Book lovers sensed Harper Lee’s secret—she was a fellow reader. In a way, her life after the astonishing overnight success of To Kill a Mockingbird was a reader’s dream. She kept a quiet existence dividing her time between her small Southern town and tiny New York City apartment, which must have allowed plenty of time to devour books without needing to interrupt a good story with such nuisances as a day job.
The author, whose fame arose from what has been called the most important book of the 20th century, has passed at the age of 89.
In 2006 she shared her love of books with Oprah Winfrey and readers of her magazine, O. She recalled her earliest reading experience: “My sisters and brother, much older, read aloud to keep me from pestering them; my mother read me a story every day, usually a children’s classic, and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening. Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime.”
Since there was little to do in a small Alabama town during the Depression, books continued to be a precious commodity among the more privileged white children who swapped and traded and planned elaborate schemes to read complete collections of series like the Rover Boys or Anne of Green Gables. It’s easy to imagine her swapping with her childhood friend Truman Capote, who clearly shared her early love of books.
Her note to Oprah made clear that her devotion to traditional books continued undiminished, but technology wasn’t for her. “And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.”
There have been many theories as to why Lee never wrote another novel. Even the controversial Go Set a Watchman, released in 2015, wasn’t new, but rather an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee herself never shared her reasons, but we book lovers know the truth.