Last Tuesday I got some news. To most people it wouldn’t be earth shattering news, but to me it was huge. I was just about to go out and I got a notification on my phone to tell me that my brother-in-law had shared something with me on Facebook. At that point I had no idea that it would be so important to me.
Generally, I’m not a person of certainties. I don’t have a favourite food or restaurant. I don’t have a favourite band or singer. I don’t think I have a favourite colour but the prevalence of purple in my wardrobe does undermine that slightly. However there is one thing I absolutely know to be true: my favourite book is To Kill A Mockingbird, the one and only book to come from the mind of Harper Lee.
The one and only book until now.
Because last week it was announced that Go Set A Watchman, a second book by Lee, is going to be published 14 July 2015. It was actually Lee’s first novel, written about Scout as an adult in New York, but the publishers enjoyed the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood so much that they asked her to write about that instead, and so Mockingbird was born. Lee didn’t think the manuscript of Watchman had survived until the publishers discovered it paperclipped to a copy of Mockingbird.
How much more wonderful could literature get? The beautiful piece of artistry that is Mockingbird, the sumptuous evocative text that says, in such simple terms, such big things that make you feel so deeply, will be alone no more.
When I read that piece of news I did a happy dance in my living room. No jokes.
There has been some controversy surrounding the news. People are worried that Lee, who is a very private person has been coerced into publishing Watchman. These people think it’s too much of a coincidence that Lee’s sister, who was her lawyer and protector, died just two months before the announcement of this new book.
The statements from Lee herself have seemed to be joyful and in control. She has said that she is thrilled they found the manuscript, and has asked people she trusts whether they think it is worth publishing (to many a resounding ‘yes’, of course).
People have even questioned if Watchman will stand up to the quality of Mockingbird, without the input of the latter’s editor, who was supposedly influential in making it the piece of literature it is today. But is that the point? Surely, this is about sharing Lee’s talent and her original intention for the story of Scout? It is naïve to think that without the very same editor Watchman won’t be a good piece of literature. There is more to a book than that. There are plenty of talented editors, and more importantly, it is Lee’s way with the written word that we have all fallen in love with and that we are all thrilled to be getting another dose of. We should not be comparing the two books, we should be grateful that we are allowed to lose ourselves once more in the delightful prose of Harper Lee.
I am uneasy with the idea that this wonderful woman, made vulnerable through the loss of her sister, could have been forced into something she was unhappy or uncomfortable with. But equally, I think it is sad that we are so cynical as to jump immediately to negative conclusions when such fantastic news is presented to us. In the wake of stories that tell us about murder, death and wrongful imprisonment, can’t we be glad that this book will be published?
It’s taken me over a week to write this post because I wanted to think about exactly what this news means to me, and how I want to take it – which evidence I believe and how I should feel. I am torn, but for me it’s all about the books. If something beautiful, poignant and meaningful has been written, it should be published and made available to as many people as possible. I choose to believe that it isn’t about profit margins and sales figures but about sharing a story that was meant to be heard. In the end, I pre-ordered my copy and I wait with bated breath to read Go Set A Watchman.
Welcome back Harper, we’ve missed you.