October was a busy month.  Reading and blogging hours curtailed not only by long working hours but also by more pleasant things too.  In particular the North Lanarkshire Libraries Words 2010 festival. I attended 4 events – all with no entrance price.  Long live my library and all the Words festival sponsors!

I listened to Booker long-listed author Alan Warner read from The Stars in The Sky and tell of the hell that was being locked up in a study with his female protagonists for the best-part of 12 months.  Liz Jensen talked of how fiction is all about conflict and how much she enjoys piling the pressure on her characters.  W David Woods described How Apollo flew to the Moon complete with scaled models and computer simulations.  And finally, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a very special book, the novel I actually accredit with sowing the seeds of my lifelong love of literature, Richard Holloway joined about 40 of us in Motherwell Library to discuss Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill A Mockingbird.

The discussion was fascinating.  So too was watching a master at work.  How do you control a reading group of 40, making sure that everyone gets a chance to join in.  I picked up some tips, I tell you.  Well-Read in Motherwell won’t know what’s hit them next week!

I took a note of the questions he asked us.  I’m posting them now, just in case you want to start an online rerun.  Why not?  Let’s all celebrate the  50th anniversary of one of the best novels of the twentieth century.

Q1: It has been said that goodness is hard to make interesting in literature, but in Atticus Finch, Harper Lee seems to pull it off.  How does she do it?

Q2: It has been said that the African American characters in the book lack the depth of characterisation of the White Americans, that they are symbolic rather than fully realised figures.  Do you agree?

Q3: How do you think the text would be felt/read by an African American:

a) when it was written, in 1960, at the beginning of the struggle for Civil Rights in America;

b) today when racism in America wears a different but no less ugly face?

Q4: Dill is based on Truman Capote and Scout on Harper Lee herself.  Both were outsiders in very closed, conservative communities, Capote gay and Lee a woman of independent mind. What do you think their status as outsiders had to do with their work as artists?

Q5: Have you seen the movie of the book?  If so, what did you think of it?

Q6:  Can you think of a contemporary novel that takes on society’s big issues as successfully as To Kill A Mockingbird?

Richard Holloway suggested James Robertson’s And The Land Lay Still.  A recommendation that was of particular interest to the Scottish audience.  I admit I couldn’t think of anything on the night.  Two weeks later, I’ve read something that qualifies.  More on that later this week.