New York Times book critic Dwight Garner did not enjoy the new book about Harper Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door. In justifying that opinion, he takes an odd detour into... fast food criticism? Class commentary? Something like that.
Garner's primary objection to Marja Mills's book is that it is "painfully earnest." He thinks it "infantilizes" Lee, taking her into Tuesdays With Morrie territory. He may not be wrong about that, but he inflates the complaint about the book into a weirder objection to Lee herself. It's not Mills he's objecting to when he writes of being put out by Lee's love of vulgar foodstuffs:
"The Mockingbird Next Door" conjured mostly sad images in my mind. Ms. Lee has a regular booth at McDonald's, where she goes for coffee. She eats takeout salads from Burger King on movie night. When she fishes, she uses wieners for bait. She feeds the town ducks daily, with seed corn from a plastic Cool Whip Free container, calling "Woo-hoo-HOO! Woo-hoo-HOO!" Somehow learning all this is worse than it would be to learn that she steals money from a local orphanage.
I don't know what kind of life Garner leads, or what kind of life he imagines great writers lead, but for most people those "sad images" are not exactly tragic and certainly not so in a way which justifies the last sentence of that paragraph. Most people in this country use and enjoy McDonald's coffee, Burger King salads, wieners and Cool Whip. Many of them, I'm certain do so at the very same time that they read To Kill a Mockingbird, or Nietzsche. Not to mention the book reviews printed in a certain national newspaper.
Garner goes on to complain that the book only "hints of a life of the mind," which life he seems to think could only be signalled by the fact that Lee "keeps British periodicals in the house: The Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement, The Weekly Telegraph."
It's irritating enough that conservatives charge intellectuals with elitism all the time; we don't need to give them this sort of fuel for the fire! Funny this needs to be said but actually, drinking McDonald's coffee will not keep you from reading the London Review of Books, last I checked.
[Image via Getty.]