To buy, or to even read, To Set a Watchman?

Today “Go Set a Watchman” was released. When I first heard about a new book by Harper Lee I was intrigued. But the more I read about it, the less anxious I am to get my hands on a copy. Not entirely because of the reported subject matter of the unforseen bigot characteristics of Atticus Finch (in fact I’d be interested in seeing how this was handled in the novel). From what I understand Watchman was actually written before To Kill A Mockingbird, yet is considered a sequel. Whether or not you can call it a sequel seems to be up for debate. Some think that Watchman wasn’t that good on its own, and that the more compelling story was of Scout’s childhood and hence Mockingbird was born from that. I guess that’s a good reason to read the book and see whether or not you can actually draw a straight line between the two novels and how the characters develop over time, or should they be taken as completely separate works altogether?

I will say, however, if ever this is a reason to dust off the library card and read a borrowed version of the book rather than actually buy the book and add it to the personal library, this seems to be it. The background story about how this book has finally come to be published doesn’t sit well with me at all, and as curious as I am to hear the story on the pages, the last thing I want to do is line the pockets of publishers and possibly others who are taking advantage of an elderly woman who may or may not realize what is going on with ideas she put down on paper decades ago.

The following are just a few examples of articles written over the last several months since the news broke that this novel existed and was to be published that touch on the shady background of all this.

Harper Lee appears to have had only the most marginal input on the book that will bear her name. Jonathan Burnham announced that his company “had never spoken directly to Ms. Lee about the book and had communicated solely through her lawyer, Ms. Carter, and her literary agent, Andrew Nurnberg.”

The Suspicious Story Behind Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ by William Giraldi (New Republic 7/13/2015)

In February, Birmingham News reporter Connor Sheets wrote, “Multiple residents of Monroeville who have known Harper Lee for years said Wednesday that they believe the 88-year-old author does not possess sufficient mental faculties to make informed decisions about her literary career.”

Can Alabama Determine What Harper Lee Wants? by David A. Graham (The Atlantic 3/12/2015)

“I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to ‘Watchman,’ ” Ms. Lee, 88, said in a statement that she is said to have given to her lawyer, Tonja Carter, on Wednesday when Ms. Carter visited her at an assisted-living facility in Monroeville, Ala.

In Statement, Harper Lee Backs New Novel By Alexandra Alter and Serge F. Kovaleski (NY Times 2/5/2015)

Lee once told Oprah Winfrey, over a (private) lunch, why she’d never appear on her show: While people tended to compare her to Scout, she explained, “I’m really Boo.” Lee did not, in the manner of some other literary “recluses,” fully withdraw from public view—she occasionally accepts awards and honorary degrees and the like—but she has insisted that her participation in her own publicity be mostly of a silent nature. In 2007, at a ceremony inducting four new members into the Alabama Academy of Honor, Lee declined a request to address the audience, explaining, “Well, it’s better to be silent than to be a fool.”

Harper Lee: The Sadness of a Sequel by Megan Garber (The Atlantic, 2/3/2015)

That’s what we know. By my understanding, pretty much everything else—the degree to which it is Harper Lee’s finished work; whether it really is its own book; whether it was intended for publication; whether a very old and infirm woman is being manipulated by profiteering caregivers into contradicting her decades-long determination never to publish another novel at a moment when doing so probably stands to pay out extravagantly for, oh just for example, the beneficiaries of a will that in all likelihood will be executed in the next few years—is clouded by at least some doubt. If this doubt strikes you as a reason to feel conflicted about purchasing and reading this book—almost none of the proceeds from which will make much of a difference to its deaf, blind, wheelchair-bound, eldercare-facilitated 89-year-old author, after all—well, that seems pretty reasonable!

Hey, You Don’t Have To Read Harper Lee’s New Book by Albert Burneko (Deadspin, 7/14/2015)

That last article actually almost had me convinced I’d never pick the book up and read a page of it. I’m sure curiosity will eventually get to me, but it’s not going to change the fact I’m not going to pay for it. And even if it does read like a draft of a novel that shouldn’t have been published and deserved to stay hidden in that back deposit box, I’m pretty sure this new book won’t be able to take anything away from the Atticus, Boo Radley, and Scout that I was acquainted with back in high school. To this day, that novel has one of my favorite paragraphs I’ve ever read and still try to heed its advice to this day.

Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

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