So here’s the thing: some time last week, the booksphere erupted with the news of Harper Lee releasing another book.
HARPER LEE. The author who has lived so close to anonymity in spite of her BRILLIANT “To Kill A Mockingbird” becoming an instant classic and home library staple. The woman who never wrote another book. The auteur known for her simplicity and quietness.
Harper Lee in 2007
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROB CARR/AP
I, along with the reading half of the populace including our ultra hipster aunt Babeth, exploded with joy. Naturally, I immediately pestered Le Beau to get us copies of Go Set A Watchman on its release date July 14. I was so giddy until I read article after article speculating that Lee’s agent and publisher might have pressured her to release the manuscript. Here and here and here.
Supposedly, Watchman was written before Mockingbird. Publishers then liked Mockingbird so Watchman took a back seat. So many people questioned “why now”, “are you sure” and “did she really decide on publishing” that it actually dampened my enthusiasm.
What if they’re right? What if these people just took advantage of her simplicity and naivete that if I bought and read the book, I am effectively feeding their greed? But I really want that book. Mockingbird is one of the reasons why I fell in love with reading in the first place. It is the only book I refuse to buy for myself because it’s my library and my bookstore book. You know, walk in a library or a bookstore, pick out a book to read while you’re there. That’s Mockingbird for me.
I think I almost chewed off my lip, actually rethinking about making Le Beau line up for that book, when I read this editorial from the New Yorker.
Harper Lee and the Benefit of the Doubt by Lee Siegel
Allow me to share a few excerpts that pretty much summarized my internal debate about this whole debacle:
Somewhere in the hysteria that has greeted news of the sequel there is an acute awareness of artistic value, of the past and of what we owe the past, and of an individual’s precious singularity. When all the hysteria dies down, and those fine sentiments come to the fore, “Watchman” might well receive the same gift that Atticus Finch gave to Tom Robinson, and which Lee, in such a trivial context, once gave to me: the benefit of the doubt.
I’m sure I want to read the Watchman, I really am. I hope these rumors and loud speculations are soon put to rest, even for the feeble reason like a less guilt ridden future purchase. Harper Lee is one of the most admired authors of all time, and her success and life could easily be the model and envy of many. It would really hurt — LIKE TO THE CORE — if anyone tries to tamper with that.