Well, That Happened: Killing another mockingbird

By on February 10, 2015

021115wellthat.leadJackson Hole, Wyoming – To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960 and was an instant success. Almost every public school system in the country includes the novel in its curriculum and it has become a classic of American literature, winning the Pulitzer Prize and turning its author, Harper Lee, into the most respected one-hit-wonder of the modern age. Since its publication, Lee has not published another book. She shelved a novel in progress called The Long Goodbye and a true crime account inspired by her friend Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Now in her late 80s, Lee will release a new novel in July. Go Set a Watchman is a successor to “Mockingbird” set 30 years after the events of the first novel. However, the publisher claims Lee wrote Watchman before Mockingbird. The release is surrounded by controversy as Lee claims to have forgotten about the book until recently. I can’t help but wonder how you can forget about the first novel you ever wrote, especially if it continues the story of characters that have made history.

Lee’s good friend Rev. Thomas Lane Butts once asked Lee why she hadn’t published anything after Mockingbird. Butts quotes her as saying, “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

But it seems she’s changed her mind.

“[I] was pleased to hear that they considered [Watchman] worthy of publication,” Lee said in a statement. “I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

I can’t help but feel incredibly uneasy about the release of this novel. Taking Lee’s age and mental state into consideration, it just feels weird. Lee’s now deceased sister, Alice, said in 2011, “[Harper] can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her.”

The book publishing industry is in a precarious place in history. The phenomena of e-readers is whittling away at the number of independent bookstores around the country and, with so many other forms of entertainment, people aren’t reading as much as they once did. Publishing houses are doing everything they can to pique the interests of readers.

Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks said, “Writing may be art, but publishing, when all is said and done, comes down to dollars.”

In August there will be a new novel extending The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, despite the original author, Stieg Larsson, having passed away in 2004. Ghostwriters and co-authors are more common today than in the past. Celebrities like Bill O’Reilly can be a New York Times bestselling author without actually having written the books that bear his name. And mystery writer James Patterson releases roughly 10 titles a year.

With the upcoming release of Go Set a Watchman, we must believe that Harper Lee hid away a perfectly publishable manuscript in some desk drawer only to have forgotten about it for five decades. And now Lee, at a ripe age of 88, told her publisher to release Watchman to the world.

I am not claiming that HarperCollins has devised some sinister, manipulative plot to get this manuscript into the public eye. It’s just a bizarrely unique situation to have one of the most beloved American authors suddenly release an unheard-of novel that was finished in the mid-1950s. Naturally, I can’t speak to Lee’s true intentions. As Scout, the heroine in Mockingbird quotes her father as saying, “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” PJH

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