I have watched my Facebook feed, and I’m fairly certain that I am the only English teacher and Harper Lee enthusiast who hasn’t bought her “new” book. I didn’t even pre-order it. While my fellow English teachers utter a collective gasp, I have several reasons.
Before I get into those, I have to admit I’m torn. My friends are reading this book, and I do somehow feel I’m being left out of the discussion and conversation. There’s a part of me that wants to run out and buy it and snarf it down by the pool. But I can’t. I know me. I’d feel guilty the entire time.
My first career out of university was a medical device sales representative. I worked with lots of nursing homes and met lots of lovely elderly people of all cognitive functions. I met many family members who were wonderful, supportive, and loving. I also met the other side. It isn’t pretty. I have some concerns, aside from what I’ve read about the investigation, about the recent decision to publish a book near the end of her life. I’m not sure that I can let go of feelings of others profiting off of the intellectual property of an elderly woman, who until quite recently, was adamant about not publishing anything else. I can’t stomach the thought of a publishing company profiting off of someone in a nursing home who is nearly blind and deaf. Too many people besides Harper Lee have too much to gain.
My other reason is I’m quite afraid she’ll let me down. For me, greater than (gasp, again) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is To Kill a Mockingbird. This book is SO powerful. In the article posted by Tara Fowler on People.com, she asserts:
But if you forget Mockingbird and take Watchman as a standalone novel, it’s a deftly written tale about a young woman coping with the revelation that her father is not the hero she thought he was.
But can you take a novel with the same characters as another novel as a stand alone novel? I’m not sure. How can I reconcile the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird with the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman? That part is easy.Unlike many others, I’ve never watched Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus, so I don’t have to reconcile the idealized screen version with a character in a book. What I know is human beings are complex. Well-written and developed characters should be just as complex. Growing up in Texas, I know many men who would defend a falsely accused man regardless of color but wouldn’t have them over for dinner. Real life is not black and white, and great characters shouldn’t be either. But you cannot take the novels individually. How does one not shape the other? I cannot read this and forget Mockingbird.
Then there’s the issue of the first draft. If it is in fact a first draft of TKAM, which is what Harper Lee biographer Charles Shields chronicles, then it should be read and studied as such, not as a separate work. What’s more interesting is the story of how that draft developed into the beloved novel. It makes a more appropriate study of the writing process. This is of course my opinion.
On the other side, I know many English teachers and friends who have read the novel in the last week. Some of them have loved it. Some of them have wondered what all the fuss was about. Either way they were incredibly happy and joyful about reading it. That’s the point of reading isn’t it? That we enjoy it.
Who knows, maybe someday I’ll check it out of the library, but for now, I’m reading other things and enjoying those.