Inside the September 25, 1965, issue of The New Yorker was the literary event of the decade: the first of four installments of Truman Capote’s pioneering true crime account, In Cold Blood. Its subject, the brutal murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, had taken place nearly six years earlier, but Capote had to wait until the two convicted killers were executed to give his “nonfiction novel” an ending.
A lot of ink has been spilled about Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, published last month, 55 years after her widely revered first, To Kill a Mockingbird. Just about every major newspaper, magazine and blog has printed or posted reviews, appraisals and polemics on the novel and its significance. It’s certainly no longer a secret that Mockingbird’s admired, unwaveringly just father figure, Atticus Finch, harbored a hardline racist soul in Lee’s original conception. This revelation has shaken millions who loved the first book and its one-dimensional hero. But what if Watchman’s Atticus had come to us first? Would this complex figure have had something more truthful to teach us?
Over the course of his long life, Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, wrote and published 46 children’s books. If you’re like so many other kids around the world, you have read and learned from more than one. You practiced counting and color recognition with One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. You were taught to try new things in Green Eggs and Ham. You learned to respect and care for the earth in The Lorax. And eventually—at about the time you graduated from high school—you were told by Oh, the Places You’ll Go! that while you’re definitely a winner, you’re not always going to win, and life is as much about boredom and waiting as it is about making new friends.
The age of social media has not been kind to the elderly. A Yale University study of Facebook groups “that concentrated on older individuals” found that 98 percent of the comments were negative, including one recommendation that everyone over 69 be put to death by “fire squad.” Elder-bashing is in vogue, but then it always is. Today’s retirees are from the “don’t trust anyone over 30” generation, which only proves that ageism is prejudice of your future self. But despite the era’s insults, the elder stateswomen of literature are having a moment—and a big one.