On Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set A Watchman’


I’ve debated for the past week whether to read “Go Set A Watchman.”

But I know I probably will.

And I won’t love it, but I am scared I’ll hate it.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is my favorite book, and has been for a long time. I named my cat after Scout, and my well-worn copy is re-read every year when the temperature spikes toward the 90s (after all, “summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.”)

And now, more 55 years later, Lee’s first-ever novel is set to hit shelves. “Go Set A Watchman” follows a grown-up Scout as she returns to Alabama from New York to visit her father, Atticus.

This novel was not published previously because at the time she wrote it, Lee’s publisher told her to go back and write something focusing on Scout’s childhood. From that request “To Kill A Mockingbird” was born.

The manuscript for “Go Set A Watchman” was pushed aside, forgotten among other documents of Lee’s for the next 55 years. Then after her sister, Alice, who was in some ways also Lee’s protector, died in November the manuscript was found. Now it will be published.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the publishing of the novel–this includes the timing of the novel being found (so quickly after Alice’s passing) as well as Lee’s health (she is almost 90 years old, hard of hearing and has poor eyesight).

Those issues aside, the question in my head at this point is: Was this novel supposed to be published?

I’ve seen reports from literary agents at Harper Collins saying the book only needed light editing. Lee was not in the position to do any re-writing or heavy editing herself. This manuscript being rejected is the reason we have Mockingbird today.

Maybe this novel was never supposed to be found. Never meant to land in the hands of millions who have loved and adored Mockingbird. Of course, right now I can’t say. I can’t judge a book too harshly I have yet to read, even if some part of me feels like there’s something wrong about it.

I know I have to read it. I can’t let social media and book blogs and water cooler talk define this book for me. Like it or hate it, I’ll have to make the decision on my own.

And after I turn Watchman’s last page, no matter my feelings about it, I have to remember that Mockingbird can still stand on its own as a beautiful, yet harsh, look at the American South, childhood and growing up.


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