Harper Lee and Umberto Eco both influenced me through their writing as I was growing up, and I was saddened to hear of their deaths. In a Paris Review interview Eco said, "An idea you have might not be original—Aristotle will always have thought of it before you. But by creating a novel out of that idea you can make it original." Also, "I don’t believe one writes for oneself. I think that writing is an act of love—you write in order to give something to someone else. To communicate something. To have other people share your feelings." The Name of the Rose is my favorite Eco novel, with its medieval twists and turns, but I enjoyed The Prague Cemetery and would like to read The Island of the Day Before. As someone who aspires to write a novel one day, I find it comforting that Eco didn't start his writing career until he was forty-eight years old.
It was Thomas More, the Lord High Chancellor of England, social philosopher, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist who first "inspired" me to become a lawyer, but the character of Atticus Finch who taught me that we can and should talk about morality outside the realm of philosophy and a king's high court. Harper Lee's words were powerful, in part, because they were spoken by a small-town Alabama lawyer to his young daughter. At one point in the novel he says to Scout, "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what." Perhaps it's true, as some critics have opined, that the book is full of bromides and facile in its presentation, but as Eco reminds us, it's the storytelling that makes ideas original and communicating a message to others that is the essence of writing. The success and influence of To Kill a Mockingbird is proof enough, isn't it, that Harper Lee's words are original and her story an act of love.