Leave Well Enough Alone

Have you read To Set a Watchman yet? I haven’t read it yet, and the more I read about it the less I think I’d like to read it. I was excited when I first heard the possibility that Harper Lee would be releasing another book. I was To Kill A Mockingbird fangirling out, for a moment, until suspicions of possible irresponsibility of those who should be protecting the author began to arise.

Lee famously only wrote the one book (before this one) and had said she wouldn’t publish another.  The new book, Go Set a Watchman, was released on July 14th to massive sales but the reviews have been largely disappointing. One review I read in Entertainment Weekly suggested that if you love To Kill A Mockingbird, you may want to do yourself a favor by not reading this new book. The Atticus Finch we loved in Mockingbird is not the Atticus we see in Watchman.

Beyond the bad reviews though, there have been accusations of a blatant disregard for the author.  In a recent NY Times column, The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ fraud  Joe Nocera claims this publication “constitutes one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” He goes on to detail examples of how those responsible may have taken an early draft of what turned into the beloved To Kill A Mockingbird and have published it as a lost gem.

One review from the Wall Street Journal by Sam Sacks said, “For millions who hold [Mockingbird] dear, Go Set A Watchman will be a test of their tolerance and capacity for forgiveness. At the peak of her outgrage, Jean Louise (adult Scout Finch) tells her father, “You’ve cheated me in a way that’s inexpressible.” I don’t doubt that many who read this novel are going to feel the same way.”

Whatever the reason for the publication of this novel, it seems a disappointing legacy for an author whose novel has meant so much to so many. I’ve chosen not to read it both because I wouldn’t want to add to the publisher’s bottom line if it is indeed a manipulation of the aging author, but mainly because I would like to keep my love of Mockingbird untainted by the new book.

What about you? Have you read it? Do you plan to read it? What are your thoughts on this new book? How do you feel about sequels in general? Are there ever any good ones? Please share with us in the comments.

Have a great week.


9 responses to “Leave Well Enough Alone

  1. I TOTALLY agree!! To Kill A Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time and I was so excited to hear of the prequel. After reading about what’s in the book, not necessarily the reviews, I came the conclusion I couldn’t possibly sour my affection for Atticus and Scout and what that book has represented to me over the years. It’s meant different things to me during my life, most recently having read it/seen the movie after I became a parent. That reading opened up a whole new world to me of how perfect the book and the story were. I’m not reading it.

    • I was so excited for what it could be, so was very disappointed to hear what people are saying about what it actually seems to be.

      I also have re-read this at different times in my life and taken new things away from it. I’ve read things that Lee wrote about the writing process as well and had gotten so much from things she has been quoted as saying about editing your work etc., so to publish something she probably would not have authorized is truly heartbreaking.

  2. The story of this book’s release is worthy of a story of its own. Fraud and greed and back room deals. The woman who was taking care of Harper Lee (Her sister? I think that what I remember) supposedly found the novel and brought it to the attention of the publisher. Its possible that Harper Lee never intended to release this. And even if she did, it was probably released as a first draft. Having died, she never got the chance to do a rewrite, which she most certainly would have done, if its that bad. A terrible disservice to a great writer has been done, I think.
    I haven’t read the book, but standing on its own, I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t all that bad. Someone not familiar with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ might very well enjoy it. But as a sequel, it sounds as though it doesn’t work. The Atticus of the present book, I understand, is not the Atticus of Mockingbird.
    Interestingly, I’ve read that, in her first draft of TKAM, Atticus was as much a bigot as the rest of the town, but changes his mind as the story goes on. She changed all that and he became the terrific character we all know.
    This might have been another great one if she’d had a chance to make the right changes. But she said that she would never release another novel, so it seems as though she had no intention of any of us seeing this.
    Good post.

    • It is true it may eventually turn into a story of its own because there seems to be a huge outcry about the handling of this work and questions about The author’s wishes. I will be curious to see how much more we see written about it. Regardless of the outcome, it seems a huge disservice to Harper Lee to publish this one.

      Your point is also a good one that this has a rather impossible standard to live up to, given the extent to which TKAM is loved and respected. Perhaps a different book may have held up better, but it is hard to say if anything picking up such beloved characters would be successful.

      Thanks for your comments!

  3. It’s been much too long since I read TKAM, but I have been seeing and hearing about TSAW everywhere recently. You bring up some excellent points and I, too, have heard that Lee never intended to release anymore books. I think it’s a sad thing to find something that quite possibly was never meant to be released was done so anyway. It’s a sad thing when people use someone’s name to make money.

    • I have lots of stuff I have written in very rough draft that there is no way I would want to see the light of day without editing, so it is horrifying to think someone may have used Lee in that way. I find it interesting the comments I read in one interview that the novel we know was the result of much guidance by an editor. It’s easy to forget sometimes the power of strong editing.

  4. Pingback: Unemotionally Attached | Twisted Writers

    • Me too. I thought about reading it before commenting because who am I to write about it if I haven’t read it, right? But then I decided against it & figured it could be my “Why I am not reading this” post instead of a “. “review”. 🙂

  5. To put it simply, I think I’ll skip Go Set A Watchman.

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