Monday, August 3, 2015

I Need A Harper Lee Support Group

I think I need a Harper Lee support group.

I preordered Go Set a Watchman and then read it within a week of getting it in the mail. I've been reading all sorts of articles wherever and whenever they pop up on my Facebook feed. I am pestering my dear English professor friend about all my questions that I can't find answers to -- I feel like I'm a bit obsessed about this book, the whole convoluted situation surrounding it's publication, and Harper Lee herself.

When I initially pre-ordered the book I did so because I'm a die hard fan of To Kill A Mockingbird and to have this long awaited second book by Harper Lee seemed like a must read and a must have. I knew a little about the shady timing of the release of the book shortly after the death of Lee's sister and lawyer, Alice, but I thought it couldn't be that bad, could it?

But I devoured the book in a week and thought that I liked it initially. I had no problem separating the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird with the Atticus of Go Set A Watchman. I could understand that this was a first novel by an author who was trying to figure out her story, her characters, her pacing and prose. It clearly was a first attempt, albeit with the spark and finesse of To Kill A Mockingbird still peaking through.

But then I saw this New York Times piece, and if the New York Times has evidence that the person who brought forward the manuscript has been lying about when she first found this manuscript, it can only mean shady things. Then to think of the millions of dollars the publishing house is making off this manuscript, the little disclosure they're offering in regards to how much of the manuscript was altered for this publication, and the fact we don't know to what extent Harper Lee is being compensated and how much is going to this person who "found" the manuscript all feels so sneaky and duplicitous.

I'm not sure if Harper Lee was in her right mind when she decided to allow the manuscript to be published, maybe she was, maybe she wanted to be alive to see the entirety of her work in publication and is beyond worrying about what the reaction will be. But didn't she have ample reason to not publish it in the intermittent 50 years since the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird? Why didn't Harper Lee talk about Watchman even a little somewhere? Why didn't Alice make more legal stipulations about the publication of this forgotten manuscript? Why is it all coming out so conveniently after Alice's death?

All these questions make me feel as if I am somehow a little bit morally complicit with exploiting Harper Lee and her work. I can't shake the feeling that this shadiness, that is making millions for the publisher, is duping not only Lee but all of us as readers. I hate the idea of Harper Lee's reputation and place among classic writers besmirched by how critics have received this book, and if it will always be an asterisk beside To Kill A Mockingbird.

I'm emotionally involved in this bookish affair. And I think it's going to take years to untangle.

Tomorrow I'll be sharing thoughts on the actual story of Go Set A Watchman, it'll have lots of spoilers! 

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  1. I have wondered the same things. I'm getting a library copy someday, but I'm concerned about Harper's desires being violated. It's very suspicious .

  2. Oh good! Spoilers! I haven't read it, because for whatever reason, the book was filed in my mind under the same literary bad ideas as the "Gone With the Wind" sequel. And some truly horrible "Dracula" sequel that I am shocked I even spent any time reading.

    I mean, yes, the obvious difference is that the latter two weren't written by the original author, but rather someone hand picked by the people who managed the author's estate, but still. I don't know. You just tell me about "Watchman", so I don't have to read it, ok?

  3. I agree with your reservations about this book. It all just seems a bit shady. So I haven't bought it, but will probably read my mil's copy some day. And I feel sad that if this was published without Lee's consent, it is not just a get-rich-quick scheme for the lawyer that will be forgotten in a few weeks' time. Like you say, it will forever be an asterisk on her reputation, which no one deserves for what is basically an unedited first draft.

  4. I have sooo been waiting to hear your thoughts!

  5. A friend just lent GSAW to me, and I think I'll read it after I finish 'Rebecca.' To be honest, it's been so long since I read TKAM that I think I'll read GSAW first and *then* go back and re-read it. But I am glad I knew about the duplicity before reading it because I think it will help me separate the two novels.


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