Harper Lee — A new, old, book

Recently the announcement was made that a new book by Harper Lee will be coming out this summer.  Apparently this announcement is not without some controversy — with some people questioning if the author wanted this to be released, and what the process of the decision to publish this story may have been.  Though, many sources seem to hold that it is a decision Harper Lee is in support of.

As someone whose always been intrigued by things like “discoveries” of “lost manuscripts” I love the fact that this was, apparently, found by someone looking at the original manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird, it was simply attached to the back of it. How cool is that?

I’d like to put that controversy aside, because what really intrigues me about this is the fact that Go Set a Watchman is said to be a sequel, of sorts, of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I say “of sorts” because it takes place after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, with a now-grown Scout, living in New York, going back to her hometown to visit her father, Atticus.  This places it squarely in “sequel” territory, being that it takes place after the action we all know.   However, apparently Go Set a Watchman was written before Mockingbird — a scene in Watchman serving as the spark for Harper Lee to write Mockingbird (which was prompted by the editor).

It makes me think about all the times I’ve written my way into a story.  Times when the story I start with turns out to simply be the seed for the story I end up writing. There are certainly times when the story I start with happens in the future, though more often the story I start with ends up being simple background to the story I want to tell.

How would it feel to have people read those writings? And how would it feel if I had presented this completed book to someone and they pushed for me to tell the story of a small piece of the tale?

It’s interesting to think of To Kill a Mockingbird as a fragment, growing out of this story that none of us have had the chance to read yet.  How did it feel for Harper Lee to know that the story she ended up writing was not the one she initially intended to tell?

New media keeps referring to this as a second book. But I plan to read it, keeping in mind that it was actually her first book.  It is the story from which grew the story so many of us study when we are in school, it was the seed to what has become a classic.

This fall I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time since middle school, and really enjoyed it.  It read very different to me now than it did to the 8th-grade me.  And, given the freedom to read it outside of the influence of the teacher (and curriculum) guidance, I read a very different story than the first time through.   I know that going into reading Go Set a Watchman I will be approaching it not just as a reader, but also as a writer, as an author who may or may not want people to read my earlier work.  I know that I take great joy in all my writing (even if some of it is pretty terrible) and would like to think that this is a chance to see the earlier works of an author who created characters that have become so entwined in our culture.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming release?

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9 thoughts on “Harper Lee — A new, old, book”

  1. I am terribly excited about it and can’t wait to buy it. I’ll buy it in traditional hardback and set it next to my ancient copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I live in Alabama, not far from where Harper Lee lives, the local news has been all over this talking to locals and writers. I’m sorry there is so much controversy over it.

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    1. I’m looking forward to it as well.
      It isn’t surprising that there’s controversy, and honestly I think it helped me to think a little more about writing in general, from an author perspective. As I noted in a post to a friend on facebook:
      “What I was more trying to do was look to further thoughts on the matter. Again, because I do know people who have submitted works for publication that they would now be kind of embarrassed of. Heck, I have a short story, published, in a book, that I’m kind of glad no one can get their hands on. As a writer it causes me to think about the work we put out there — our growth as writers (and people) and how the work changes. So, using Harper Lee as an example, people looking at this first book and holding it to a bar set by her second book even. I also saw a very interesting article prompted by this about introvert-authors, especially those (like Harper Lee) who have notoriously removed themselves from public eye.”

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    1. It sounds like the manuscript was “lost” until recently. Which is also something I find intriguing, how artists works can go missing like that, to be discovered way in the future, buried in archives somewhere.
      The idea that TKM was prompted by an editors interest in a scene in the book, and then ended up being the book that was published also makes me curious about Go Set a Watchman as far as why they decided to go ahead with TKM and not it in the first place.

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    1. It is going to be awesome to read — and I do hope that she is actually excited about it. It’s kind of interesting to see the way that some of the people saying she’s been forced into releasing this, or tricked into it, are basing it off of things she’s said in the past — as though one can’t change their mind on such things. 🙂

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  2. I enjoyed reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD much more as an adult than I did as a MG student. I appreciated the quality of writing and saw things from a different perspective. I have mixed feelings about the release of another book from her. I worry that it wasn’t really her choice to have it published.

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    1. I think I liked it more as an adult as well, I definitely got different things out of it than when I was reading it under teacher direction!
      Since I have no way of knowing what she really wanted, I am continuing to hope that it was her choice.

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