I am a voracious reader. There is rarely a day that passes without my nose being deeply imbedded within the pages of a book. I have loved many novels, some so strongly that I cannot bear to hear ill words spoken about the work or it’s author. I know that I am not alone in my abiding love of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the novel oft described as “the greatest novel of our time”, written by the reclusive Harper Lee. I have a dog-eared copy of the novel that I has been read so many times that the edges of the pages are now soft with use. The characters in the novel are so familiar to me that they seem like friends or family members that might some day jump off of the pages to join me for dinner.
So, when the news broke earlier this year that a novel written by Harper Lee had been unearthed and would soon be published, I literally jumped for joy. I scoured the internet for details and became even more excited as I learned that this upcoming novel had been written even before “To Kill a Mockingbird” and was full of the very same characters, a novel written about Scout(who now goes by her given name, Jean Louis) as an adult visiting her hometown after a time away. I knew at that moment that I would be pre-ordering a copy and standing in my local bookstore on the date of release in order to read the freshly minted pages as soon as possible.
However, in the past couple of days, the first chapter of the novel was released to the public and the first of the full book reviews have gone live on the interwebs and many of us find ourselves in shock at what appears to be inside the pages of the soon to be published novel “Go Set a Watchman”. Many of my fellow readers must have had their jaws drop along with mine as we read the New York Times’ review that revealed this novel’s portrayal of our beloved Atticus as having “a dark side”. . Other reviews speak of Atticus in the forthcoming novel as “as an aging racistwho once attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, holds negative views aboutAfrican-Americans and denounces desegregation efforts”.After reading such reviews and a reading of the first chapter, many of my bookish friends have decided to forgo reading the new novel altogether and I can understand that decision. Atticus Finch is, perhaps, one of the most loved characters in literary history and I can deeply understand a longing to not have that character in any way tarnished.
In spite of these concerns, I have decided to keep my pre-order and to read the novel, primarily because my curiosity about the novel outweighs my fear that it may tarnish my ideas of these beloved characters. The response of the literary world to the newly published novel does leave me asking myself more questions about the book, however. I find myself wondering if there was any way for this novel, with the same or different characters, to truly be loved by readers in the way that the original is, even if the new novel had contained a completely different set of characters. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a nostalgic, beloved piece of literary history and I feel very strongly that no other novel written by Harper Lee, no matter how wonderful, could ever live up to more than 50 years of readership and a passing on of what has become more than just a book, but a vessel into the lives of beloved characters that seem to have become a part of our very lives. I feel as though there could never be any sort of novel that could ever live up to the hype and expectation that this upcoming novel has spinning around it and it seems like a losing proposition all around.
No matter the discussions surrounding the novel, I will be in line on Tuesday, July 14th with my fellow book lovers and will rush home to read the pages and, hopefully, lose myself inside the novel and forget about my own life for a few hours. I will remind myself repeatedly that the two novels were never meant as sequels and should be taken as two completely separate works, even if the pages are filled with the very same characters. I know even before reading “To Set a Watchman” that it will not be as treasured by me as “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I also know that there is nothing within this new novel that could, in any way, take away any of my love for “To Kill a Mockingbird”, as it will live inside my heart forever. This is what we must remember as we open the pages of Harper Lee’s newest published work- that nothing inside these pages can in any way diminish the light that she brought into the world when “To Kill a Mockingbird” first hit the shelves.