A young Harper Lee, her thoughts no doubt consumed by the New York Mets.
Harper Lee fever has gripped the nation. Ever since news of her lost novel hit last week, the famously reclusive writer has been everywhere—trending on Twitter, spawning lists, smiling above the fold on the front page of today’s New York Times. Naturally, there’s been as much controversy as delight: Is the elderly author being taken advantage of? Does she want the book released? According to her lawyer, the author is humiliated by such allegations.
Whatever you think about the release of the novel, the whole thing has started to feel a bit squicky, or at the very least odd. All of this has so little to do with the woman herself. Or so I declared self-righteously to my head over the weekend, when I resolved to take an attitude of superior distaste towards the whole business. When I saw a feature on Harper Lee’s New York in the New York Post, my lip curled. Until, that is, I glanced at the annotated map and saw that it listed—along with the Yorkville flat where Lee lived off and on for decades, Capote’s Brooklyn Heights home, and the offices of agent Maurice Crain—the old Shea Stadium.
And that, of course, changed everything. As every fan of a punch line team knows, we cannot afford to ignore any fellow travelers in the cause. And Harper Lee: what a get! All of a sudden, I was totally ready to throw my scruples to the wind and use the eighty-eight-year-old’s long-ago devotion to the Mets for my own selfish ends. Or, you know, Mets ends. Since learning this, I have mentioned that Harper Lee was a Mets fan to no fewer than five people, with an air of smug triumph reserved for the truly irrational. “Harper Lee,” I said casually to a businessman reading the paper on the subway. “You know she was a big Mets fan, right?”
“You know who loved the Mets?” I demanded of a guy on the street in a Mr. Met–patterned knit hat. “Harper Lee.”
It would be hard to say which of them cared less.
In fairness, in a world of tenuous claims, this seems to be a relatively plausible one. Marja Mills, the author of The Mockingbird Next Door, termed Lee “a rabid Mets fan”; Andrew Haggerty described her as “passionately devoted” to the team. Meanwhile, Lee’s biographer Charles Shields told the Post, “She was a big Mets fan—she used to go around with a Mets hat on.” And Smithsonian magazine pointed out (rather gratuitously), that the team was “the natural choice for someone with an underdog thing as big as the Ritz.”
With all due respect to Julian Casablancas, Jon Stewart, and Anthony Weiner, Harper Lee is the best celebrity-face the Mets have had since the death of P. G. Wodehouse. She brings with her not merely gravitas and mystery, but all the moral authority of Atticus Finch. Clearly, the Mets are (as we always suspected, on sometimes tenuous evidence) the choice of the morally righteous.
You might say: It’s a very different team now. It’s a very different world. The Mets aren’t lovable underdogs anymore; they’re just another rich team who’s badly managed, whose stadium has the name of a huge bank. Harper Lee wearing a Mets cap in the sixties has nothing to do with the team today, and certainly has nothing to do with you. But you can’t really look at the world that way, certainly not in the preseason. You gotta believe.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review and the Daily’s correspondent.
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