detective story.

Hayes says that Sayers transformed the traditional “cozy” mystery, sometimes referred to as an English drawing-room mystery, in which the murder happens quickly and off stage; the rest of the mystery covers the detective’s investigation and thought processes in determining who the murderer is. As Hayes puts it, in a British cozy “The crime is reduced to a trite riddle, self-contained and without broader implication.” His experience as a forensic pathologist has taught him that murder is anything but cozy; it is brutal, not bloodless. This is a reality that Sayers was willing to face, and her work has had a lasting influence on the mystery genre.